After meeting with local officials, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has concluded that the construction of a crosswalk on Route 9 near Maynard Road is a “preferred solution” to increasing pedestrian safety there.
According to Executive Vice President Dale Hamel, MassDOT “is considering funding options and has indicated a desire to see the project completed within the next three years.” Hamel added the crosswalk is projected to cost the state between $250,000 and $325,000, which, he said, is reasonable for the scale of the project.
The decision has resulted from negotiations among town, state and school officials following a road safety audit (RSA) of motor vehicle and pedestrian safety on Route 9 between Maynard Road and the footbridge.
The study was prompted by the death of FSU student, Colleen Kelly, who was struck and killed by oncoming traffic on December 14, 2012 while crossing Route 9 at around 10 p.m.
According to Hamel, student safety is a driving factor for this issue being taken so seriously by school administration and town and state officials.
The RSA team included members of the University administration, town officials, campus safety officers, representatives from both the Framingham Fire and Police Departments as well as MassDOT officials.
The team first identified Maynard Road as a crossing point utilized by pedestrians, even though the area was never designated as a pedestrian crossing. In fact, the road is labeled with signage facing both directions of traffic indicating that pedestrians should not cross. However, the team recognized in the report that students cross at Maynard Road because it is more convenient and ironically, perceived as safer than the footbridge alternative.
According to Dean of Students Melinda Stoops, an email survey administered by her office, taken by 673 students, found that those who did cross Route 9 did so most often to reach the Mobil gas station. The survey also indicated that of the students who crossed the Route 9 to get to the Mobil, the majority did so at the Maynard Road area.
“It is scary because the cars go so fast. There is just so little time for students to cross safely,” Stoops said. “I would love to see a crosswalk there because even after the tragedy with Colleen’s death last spring, I still see students crossing there.”
Monique Vacon, a senior liberal studies major, used to teach Zumba classes across Route 9 from the University using the footbridge. She said she can understand why students cross at Maynard Road. “It’s scary – especially at night,” she said.
“I would use the footbridge [when I crossed Route 9], but never felt safe,” she added. “By the time my class was over, it would be dark and the footbridge is not well lit. There were also sketchy people smoking and drinking, which caused me to pretty much sprint across the bridge with my headphones in.”
Monique LaPierre, a senior psychology major, also said she does not feel safe crossing the footbridge alone at night because of the people who “hang out” on the unlit handicapped ramp at the far end of the bridge. However, she said she feels safe as long as she is with people.
Stoops said the side of the bridge away from campus is not well lit. “I never noticed it, because I don’t walk there, but I do feel that when I drive there, it is very dark.” She added that the area around the bridge is owned by the town and any changes to the lighting would have to be requested through the town of Framingham.
Brooke O’Connell, an English major, said the concrete on the footbridge is “kind of shoddy” and the uneven, steep stairs leading to it have almost caused her to trip in the past. She added, “I just plain don’t trust it.”
High Street, where the footbridge is located, merges with Route 9 only half a block away from the crossing location. Cars coming off Route 9 have the right of way when pulling onto High Street, where many drivers don’t come to the legally obligated full stop for pedestrian crossing from the 40 mph legal speed limit of the highway.
Motorists unaware that students may be crossing come over the hill of the off-ramp, sometimes at highway speeds, and are met only half a block away with flashing lights and two signs as their first warning of pedestrian traffic.
In the future the number of students crossing Route 9 could potentially increase dramatically. Right on Maynard Road, abutting Route 9 and Salem End Road, the University is planning on constructing a parking lot. The lot will have exits for students on Salem End and Maynard roads close to the area where students now cross.
Because the crosswalk is located on a highway, a special type of system known as a HAWK, or High Intensity Activated CrossWalK Pedestrian Signal, is what MassDOT plans to install.
The system, although not currently recognized in the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ driver’s manual as a traffic control device, would allow time for pedestrians to cross while impeding the flow of traffic as little as possible.
The system is similar to a standard crosswalk. New traffic lights – installed for the project – will turn red while a “walk” signal is displayed for pedestrians. However, when there are only a few seconds remaining for pedestrians to cross Route 9, the walk signal will be replaced by a red, blinking hand signal and count down the remaining time. While the hand signal is flashing, the overhead traffic signal will not remain a solid red, but will blink red, indicating oncoming vehicles must treat the area as a stop sign.
Although MassDOT has chosen this as the preferred solution, other proposals include another footbridge at Maynard Road, HAWK systems on other parts of Route 9 or a flashing light installation similar to the one on High Street. Smaller proposals include adding more signage and lighting, and better upkeep of the footbridge and other existing accommodations.