By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH – Local officials, residents and business representatives spent Oct. 28 walking up and down Bartlett Street in Northborough.
It was part of a road safety audit held at Algonquin Regional High School, which discussed issues along the road and potential changes.
Participants ranged from town officials and school staff to individuals from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, to representatives from Amazon and A. Duie Pyle. Several neighbors also participated.
Northborough had engaged the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC) to prepare a post-occupancy study for the Amazon property at 330 and 350 Bartlett St., which included the road safety audit.
As CMRPC Deputy Director of Transportation Sujatha Krishnan explained it, a roadway safety audit is a formal safety review process of a corridor.
“We are here to examine Bartlett Street, the safety of Bartlett Street because that seems to be a concern, and I think more so related to the truck traffic,” Krishnan said.
Particularly in focus is the question of how well a traffic study completed prior to the Amazon property being occupied is matched to real-world conditions, Krishnan said.
According to CMRPC Assistant Planner Eric Gemperline, there were 58 crashes on Bartlett Street between 2016 and 2020 and 15 crashes between 2020 and Sept. 23.
While only nine crashes have involved trucks. Gemerline said police reports often include driver statements saying individuals swerved to avoid a truck “or something of that nature.”
Additionally, while the average number of crashes per month decreased between 2016 and 2020 and 2020 and Sept. 23, Gemperline said the number of crashes involving trucks has increased.
Gemperline said one-fifth of all crashes between the beginning of 2020 and Sept. 30 involved trucks at either Class 8 size or larger.
Class 8 trucks have four or fewer axles or one single trailer.
“We’re definitely seeing a larger proportion of truck crashes going forward,” Gemperline said.
CMPRC has been doing traffic counts in the region since the 1980s. In 2013, Bartlett Street east of Lyman Street had a traffic volume of 6,084.
That same stretch had an average Monday through Friday count of 6,378 according to counts by the CMPRC between May 17 to June 1 of this year.
“None of the volumes here were very surprising to us,” said CMRPC Principal Planner Rob Raymond. “It’s what we would expect.”
Before residents walked the road, some voiced concerns about various intersections and Bartlett Street as a whole.
One said trucks cross the center line when turning onto Bartlett from Main Street.
Selectman Kristen Wixted voiced concern about students running along Bartlett Street.
“I’ve been here for 20 years. I’ve seen, personally, day by day what changes have gone on and how much truck traffic has been increasing, and how much the traffic has been increasing since this area has been built,” said Lisa Maselli who lives nearby.
Maselli noted the CMRPC’s observation about an increase in traffic, which she called a “forewarning about what’s going to happen.”
Amazon will be starting its holiday work, which, she said, will bring an uptick in traffic.
“There is going to be an uptick,” Maselli said. “It’s not going to be usual. It’s going to be big, and we didn’t build the side streets to handle this.”
Some of the recommendations from this audit included enhancing signage at the intersection of Bartlett and Lyman Street, changing the timing of lights to allow for bus traffic and moving stop markers back at the intersection of Rt. 20 and Bartlett in case trucks cross the center line.
Krishnan said that Northborough’s Rt. 20 and Bartlett intersection needed to be examined in terms of long-term improvements.
Others made suggestions about sidewalk access to nearby trails.
Maselli noted that, while there’s a blinking crosswalk near trailheads off Bartlett Street, there are no sidewalks.
“There should at least be a sidewalk on one side,” she said.