Williams College sophomore Sonya Jampel addresses the Board of Selectmen on Monday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen on Monday heard the results of a survey documenting recreational use of Route 43 and perils thereof.
Williams College sophomore Sonya Jampel of the school's Great Ideas Committee presented the findings of a study conducted in February and March that drew responses from 624 people — mostly Williams students and staff.
The survey found that Route 43 — known as Water Street in the village center and Green River Road where it approaches the junction with Route 7 — is used nearly 1,400 times per week by runners. Two hundred, fifty-two of the respondents said they run on the road at least three times per week, and 74 people reported biking there at least three times per week.
The problem is that the very thing that makes the road attractive for recreational use — its wending path along the Green River — makes it inherently dangerous for runners, bikers and joggers all to share the narrow, two-lane state highway.
The "shoulder," such as it is, is seldom more than a foot in width, often narrower than that and frequently degraded.
"Fifty-four percent of the recreators and 56 percent of the drivers reported that they are very concerned about safety," Jampel said. "This is something the community cares a lot about.
"There have been a lot of reported near misses and scary encounters."
The members of the board have heard those tales — and lived them — but they were struck by the data in the survey.
"I drive that road every day," Selectman Jeffrey Thomas said. "I live on Gale Road near where it intersects Water Street. I see you guys run by all the time. … And I drive that road every day. I have had so many scary experiences.
"It's great someone has taken the time to document it so it's not just anecdotal."
Selectman Hugh Daley agreed, noting that it is "amazing" no one has been seriously injured on the road.
"I'm amazed by the number of people using it," Daley said. "You know it's a lot, but we didn't have the math until now."
Chairman Andrew Hogeland and Town Manager Jason Hoch noted that the town is in conversation with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on making improvements to the southerly stretch of Route 43.
The project currently permitted in the commercial district of Water Street does not extend south of Meacham into the more dangerous running and biking zones.
Hoch said that improvements needed to the Water Street/Green River Road stretch may not involve widening the road so much as repairing and restoring the shoulder that should be there in the first place.
Hoch also pointed out that there are other things that can be done besides altering the state highway.
"Are there other loops we can work on that are slightly disconnected now or that we can improve?" he said. "Where do we create alternatives? Not all of it will be just, ‘Fix Route 43.'
Any Mass DOT work on the road likely is years away. In the short term, Jampel said her group is recommending more modest steps like repairing potholes and encouraging safer practices among drivers and non-drivers: not texting while driving, honoring the highway's "Share the Road" signs and not running or biking without reflective gear.
In other business on Monday evening, the Board of Selectmen opened a public hearing on a request from the Sand Springs Recreational Center for a seasonal alcohol license.
Executive Director Geraldine Shen said that the request stems from the success the pool and recreation center has had the last couple of summer with single-day licenses for special events.
"Two years ago, we applied for 10 one-day permits for Friday evenings to see if our patrons would like to have a beer or cocktail with their pizza," She said. "Those were well received, so we did it again last year. … As we have more events, we'd like the flexibility of the seasonal license."
Sand Springs' neighbor, Jim Montepare, raised concerns about the impact of the expanded alcohol license for himself and fellow residents of nearby McLain Court.
"I'm concerned about the number of events to take place and how long this would last," Montepare said. "Are the events limited as to the number of people? Are they limited to certain times? I'm concerned about the growth of the Sand Springs pool. Is it an event facility or is it a recreational facility as it has historically been?
"If you start running a commercial venue in a residential area, there are implications."
Montepare also — not for the first time at Town Hall — raised concerns about traffic issues at Sand Springs, where patrons park along McLain Court and, he said, block access to the residential neighborhood.
Shen emphasized that the pool is working to educate its users about the parking procedure, including a notice that will go out to members with season passes before the coming summer season.
The board noted that the parking and traffic issues are not directly part of the alcohol permit request, which was carried over to the next meeting because of paperwork issues. And the town has no jurisdiction over McLain Court, which is a private road with deeded access through the Sand Springs property.
Hogeland and Thomas encouraged Montepare to work with Shen to address his concerns and try to find an amicable resolution. Montepare told them that he is in favor of the success of the recreational facility even though he has trepidations about its growth toward hospitality.
The selectmen asked Hoch to investigate before their May 22 meeting whether the seasonal alcohol license can be written to restrict the hours of operation.
Montepare indicated that he trusted the pool's current management but did not want the town to rely too much on good faith when allowing a new use for the property.
"You can't guarantee Geraldine is going to run that place forever, and if you start moving from a recreational pool facility to an event facility, those are two different animals," he said.
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