PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The county's rate of serious traffic accidents in the Berkshires is declining faster than the state average.
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Senior Transportation Planner Eammon Coughlin reported Tuesday projections that show a continual decline in the number of vehicle fatalities and serious injuries. Based on five-year rolling averages calculated each year, there has been a 17.27 percent decline in fatalities and a 15.57 percent decline in serious injuries since 2011.
"Total fatalities and the fatality rate is declining and we are declining faster than the state," Coughlin said.
The number of fatalities had peaked between 2008 and 2012 at 13 but has shown a relatively stable decline of about 5 percent per year since. Coughlin predicts that if the trend continues by the end of the 2014 to 2018 period, there will be nine.
For serious injuries, from 2007 to 2011 there was a high of 70. That too had declined at a percent of about 5 percent annually and is expected to be at 52 by the end of the 2018 period.
"The trends are indicating, for Berkshire County, that they all are declining," he said.
However, when it comes to crashes per miles traveled, the Berkshires are much higher than state averages. BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns said that is likely more of an indication of the rural nature of the county rather than being an indicator of an issue.
"This is where lack of congestion may work against us. Our vehicles travel at faster speeds than they can in Boston or Worcester where you have tremendous traffic congestion," Karns said.
Karns said national studies have known that the most dangerous roadways are two-lane rural highways, which is much of Berkshire County. The county's nature fits in with the national trends, he said.
But there are intersections and roadways with more accidents than others. Coughlin presented a list of the top 5 percent of "crash clusters" as determined by the Department of Transportation. A total of 1,300 crash clusters had been identified and the top 5 percent of those intersections are eligible for funding specifically to improve safety.
Starting in the North, there are worrisome clusters on Curran Highway and at the intersection of Route 8A and West Shaft Road. The entrance to the Walmart on Route 8 is a hot spot for accidents.
In Adams, the location of the newly constructed roundabout was identified in the top 5 percent. But, the crash data is only based on 2013 to 2015, so Coughlin expects those figures to decrease.
"That will probably, hopefully, go away once some data comes in in the next few years based on the improvement that has been made," he said.
In Dalton, the intersection of Main Street and South showed significant cluster as well as stretches on Route 8 and 9.
Pittsfield has the worst cluster, which could be partly due to high traffic numbers, at Fenn Street and First Street. Pittsfield has a number of clusters for traffic accidents as well as all five identified bicycle and pedestrian accident clusters. The pedestrian and bicycle clusters are all in the city's downtown.
"There are basically two bike clusters, both in Pittsfield. There are three pedestrian clusters, all in Pittsfield," he said.
Statewide serious pedestrian and bicycle accidents have risen in recent years. The Berkshires have been trending down slightly, despite a jump in fatalities and serious injuries in 2015.
Other notable Pittsfield intersections for traffic collisions are Linden and Seymour, West and Center Street, Dalton and Plastics Avenue, and Dalton and Merrill.
MassDOT is already working on a project to improve the traffic signals in the Dalton and Merrill Avenue area. That is a $1.4 million project to improve the traffic signals. There is also a project scheduled for 2018 to make safety improvements in the First and Tyler Street area, which also ranks toward the top of the crash clusters.
Further south, the area around the entrance to Guidos was identified - both on the Pittsfield, Lenox border and at the one in Great Barrington. In Lenox, the intersection of Route 7 and Walker Street proved to have a high number of serious crashes.
Entering Lee, there were two clusters identified in the top 5 percent - one at the entrance to Price Chopper and another at the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The area around the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge has a high number of crashes. And in Great Barrington, the intersection of Route 183 and 23, near Monument Mountain High School, and at the intersection of Cottage Street were all cited.
There is a total of 60 cluster signs scattered across eight municipalities ranking in the top 5 percent for Berkshire County.
The data is hoped to help set goals and targeted areas to continue to decrease injuries and fatalities. The Metropolitan Planning Organization needs to adopt local safety performance measures to comply with the federal FAST Act.
According to Gabriel Sherman from MassDOT, those standards need to be developed by the end of February. But, the county can simply accept the state's goals. The state has set a target of declining the number of fatalities by .8 percent annually and declining the number of serious injuries by 3.65 percent annually.
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