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Designs for Lynch School traffic improvements moving along, but resident concerns linger

Rendering of proposed improvements at Horn Pond Brook Road at Royal Street of around Lynch Elementary School reveal a mix of curb extensions, hardened center lines and enhanced crosswalks aimed at reducing vehicle speeds and enhancing pedestrian safety on Pond Street. COURTESY PHOTO / TOWN OF WINCHESTER

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Designs for the school traffic improvement project around Lynch Elementary School are set to be a prominent topic of discussion during Town Meeting, but some residents in the neighborhood surrounding the school argue that the improvements do not go far enough in addressing high vehicle speeds on Pond Street.

“It’s mostly planned. We’ve gone through the community process and collected community input to finalize the plan,” said Town Planner Taylor Herman, of the project. “But in reality, it’s pretty close to fully planned and ready to move forward as long as the community accepts it.”

A comprehensive traffic study conducted in 2022 collected data on crash history and bike and pedestrian volumes in proximity to the school, identifying key locations for improvement. The traffic calming measures are focused on key locations chosen based on crash history, bike and pedestrian volumes, proximity to the school, and public input.

The Town Meeting vote

The project will be presented at the 2024 Town Meeting in April for funding approval. If approved, the town will have the necessary budget to proceed with construction.

The town aims to complete the project by September 2025, in tandem with the opening of the new Lynch School. The project’s estimated total cost has decreased from $3 million to $2.5 million, with a 25% contingency included to cover potential overruns without requiring additional town meetings.

“We’re taking this opportunity to introduce new roadway designs in order to make the streets safer for kids walking to school and kids riding their bikes to school,” Herman said, of the project’s goals. “There’s also the opportunity to rethink the way that kids and parents travel to the school and simultaneously how to improve — not just the transportation to and from school — but the safety of the residents in that neighborhood.”

Erica Guidoboni, a senior engineer at Toole Design Group — the firm hired to do the design and traffic study — presented the updated plans at two neighborhood meetings held on Feb. 28, one for the Horn Pond Brook neighborhood and another for the Pond Street neighborhood.

Specific improvements include:

• Curb extensions and yield lines at intersections along Pond Street, such as Chesterford Road and Norfolk Road.

• Hardened centerlines and optical speed bars near the Tri-Community Greenway crossing on Pond Street, coupled with an advisory speed limit of 15 mph.

• Speed humps on side streets like Middlesex Street and Canal Street, which are expected to reduce average speeds by 20-25% and divert up to 20% of traffic volume.

• Improved sidewalks and curbing along Middlesex Street and Royal Street.

Select Board member Michelle Prior raised concerns about the planned speed humps on Middlesex Street, noting they seemed very close together.

Guidoboni explained standard practice is to space the speed humps 250 feet apart to prevent drivers from speeding up between them.

Prior wondered if they could increase the distance to 300 feet and potentially remove one speed hump.

Board member John Fallon inquired about how Guidoboni planned to address the issue of students walking in and out of traffic queues during school pickup.

“The big thing that we’re doing here is a lot of curb extensions,” Guidoboni responded, adding they are also ensuring the crosswalks are highly visible and aligned with parked cars.

Construction is scheduled to begin this summer and is expected to last until the following summer, with a winter break.

Lynch Neighborhood Traffic Study details alarming speed data on various streets around the elementary school, with a notable percentage of drivers exceeding the 25-mph speed limit, especially on Pond Street, where nearly all traffic surpasses the limit and a significant number reach dangerous speeds over 40 mph, underscoring the critical need for the proposed traffic calming measures. COURTESY / TOWN OF WINCHESTER

Pond Street speeding

The 2022 study revealed that a significant percentage of the 9,000 drivers traversing on Pond Street are driving above 25-mph speed, posing a risk of severe injury and fatality.

John McSweeney, who has lived on Pond Street for a dozen years, said, “About 282 vehicles were traveling 40+ mph, and 2,500 were traveling at least 10 mph over the 25-mph speed” on Pond Street.

“Pond Street is the main approach for buses approaching Lynch Elementary School. There are traffic projects to narrow the streets entering Pond Street, but no firm steps to limit the speed or truck traffic on Pond Street,” McSweeney said. “The only recommendation was to post a recommended 15 mph speed limit (not enforceable speed limit) sign at a tight bend on Pond Street.”

They also raised concerns about the lack of community feedback and communication regarding the project.

“One of the problems we’ve had is a lack of community feedback. The most recent meeting about the Lynch traffic was at the exact same time as the parents’ association meeting,” McSweeney said. “There hasn’t been any notice to all of the Lynch parents.”

During a recent Select Board meeting, Guidoboni reported that residents were generally supportive of the project, but still had some concerns.

“[Pond Street residents] didn’t have any negative comments … but they’re asking for more,” she said.

This proposed rendering of improvements at Middlesex Street at Canal Street showcases the intended pedestrian-friendly enhancements for the Canal Street Lynch Elementary School, featuring expanded crosswalks and curb extensions on Pond Street. These measures are part of a broader safety initiative aimed at curbing high vehicle speeds and ensuring safer routes for students, amidst community calls for more comprehensive traffic calming solutions. COURTESY PHOTO/TOWN OF WINCHESTER

 Several residents’ positions, in part, can be summarized as follows:

• They appreciate and support the important work proposed for narrowing the pedestrian crossings and implementing traffic calming measures at the intersections of Pond Street with Brantwood Road, Woodside Road, Norfolk Road and Chesterford Road.

• Vehicle speed is a significant danger to pedestrians walking on the south side sidewalk, those crossing from the north side, and bicyclists.

• Some residents believe that Pond Street should be re-designated as a heavy truck restricted road to address the concerns of increased truck traffic in the area.

Still work to do

Ultimately, McSweeney says traffic issues around Lynch Elementary School are complicated and not fully addressed by current plans.

“We want other people in the town to be aware of these plans,” McSweeney said. “After attending a [public meeting], we realized that significant changes were being proposed, but no one seemed to be talking about it. Moreover, some of the improvements do nothing to address the issues on Pond Street itself.”

Town Engineer Matt Shuman, in public meetings, acknowledged the limitations of the project’s scope.

“I recognize that there are concerns around safety on Pond Street, but this wasn’t a traffic calming project for Pond Street,” Shuman said. “So, we really tried to do the best we could to incorporate the comments that we heard.”

Winchester News correspondent Chris Stevens contributed to this article.

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