SUNDERLAND — In a meeting with the Village Center Committee on Jan. 23, Jason Schrieber, senior principal at Stantec, the urban design consultants hired to explore options for the intersection of Routes 116 and 47, mentioned some of the questions facing residents and a few of the traffic design pieces that may provide answers.

“Does the community want to intervene in the street or not?” Schrieber asked. “Do they want to change the buildings downtown or not? Do they feel like green space is important…? Is on street parking important…? Is safety a priority…?”

Selectboard member Daniel Murphy, employed by the city of Easthampton, had a ready answer to one question.

“The biggest part is safety, keeping it safe,” Murphy said. “I’ve seen three pedestrian fatalities since I started [in Easthampton] … I would love to see a shared use path right through there.”

The intersection is under the microscope for several reasons. Vehicles often race through the intersection at dangerous speeds. Businesses in the area would benefit if the crossroads was more suitable for a quick stop. The safety of residents, young and old, is a concern since the road is lined with homes and the elementary school is nearby.

Schrieber mentioned on street parking as an option residents should consider to address one of the negatives: traffic speed. On street parking would narrow the thoroughfares. The numbered highways, coming into the intersection, are laid in wide lanes, which drivers often see as a reason to hit the gas pedal.

One question Schrieber voiced was whether the residents want to do anything with the intersection. In a previous meeting Hollis Graves, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and a homeowner on South Main Street, didn’t think anything needed to be done.

“It’s like a solution looking for a problem,” Graves said. “Yeah, you can slow it down. Yeah, we want to be more ‘village center’ … but why do you want to rip that up for millions of dollars?”

Schrieber commented in last week’s meeting that data for the intersection is in short supply. While statistics on traffic dangers and the calming measures that may mitigate them is plentiful, the intersection itself has not been studied and data isn’t available. Schrieber argued, however, that less data should be presented to board members.

The characteristics of the locale, the dangers and calming measures, are the major pieces of the situation, Schrieber said. Introducing lots of data would only make a decision harder to reach. He was concerned the presentation to town boards and committees might confuse some members with unnecessary details and prevent them from focusing on the pieces that do not involve traffic flow and planning.

“We need to do that street level education, but also that village level education,” said committee member Benneth Phelps. “People don’t understand that, the interplay between the farmland and the intersection.”

“You want more pedestrian traffic,” Schrieber said, emphasizing the recognized desire for the intersection to be more of a destination. “I would say something about the factors … that make it safer, things that do slow cars down: narrower streets, on street parking, visual narrowing through trees and buildings, and the land use that would go along with that.”

Schrieber is hoping for candid feedback. Town officials may view the presentation and conclude a safer crosswalk would be welcome. A crossing island may be preferred, separately or as part of a traffic circle. Buildings are a tool for traffic control, another consideration that may complicate the deliberations.

Kyle Snow, a business representative on the Village Center Committee, agreed that discussing the granular level data might not be helpful.

“The more bigger picture ideas you express … is better than trying to get into detailed stuff, or get their opinion,” Snow said. “It’s all coming at once, so all the broader, general education … is gonna get a lot more value.”

Lorin Starr, at large chair of the Village Center Committee, was hoping to host a meeting for board and committee heads in February, but scheduling conflicts pushed the next meeting out into March. Schrieber was encouraging about the possibility that a satisfying plan for the crossroads will be reached.

“We want this more than a focus on the design of the street,” Schrieber said. It’s “a broader story about what makes safe spaces, which is certainly possible in your village center.”

dpruyne@thereminder.com | + posts