PEPPERELL — While they are safer than their four-way counterparts, roundabouts and rotaries have long flummoxed drivers. Now, the town is doing what it can to make its own traffic circle safer for pedestrians and motorists.
With a $400,000 grant courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets Program, the town is set to modify its rotary later this year to create a safer, “pedestrian-friendly” environment along Main Street and downtown.
Town Planner Jenny Gingras said the project, which had been in the works “for a few years now,” was about the safety of residents while also creating a “walkable” environment around town.
“We want to create a walkable atmosphere for everyone down here and along Main Street, and that starts with safety,” Gingras said. “This project is going to create a friendly environment for pedestrians and just make the whole area around the rotary much safer for them and for drivers.”
“In an area that can see a lot of foot traffic, whether from downtown, the Fitzpatrick Collaborative or the nearby Varnum Brook Elementary and Nissitissit Middle School, we saw this as a priority,” she said.
The project, according to Gingras, Town Engineer and Department of Public Works Director Kenneth Kalinowski and DPW Business Manager Paul Brinkman, stemmed from dangers presented by the current state of the rotary.
Because the lane is so wide, drivers do not necessarily have to slow down to enter or exit the traffic circle, endangering themselves, other motorists and, of course, pedestrians. That the lane is wide enough to fit two cars, despite the fact that it is just a single lane, has also posed an issue.
Crosswalks, sidewalks and signage around the rotary are also out of date, while curbs along the rotary are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Gingras.
Brinkman said the rotary, as is, “is just too dangerous” while Gingras said narrowing the lane would force drivers to be more cautious, giving them more time to react to other vehicles or people in crosswalks.
“People drive way too fast through here, they don’t yield as much as they should — and we’ve found that’s because the rotary is just so wide,” Gingras said. “If we narrow the lane a bit, make sure people are being a bit more cautious as they drive, everything would be much safer for everyone.”
The breadth of the rotary lane will be narrowed by pushing the curb alongside Hollis Street, Varnum Brook and the Pepperell Community Center toward the rotary island. Curbs alongside other entrances will also “bump in” and curve as a means to force drivers to slow down as they enter and exit the traffic circle, according to Brinkman.
New signage as well as crosswalks equipt with high-visibility beacons, Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons, will also be installed as part of the project. Varnum Brook Elementary School and Nissitissit Middle School have also contributed funds to have similar crosswalks and RRFBs installed along Hollis Street and Tucker Avenue.
Kalinowski stressed that no changes would be made to driveways or curb cuts for those that might live along the rotary.
“As of right now, there are no changes to anybody’s access,” Kalinowski said. “Driveways, curb cuts and whatnot, they’re all staying.”
Designed by the Watertown-based civil engineering consulting and design firm, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., the project is expected to be bid on in the next few weeks, according to Gingras. Brinkman said the timeline beyond that was “flexible,” but Gingras said the project would need to be completed by the end of the year, per the grant contract.
MassDOT “could always give us an extension,” she said, noting that such an extension was not guaranteed and that, given the scope of the project, the town would have no reason to not be done before the end of the year.
For more information on the project, residents can visit town.pepperell.ma.us/818/Current-Projects.