Williams College Campus Security Director David Boyer addresses the Williamstown Board of Selectmen on Monday evening.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday discussed a proposal to install flashing lights to alert drivers to crosswalks on Main Street.
Williams College, whose campus is bisected by Main Street (Route 2), brought the proposal to the town to see if it would install the pedestrian-activated flashing lights at two of the half dozen crosswalks that are used to get from the north side of campus to the south side.
Williams' Director of Campus Security David Boyer told the board the college would like to see the lights installed at two points where crosswalks run across rises in the road and where there is particular concern about the visibility of pedestrians.
The town manager, who has the authority to approve signage on the town right-of-way, told the Selectmen he is disinclined to do so but he wanted their input.
Boyer said that although it has been "five or six years" since a pedestrian was hit at one of the crosswalks, they remain a point of concern to the school's Campus Safety Committee.
"Knowing as a driver and a town resident how people appear at those crosswalks, at times -- especially around dusk, when it's overcast, in rainy conditions -- it's really hard to see people," Boyer said. "Being a resident myself and having my position at the college, I still have difficulty at times seeing people at those crossings.
"We're not looking to increase signage. ... We're looking to replace existing signs with a more significant pole along with some flashing lights that would be activated on demand."
Boyer said the college was willing to pay for the new signs, which would be, perhaps, two feet taller than the existing signs due to the solar arrays atop the signs that would power the lights.
The two crosswalks in question run between Griffin Hall and the Williams College Museum of Art and between the President's House and the West College building.
"We're looking to enhance what's there with extra visual cues for drivers," he said.
Town Manager Peter Fohlin called the flashing lights "a non-solution to a non-problem."
"Just because we can install these hideous structures doesn't mean we should," he said.
Fohlin argued that, if anything, in his opinon there is too much lighting on Main Street, and it is the glare of excessive lighting that makes it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians.
But he also said that in his experience, drivers are diligent about watching for crosswalks on the stretch of road in question, and college students -- notorious for not paying attention -- are actually getting better.
"I applaud the college for their efforts to get their students to learn, and I think they've been successful," Fohlin said. "And they've been even more successful since [former Selectwoman] Jane Allen brought 'Stop, Look and Wave' to town. I'm astonished at the number of people who stop and wave to me.
"I don't think the problem is correctly described this evening, and I don't think the signs would be a positive addition to Williamstown."
Moreover, Fohlin said the danger is "distracted walker," and that pedestrians texting or talking on their cell phones while crossing the road would be the people least likely to press a button and wait for flashing lights before proceeding.
The Selectmen, a couple of whom indicated that they tended to support the college's proposal during Boyer's presentation, appeared to be persuaded by Fohlin's argument.
"I don't think it's a 'nonproblem,' " Selectman Andrew Hogeland said. "My issue is at dark and at dusk. I agree it's a pedestrian problem. ... But I've seen enough cars slam on their brakes or come close to slamming on their brakes.
"I'm interested in safety. I'm also interested in visual impacts," Hogeland said at another point in the discussion.
Selectman Hugh Daley said the distracted walker problem would not be solved by the lights.
"Pushing that button is not going to stop a car," Daley said. "If you push that button and step into the street, you can still get hit by a car. It's not a magic bullett. ... Kids are still going to walk when they walk."
Fohlin, who said that he favored lighted bollards at the crosswalks, asked Boyer why the college did not propose motion-activated flashing lights instead of push-button lights. Boyer said he thought lights that were activated only when needed would be less of an inconvenience to the town; "My assumption was, the less it was lit, the better."
But Fohlin said he would be willing to explore motion-activated lighting or some other solution to the problem. The Selectmen offered no advisory vote to guide his decision but recommended further study of the issue.
The board on Monday night also began crafting a town policy to implement the senior tax workoff program approved at last month's Annual Town Meeting.
Fohlin offered a draft proposal that he characterized as non-specific as to the types of positions that would be created under the program. Fohlin is recommending that certain positions -- in the police and the Department of Public Works -- be off the table, but he said in general the town should avoid writing well-defined positions into the policy.
"Part of what we're trying to do is find new positions for new skills we've never had before," Fohlin said. "We don't know what we don't have because we haven't put the 'help wanted' sign out before."
Likewise, Fohlin's draft -- which he stressed was preliminary -- did not include income sensitivity because he did not
want to require participants in the program to have to reveal personal information (income tax records, bank statements) to Town Hall.
Daley suggested that one way to target the program toward seniors most in need of a tax abatement would be to cap the property values of homeowners who would be eligible under the plan.
Fohlin said the Selectmen should revisit the issue at their June 23 meeting.
The Board of Selectmen did take action on Monday on a request from the Williamstown Theatre Festival to hold a family concert at Cricket Creek Farm on Aug. 10 from 3:30 to 7:45 p.m.
WTF marketing director Eric Kerns told the board that the theater festival plans to bus audience members from the parking lot of the Mount Greylock Regional School to the Sunday afternoon event, where beer will be sold by Sheffield's Big Elm Brewing Company, which will come before the BOS at a later date for a license.
The permit to run the concert was approved unanimously.
In other business on Monday night, the board continued its exploration of economic development in the town. Daley gave his colleague a preliminary list of businesses to be surveyed that he developed with the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. The board discussed strategies for reaching out to those businesses -- including, perhaps, holding small-group discussions at a regularly scheduled Chamber meeting.
Fohlin gave the Selectmen a monthly update on the process of relocation efforts at the Spruces Mobile Home Park. To date, 28 of 66 households have identified new housing, and 19 of that 28 already have moved out of the park.
The town has finalized the "determination of benefits" under the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant with 27 of the residents, for a total of $534,472. That works out to just less than $20,000 per resident; the maximum benefit allowed under the law is $22,500, and several of the residents have received the maximum, Fohlin said.
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