Safety improvements coming to streets near Smith College after 2 people hit by cars in last week

Two police officers stand along West Street in Northampton following a vehicle crash on Dec. 14 that caused serious injuries to a Smith College student.

Two police officers stand along West Street in Northampton following a vehicle crash on Dec. 14 that caused serious injuries to a Smith College student. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Northampton’s mayor and Smith College’s president said this week they are working to implement short- and long-term solutions to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of West Street and Green Street.

Northampton’s mayor and Smith College’s president said this week they are working to implement short- and long-term solutions to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of West Street and Green Street. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

This crosswalk  on West Street by the Smith College parking garage is one area near the college campus that may see short- and long-term improvements designed to make it safer for pedestrians.

This crosswalk on West Street by the Smith College parking garage is one area near the college campus that may see short- and long-term improvements designed to make it safer for pedestrians. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Northampton’s mayor and Smith College’s president said this week they are working to implement short- and long-term solutions to improve pedestrian safety at the West-Green Street intersection shown here.

Northampton’s mayor and Smith College’s president said this week they are working to implement short- and long-term solutions to improve pedestrian safety at the West-Green Street intersection shown here. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Improvements may be coming to the West-Green Street intersection in Northampton.

Improvements may be coming to the West-Green Street intersection in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

This crosswalk  on West Street by the Smith College parking garage is one area near the college campus that may see short- and long-term improvements designed to make it safer for pedestrians.

This crosswalk on West Street by the Smith College parking garage is one area near the college campus that may see short- and long-term improvements designed to make it safer for pedestrians. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 12-20-2023 4:30 PM

Modified: 12-21-2023 10:03 AM


NORTHAMPTON — In the wake of two pedestrians struck by vehicles in the last week on busy streets bordering Smith College — the latest in a string of such incidents dating back years — city and college officials said this week they are moving ahead with a host of short- and long-term solutions they hope will make it safer for people navigating the area.

One recent incident occurred a week ago, on Dec. 14, when an unnamed 20-year-old Smith College student was struck while in a crosswalk near the intersection of West and Green streets between the Smith campus and Northampton’s Forbes Library.

According to Northampton police, the student was seriously hurt, bleeding profusely from the head with a hematoma observed above the left eye. The student was taken to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, and is now in stable condition.

Meanwhile, the 22-year-old female driver was charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle and a crosswalk violation, police said.

Just three days later, on Sunday, Dec. 17, a 22-year-old female was struck by a vehicle on the crosswalk between Elm Street and Henshaw Avenue, also near the Smith College campus. The woman sustained minor injuries from the crash, and the driver was cited for failure to stop, according to police.

These are two of several crashes West and Elm, the busiest streets that border Smith College. Data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shows that over the last eight years, there have been eight crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists on West Street, or about one such crash per year. Four additional pedestrian crashes have occurred on Elm Street, not including the one on Sunday, during that same time period. None of those accidents have resulted in fatalities, although many have resulted in injury.

Amherst resident Kate Queeney is a survivor of one of these crashes. A professor of chemistry at Smith, Queeney was walking across West Street to the campus parking garage on Dec. 7, 2022, when she was struck by a vehicle, resulting in multiple fractures and a head injury that required her to stay in the hospital for four days afterward.

“After this happened to me, people who I know would come up to me and tell me they just saw someone almost get hit by a car in that area,” Queeney said. “So there are also a lot of near misses in the area.”

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As a result of the crashes, the city of Northampton conducted a study, paid for by a $66,800 gift from Smith, to analyze the traffic situation on West and Elm streets, and to provide possible safety improvements to the area.

The study, performed by engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill, was the result of two site visits made by the firm, one in August and one in October, as well as looking at traffic volume and MassDOT crash data. The report notes there have been 37 total crashes over the past three years, which includes single-, two-vehicle and pedestrian crashes. The report also notes that more than 300 pedestrians cross West and Elm streets during peak hours.

The study made several short- and long-term recommendations that would improve safety in the area.

Short-term improvements include installation of flashing beacons on West Street by Forbes Library and the repainting of existing crosswalks in the area as well as the addition of new crosswalks.

Longer term recommendations in the report include converting Green Street to one-way and adding buffered bicycle lanes, similar to the city’s planned Main Street improvements.

“It is anticipated that the phased implementation of the recommended improvements will create a safer environment by improving visibility of pedestrian facilities and reducing vehicle speeds,” the study states. “Although some recommendations will require further design, temporary solutions can be implemented in the interim that achieve similar traffic calming benefits.”

Karen Foster, the city’s councilor for Ward 2, where Smith is located, and who also serves on the city’s Transportation & Parking Commission, said that the study had not been discussed by the commission yet, but that the issue of the streets around the area had been a common concern among her constituents.

“This has been on the city’s radar for some time,” Foster said. “Smith paid to advance this more quickly than we could have normally done this.”

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra and Smith College President Sarah Willie-LeBreton said that the city and the college had met to discuss actions on how to improve the area, and that the city would be increase police patrols and speed monitoring, as well as potentially removing parking spots in order to improve safety. These changes are taking effect immediately, while the solutions outlined in the Fuss & O’Neill study will be considered in 2024.

“Our collaboration reflects a deep commitment to take decisive, well-informed action for the safety of our community,” Sciarra and Willie-LeBreton said in a joint statement. “We are dedicated to implementing these necessary measures swiftly and effectively, ensuring a safer environment for pedestrians and all who travel our streets.”

Other dangerous areas

The city has also taken steps to try and remedy other parts of Northampton that have been vulnerable to pedestrian and bicycle accidents. The area of Northampton’s Main Street that connects to West and Elm Street has also been identified with a large cluster of crashes involving non-motorists. The city has touted its ambitious Picture Main Street project, expected to begin in 2025 and last three years converting Main Street into single lanes in both directions while expanding the sidewalks and adding a separate bike path for cyclists.

Further up Elm Street, in the area around Northampton High School, has also been a cause for concern. In 2021, a musician named Charlie Braun was riding his bicycle near the school when he was struck by a vehicle, resulting in a fatal injury. In November 2022, a 15-year-old boy was struck while in the crosswalk after getting out from a cross-country practice.

At the latest City Council meeting held on Dec. 5, the council approved $2,544 to be appropriated from the Commonwealth Transportation Infrastructure Enhancement Fund to be used for the costs related to the design, bidding and construction administration of safety improvements near Northampton High School.

Last January, the Parking and Transportation Commission agreed with several recommendations, the most significant being the need for new traffic signals at the intersection of North Elm and Elm Street, and North Elm and Woodlawn Avenue.

Other changes recommended by the study include creating a pick-up and drop-off lane inside the high school parking lot and implementing one-way traffic during pickup and drop-off times; removing five parking spaces on the east side of North Elm Street in favor of a bike lane; creating a new parking lane on the north side of Woodlawn Avenue; and implementing pedestrian “refuge islands,” or sections of pavement, between crosswalks.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.