Early December sampling

A lot of meetings and events this past week, with issues running from miserable to merry and back to miserable.

Monday's meeting of the Budget Coordinating Group (two representatives each from the Select Board, the School Committee, the Library Trustees, and the Finance Committee, plus the Town Manager, Library Director, School Superintendent, and the Town's and School's Finance Directors) received the first presentation of the Facilitation of Community Choices Committee's report.  The same executive summary, with the report's Chapter 1, was presented later that day at the Select Board meeting.  The full report is available here, and will be on the Town web site early in the week.  Two points I can't make strongly enough:  1) the FCCC did an extraordinary job with this - its work, its process, and its final report have all been exemplary in their comprehensiveness and collaboration; and 2) our budget situation for FY10 and the next few years is simply awful.  The community needs to prepare itself for significant change and loss.  Budget officials working within each individual budget sector, and working together through the BCG, have very difficult months ahead. 

Wednesday's Chamber Breakfast featured a terrific presentation by Amherst's 250th Anniversary Committee.  We will have a year-long celebration of the Town's past, present and future, and you can see the event calendar here.  Make a habit of checking out the committee's web site to learn more and see how you might participate.  Don't miss the fundraising goodies, including the famous "Amherst, MA - where only the "h" is silent" T-shirt and an anniversary year calendar with historic Amherst photos.  So 2009 will be a year of economic misery, but at least we'll have fun and interesting events going on to distract us. 

Friday morning was a tour of the High School, which was a real eye-opener for people like me who don't have kids, and for those whose kids haven't gotten to the high school yet or graduated long ago.  Amazing things going on there - arts, technology and life-skill offerings to include and engage students for whom traditional academics isn't the best path.  Plus all the academic stuff.  There's a Middle School tour from 10:00 a.m. to noon on December 19th.  Call the Central Office at 362-1810 to sign up.  In the spring, there will be tours of the elementary schools as well.  It's good for the community to have the opportunity to see what our schools are like in the 21st century.

Friday evening was the Merry Maple event downtown.  The Middle School chorus sang on the Town Hall steps, the UMass Marching Band arrived in its usual blaze of glory, and with Donner, Blitzen, et al, otherwise occupied, Santa showed up on the Fire Department's ladder truck.  Hot Atkins cider, holiday tunes and hanging out with friends and neighbors - how great is that?

Saturday morning was the Four Towns meeting, where the School Superintendents invited Select Boards, School Committees, Finance Committees and other budget officials from Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury to preview the FY10 budget situation, with emphasis on how it impacts the Regional School District.  State Reps Ellen Story and Stephen Kulik were there to share the dismal projections from Boston.  The big question is - just how bad will it be?  No reduction in State aid leaves us with a big deficit - and that's the most optimistic scenario.  Things get worse with every percentage point of possible aid decrease. 

Gotta wonder what that high school tour will look like next year.  Or in five years.  Every Amherst Town, School and Library program and service faces the same uncertainty.  A lot will depend on the next few months.    


Nancy said:

I'm very concerned with spending funds in this tight economical time on creating a private street for the benefit of a relatively few Amherst residents who reside on Lincoln and Sunset Aves. The University was there and affected property values when the majority of those residents decided to buy. If they'd wanted the privacy of a non- or less-traveled street, they should have chosen a less central (i.e. less convenient) neighborhood and/or gotten less of a house in a more private neighborhood.

Busy roads do affect value of property--I know. I bought my house, which is on a busy street, because it made it affordable to me. It was the trade-off I made. However if the option is available, I'd like to know how to put in a request for Jersey barriers. Perhaps then I could actually sell my house for what the town has decided its market value is.

Lincoln and Sunset Aves have sidewalks for pedestrians as well as posted speed limits. My street has no sidewalks and the posted speed limit is 40, way too fast for the amount of pedestrian traffic, but Amherst "can't afford" to build new sidewalks.

The same thing happened when we spent tax dollars to repair the bridge on Woodside Ave (I think that's the name of it--in the very lovely residential neighborhood across from Amherst College campus. ) We didn't re-open the bridge as it would affect the neighborhood by allowing through traffic. Why, then did we pay to fix the bridge? I imagine it's because we were required to because it was a public throroughfare. That being the case, what right does the town have to keep a publicly maintained thoroughfare closed?

How about enforcing the exisiting speed limits and bringing in revenue from the offendors? How about focusing on spending time and energy on road improvement/traffic filtering for roads and streets that are currently DANGEROUS for pedestrians because there are no sidewalks? Pine Street, East Pleasant, South East Street and several other South Amherst streets, and these are just ones with which I'm familiar.

It's unfortunate the Lincoln and Sunset residents think that town should solve their desire to limit through traffic and that the town manager keeps authorizing expenditures to please them. It seems to me that the town has no legal right to determine "too much traffic" as being a reason to change public streets (maintained by all taxpayer's dollars) UNLESS the town takes the roadways affected off public maintenance and no tax dollars are used to police, maintain or limit access to and turns over ownership to the residents.

I believe the only issue the town should be trying to solve is any speeding taking place. There are traffic laws for that. If the residents are concerned about that, and I think they are, they have my full support. But I cannot support inconveniencing other town residents who use those streets and spending money those very residents' tax $'s to do so.

Sorry this is bit long but I had only a few mins of lunch to compose.

Impressed said:

Well said, Nancy! You raise many good points I hope the Select Board is willing to consider. I especially agree with the point that the residents knew the University was there when they bought their homes so why should they be surprised when people use their street to get to the University! In my opinion, way too much time, energy, and financial resources have been spent by the Select Board and the town on the relatively few residents of Lincoln and Sunset. Next year, my neighborhood is considering applying for street closing to celebrate Halloween!

Marcy said:

I agree whole heartedly with Nancy's perspective. I am concerned that so much of the Town Manager's, DPW's and Select Board's attention (not to mention tax payer dollars) has been given to one small, vocal and relatively privileged neighborhood at the expense of a broader prioritizing of town-wide road condition, traffic calming and pedestrian access issues; particularly at a time when the town's resources (time as well as money) are so taxed. I'm not saying that there is not a traffic problem on Lincoln. But there are traffic problems elsewhere as well, and in places with poor quality or non existing sidewalks.
I agree that speed enforcement is the way to tackle this issue, not special status treatment which is what this feels like. How about we put the Mutual Aid Agreement into effect in a meaningful way? Let's get those UMASS police cruisers who are usually staked out with speed traps on University Drive (a much wider thoroughfare with flashing lights and well marked zebra striped pedestrian crossings) to spread their attention to adjacent neighborhoods receiving University related traffic.

Richard Morse said:

I believe that we don't have the police resources to do really intensive speed enforcement anywhere. That's why we seem to see more speed traps set up after graduation weekend (I love the ones set up in the early morning hours in the summer on South East Street and on the Route 116 straightaway to bag those of us property taxpayers trying to get to work.)

This is a very sticky problem because it really comes down to the basic willingness of people to look at posted speed limits and abide by them. And I definitely remember driving a little over the speed limit on a regular basis when I was a college-age driver.

I think that this barrier solution is worth a try, but my gut tells me that this will simply spread the problem concentrated on Lincoln Avenue onto perpendicular streets and, most annoyingly, onto parallel cross streets between the University and Amity Street.

Nancy said:


Could you address why Lincoln and Sunset are more deserving of barriers than say, Pine St or East Pleasant? Each of these streets also get very fast drivers who ignore speed limits and, unlike Lincoln and Sunset, have no sidewalks. So I propose they are more deserving of re-routing efforts.

I do know that there are many pedestrians on East Pleasant. If I were to think like Lincoln Ave residents, I'd use the argument that those commuters from Shutesbury and Leverett using my street for convenience (i.e. a shortcut) should be re-routed to 116 and/or Amherst/Pelham Road to 202. I think that proposal holds just as much water.

Although you present that our police are not able to do intensive speed enforcement--I ask why not? Random, staggered patrolling would provide revenue--and provide impetus for regular travellers to slow down.

Since this "issue" was presented it has seemed that the residents really are concerned about the volume. Speaking of the speeding gets attention and is a bonafide concern but speeding is more problematic on streets like East Pleasant, South East, Pine which have higher posted speed limits,so the speeds travelled are greater and NO sidewalks.

Richard Morse said:


No, I can't justify why Lincoln and Sunset are more deserving of barriers than anywhere else. To mix metaphors like crazy, residents there are the squeaky wheels on this topic, and they've gotten the attention. You are absolutely correct about the breadth of the problem of speeding and the lack of sidewalks: let me add Middle Street, parts of Pomeroy Lane both east and west of 116, and the Mount Holyoke Drive network of streets in South Amherst to your list.

My understanding (subject to correction, of course)is that in order to do speed enforcement, you have to use at least one police cruiser. And to do it in a particular area, that cruiser has to sit there.

And you might be surprised to discover how few police cruisers we have out there on the street at any given time, especially during the daytime. Or when cops are responding to student disturbances on weekends. This is part of a larger peeve that I have, that we have been risking public safety in some aspects with our current staffing levels.

We will respond to this rampant speeding problem when a pedestrian gets run down walking on one of our sidewalk-less streets. It's going to happen, and there will be a lot of sorrow about it.

In the meantime, through trial and error, we might learn something in the area of Lincoln Avenue that we could apply to other parts of town. That's why this might still be worth it. But it's going to take a lot of barriers to force me as a driver into the center of town or all the way onto University Drive to go from south to north.

To Richard said:

Just because they are squeaky wheels doesn't mean they should get time, money, and attention again and again! I agree with you that we don't have enough police cruisers to stake out every problem area in town on a daily basis. But I disagree that we "might learn something in the area of Lincoln Avenue that we could apply to other parts of town!" First of all, is the town even considering using barriers throughout town as a traffic-calming measure? If no, you cannot use this argument. If yes, my question then is, "does the town have the money to erect barriers throughout town?" I know the answer to that one--NO!

So, my suggestion to the Select Board is to politely acknowlege the residents of Lincoln and Sunset, but tell them that the town cannot, at this point, afford to erect traffic-calming barriers in their neighborhood. And while they are at it, consider releasing the total cost of all the various OTHER traffic-calming measures that have already been TRIED in that neighborhood (in addition to the costs of closing down that neighborhood for Halloween). It is taxpayer money. We deserve to know how much it has cost us.

I am really appreciating all the thoughtful comments on this subject. Thank you.

Marcy said:

I'm curious Stephanie, about whether you think there is any potential in making real use of the Mutual Aid Agreement--in terms of off-setting demands on Amherst police (and consequently, tax dollars). I'm not talking about giving the campus force free reign to police our streets, but about targeting specific University related public safety problems (particularly within a certain perimeter of campus) that campus police were given sanction to "police". It seems reasonable to me to expect traffic, drunkenness, litter, noise, etc., on Amherst streets that are adjacent to campus (caused primarily by members of the University population), to be be policed with University supported funds. I think we could gain a lot as a community (above and beyond tax dollars) from a more genuine and measurable culture of shared responsibility related to these issues.

Squeeky(2)Wheeler said:

At least one pedestrian HAS been killed on East Pleasant Street (in the mid '90s) and at least one cyclist was severely injured there (in almost the same place) just this past winter. The Select Board has the authority to locate stop signs and crosswalks; moreover, it has received repeated requests for stop signs at various times for various place along - you guessed it! - East Pleasant Street. I would defer to Nancy's
expertise, but propose an experiment along the lines she suggests: place new stop signs or crosswalks (or both) at the following locations along the length of East Pleasant:

At Pine Street (3-way stop sign and 3 new crosswalks)

At Grantwood Drive (3-way stop sign and 3 new crosswalks)

At Cherry Lane/Van Meter Drive (4-way stop sign and 4 new crosswalks)

At Eastman Lane/Tilson Farm Way, near North Fire Station (4-way stop sign and 4 new crosswalks)

At Strong Street/Clark Hill Road (4-way stop sign and 4 new crosswalks)

At Chestnut Street (3-way stop sign and 3 new crosswalks)

The distances between each of these exceeds the distance from Amity to Fearing along Lincoln or Sunset, and the traffic volume and speed greatly exceeds that on Lincoln or Sunset. And since there are buses which also use this route (and bus stops a some of the proposed locations) there would be
an added benefit to (potential) bus riders as well. And, yes, Nancy is correct - many more people walk and run and bicycle along East Pleasant than on any other street in Amherst - and although there are
adequate shoulders for bike lanes, the absence of any sidewalks north of Village Park make the combination pretty dangerous at many times of the day and night.

How many more people need to be killed or injured on East Pleasant Street for the Town to take responsibility there seriously?

Richard Morse said:

I share the frustration expressed by everyone above. In past years, my wife has made attempts to address this problem in our home area. (Her efforts earned her a cover photo in the Bulletin during the slow news period one August.)

On Mt. Holyoke Drive where we live, our speeding problem is home-grown. It comes from our neighbors, most of whom have been living there longer than we have, who zoom down the street as if they were having a medical emergency. Alice has left polite notes asking neighbors to slow down, to no avail that we can observe. And at least one teen-age neighbor driver has flipped my wife the bird in the past year or two.

In short, we have met the enemy and they are us.

My only emphasis in this discussion is that our recognition of the problem should not set those of us who are concerned against each other. I can't fault the folks on Lincoln Avenue for trying.

OK, I'm falling behind here. Sorry.

Per the Mutual Aid Agreement: my understanding of the Mutual Aid Agreement is that it essentially formalized what had been an informal agreement. It wasn't intended or expected to save money or supplement either department's forces, much to the chagrin and disappointment of some. When I talk to Amherst Police Officers about why it can't be implemented in a way more like you're suggesting -- dealing with the off-campus spillover of campus-related stuff, the most common answer I get is that the times that the APD is busiest and needs the most help are the same times the UMPD is busiest on campus. But this conversation is continuing, and with new urgency due to the State and local budget crisis. Finding ways to share resources for better efficiency in every area is the name of the game right now. Tomorrow (Monday, 12/15) a grant application is being submitted to study the feasibility of regionalizing emergency dispatch services across several towns and UMass, so exploring ways to expand coopertaion is being actively pursued.

Per the speeding/traffic concerns: No other non-school issue inspires such passions. I hear conflicting views from Police and DPW about the effectiveness of speed enforcement in changing behavior. DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring has put together (or is still working on? I forget.) a draft policy for addressing traffic calming town-wide. It details what kinds of steps will be taken on different kinds of roads to address different levels of problems. Before long, that will come before the Select Board. I have sat through a lot of discussions at a lot of different committees on these issues, and the "solutions" aren't as simple as one might think. For example: many intersections are considered to be a major problem by those who frequent them during our "commuter rush." But those are pretty small windows of time in Amherst (and are not year-round,) and things like traffic lights and Stop signs become 24/7 enforcers. In some cases, that could mean creating a bigger problem through the "solution." Or this: a discussion of lowering the speed limit on all Town-owned roads raised the issue of how that would impact bus schedules, because UMass transit drivers are required to obey the speed limit. Interesting stuff, and further underscoring for me that nothing is as "obvious" as it might first appear. Everything to do with traffic is getting and will continue to get plenty of attention, so do keep the feedback and ideas coming.

Nancy said:

Thanks for commenting. However I'm concerned because the solutions the town has come up for Lincoln and Sunset is more than traffic calming; it's traffic prohibition My concern is the inequitable manner in which Amherst seems to want to address traffic concerns. Squeal loudly enough in an expensive neighborhood and you get traffic prohibition, just as Woodside did.

And I would venture to guess that commuter time is really the most travelled time on both Lincoln and Sunset.

Alisa V. Brewer said:

Changing topics for a moment:

Happy Birthday, Stephanie!!!!

Our community is lucky to have you. And I am very happy to have you as my friend.


Eva Schiffer said:

Happy late birthday, Stephanie!! I didn't know! Thanks again and again for doing what you do; just keep doing it.


Thanks for the birthday good wishes!

I have a few things pending for this site, and I apologize for being behind. But with a much-needed SB meeting break, and the holidays, I'm just giving myself a little breather. Back soon, I promise...

Happy Holidays to all!

Mary Carey said:

Happy belated birthday from me too!



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