Tisbury officials say public concern, not data prompted stop signs

A set of stop signs at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Main Street adjacent to the Vineyard Haven library is the latest addition to the town's stop sign inventory. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Tisbury officials this week said public sentiment and safety concerns, not traffic data, underpinned the decision to install stop signs at three intersections. The town’s reasoning appears to fall outside Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) guidelines governing traffic control.

Two weeks ago, Tisbury installed a set of three stop signs at the intersection of Main Street and Greenwood Avenue. One week later and a block up Main Street, a set of two new stops signs went up at the intersection of Main Street and Woodlawn Avenue by the library.

Selectmen approved the stop sign installations on the recommendation of Department of Public Works director Fred LaPiana following a public hearing. In public comments, Mr. LaPiana told selectmen the new stop signs were needed to slow traffic and create a safe path for pedestrians.

The Mass DOT’s “Manual of Uniform Traffic Control devices and the standard municipal traffic code,” section 10A-4, states,”The purpose of the Stop Sign is to designate right-of-way to vehicles making conflicting movements. It is not intended, nor shall it be used for the control of speed, traffic calming or to forestall pedestrian, rear-end or turning movement accidents.”

It further states, “Multi-way Stop Signs must meet the warrant criteria as outlined in Section 2B.07 of the 2009 MUTCD.”

In an email to The Times, DOT spokesman Michael Verseckes said DOT would review the installation of stop signs if the road was at a junction with a state highway or the project was constructed with federal and/or state aid.

He said DOT would instruct a town to remove stop signs installed outside DOT guidelines only in those instances where the road was at a junction with a state highway. “On town ways,” Mr. Verseckes said, “the town assumes all mandated liabilities if traffic control devices are not erected in accordance with the Department’s most current Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.”

He said the provisions of Chapter 85, Section 2 of the Massachusetts General Laws give DOT the right to take action against towns in those instances where signs do not meet state guidelines.

Safety dictates action

Tristan Israel, chairman of the board of selectmen, told The Times that community concern and a lack of public opposition expressed at public hearing was the overriding factor in his decision.

“Usually these things come about because of advocacy within the neighborhood,” Mr. Israel told The Times in a telephone conversation Monday. “The stop signs we approved came about because of that, requests from people in the area.”

Mr. Israel said no traffic data was presented or used to arrive at the decision to approve the new signs. He cited an intuitive understanding of what was needed in the community and his own experience driving on those roads.

“We all live in the community and can see there’s an ongoing issue on both Main Street and Franklin Street,” Mr. Israel said. “I can see that with my own eyes.

“But again, to me, if the request is reasonable and it’s going to make the abutters who live in that area feel better about their safety, then I’m for it.”

Mr. Israel said he reviewed the DOT guidelines on stop signs. He acknowledged that while the town’s intent is to control speed and forestall pedestrian accidents, it is a reasonable goal and DOT guidelines did not factor into his decision-making.

“I understand that stop signs are not to be traffic calming,” Mr. Israel said. “I guess there is that factor, but that really didn’t enter into my decision. My decision was common sense, that there was an accident in that area, and it will help school kids getting to school safely, and that the people in the neighborhood felt better about having it there. And there was no opposition.”

The accident Mr. Israel refered to occurred around 4 am on an August morning when a driver who said he fell asleep drove his 2009 BMW sedan off the road and through a recently painted white picket fence at 172 Main Street.

Mr. Israel said the town does its best to control speeding, particularly in the summer season. “So it’s difficult and we have limited resources, and we’re doing the best we can,” he said.

Mr. LaPiana expanded on his reasoning in a telephone conversation Monday. “The recommendation was made based on the requirement for putting crosswalks in place,” Mr. LaPiana told The Times. “Because there was a need to put crosswalks in the two areas that were just put in. And it was in response to the traffic safety issues associated with the recent accident that occurred there, and a number of other accidents that have occurred there over the years.”

Mr. LaPiana explained that at the Woodlawn Avenue intersection, traffic coming from West Chop must take a right onto Woodlawn, and Main Street traffic also has the option of turning left.

The crosswalk in conjunction with the stop signs now allows a pedestrian to cross safely, he said, from the east side of Main Street, where the sidewalk ends, to the west side. It also benefits the residents of Havenside, the elderly housing complex.

“And then further up, we have an issue of a bus stop that’s on that side of the road,” Mr. LaPiana said. “You don’t really notice until you see a lot of folks use it, and then you see a safety concern there.”

Mr. LaPiana said he had no specific traffic data. “Traffic patterns and speed are not the issues we’re dealing with here. That is certainly part of what we could look at in order to define various signs and regulatory issues,” he said. “Our primary concern and our primary focus here is pedestrian safety and crosswalk protection. We’re installing new crosswalks and we’re installing them in a place that could cause a hazard to the pedestrians. The solution to that is to provide stop signs to protect them when they cross at the crosswalks.”

Mr. LaPiana said the reference in the DOT guidelines about not using stop signs to control speed or to forestall pedestrians is one small part of the document. He said the installations follow the general guidelines in regard to intersections where crosswalks are necessary.

Two additional sets of stop signs with crosswalks are on the drawing board. Mr. LaPiana has asked selectmen to approve stop signs at the intersection of Franklin Street and Woodlawn Avenue near Grace Church, to create a three-way intersection to slow traffic and increase pedestrian safety.

He has also asked to create a three-way stop at the intersection of Causeway Road and Skiff Avenue. Mr. LaPiana said the intent of installing a three-way stop is to protect pedestrians and bicyclists who cross at the intersection, which has limited site distance because of a curve in the road.

The selectmen agreed to hold a public hearing on both proposals at their next meeting on Tuesday, October 30.

“All of this has to do with safety, and the guidance indicates that when you’re dealing with pedestrians, you have some flexibility there,” Mr. LaPiana said.