Westwood Select Board Orders New Traffic Study Focused on Left Turns at Washington Street Intersection
Westwood Select Board, at its remotely held meeting early last week, unanimously voted in favor of requesting a new traffic study by Bayside Engineering that includes both in-person and video observations of left turns from southbound Washington Street onto East Street, to be completed by February 1, 2024. The study should additionally be presented to Select Board at the first opportunity, the board decided.
Select Board’s request for the new traffic study comes after board members voiced dissatisfaction and disagreement with Bayside Engineering’s traffic study from October this year, and the engineering firm’s conclusion that the current timing of traffic signals at the intersection of Washington Street, East Street, and School Street represent their best operation.
Ken Cram of Bayside Engineering (Bayside) presented his firm’s analysis and conclusion that looked at traffic counts taken in the morning, evening, and at three peak periods on Saturday. The firm approached its analysis by attempting to seek the best balance of timing of traffic signals that would not generate long queues. Generally, longer traffic signal cycles can result in better operations but longer queues, while shorter traffic signal cycles can result in shorter queues, said Mr. Cram.
Mr. Cram stated that given current post-pandemic traffic volume, that traffic signal operations as they exist today are already set at the best combination of traffic light timing and avoidance of long queues for traffic flowing on School, Washington, and East streets.
Dennis Flynn of the firm, BETA, which was hired to do a peer review of Bayside’s study, stated agreement with Bayside’s approach, analysis, and conclusion.
However, Westwood Select Board members appeared to strongly disagree with Bayside’s conclusion.
Chair Marianne LeBlanc Cummings noted that the personal experiences reported by residents are at odds with Bayside’s conclusion that the current traffic signaling represents an optimal scenario. She noted that drivers making a left turn from the southbound lane of Washington Street onto East Street typically have an opportunity to make the turn only when their traffic light turns red. As a result, only one vehicle at a time can make a left turn for each cycle of the traffic signal, she said. Ms. Cummings noted that on the night of Select Board’s meeting, at 5:15 p.m., she waited 3 minutes and 10 seconds to make that left hand turn.
Select Board member Joe Previtera remarked that this issue is “near and dear to my heart” and to many people in Islington Center. He referenced a statement from Westwood’s Town Meeting in May 2018 by then-Select Board Chair Michael Walsh, who said “There will be new traffic signals including a left hand turn from Washington Street onto East Street.” Mr. Previtera described that statement as Select Board’s promise to town residents that a new light with a dedicated time to turn left would be implemented.
Additionally, Mr. Previtera criticized Bayside’s traffic study by noting that it was focused on efficiency, and does not include safety as a goal. “It’s all about timing,” he said.
Mr. Cram agreed with Mr. Previtera. “It’s all about timing. Correct,” he confirmed.
“If you’re not aware of this, the traffic is now going down Dean Ave, Strafford Road, and to East Street,” Mr. Previtera added, describing how drivers avoid the troublesome left turn from Washington Street to East Street by passing through an Islington neighborhood, instead.
“I’m going to advocate that we do put in a left turn signal because I’m going to advocate for safety over the timing,” said Mr. Previtera. He further described his concern with safety issues by raising a possible scenario of a young driver racing through a red light to make the left-hand turn from Washington Street to East Street.
Upon questioning by Ms. Cummings, Mr. Cram confirmed that Bayside’s traffic study does not currently include data for actual wait time in making the left hand turn. Ms. Cummings and Select Board Clerk Robert Gotti both repeatedly voiced their desire to see actual data for traffic making the left hand turn.
Public comments, which Ms. Cummings read into the record of the meeting, included a suggestion from John Cummings that traffic signalization include concurrent, designated left turn signals for both southbound Washington Street traffic turning onto East Street and northbound Washington Street traffic turning onto School Street. Another resident suggested that engineers should study the traffic that is reportedly being displaced from Washington Street into the Islington neighborhood of Dean Avenue and Strafford Road. Another comment came from a Westwood resident who, after noting she has lived in town for 52 years, complained that the issue of the “dangerous intersection” has taken so long to address.
Updated 11/28/2023 at 7:30 a.m. The completion date for the new traffic study has been corrected to reference the year 2024. A previous version of this article incorrectly noted the date as “February 1, 2023.”