Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Friday, January 16, 2009

Didn't Break Any Speed Limits Getting This Far, But We Got There

On January 15th I was finally able to sit down with Chief of Police Tom Ford and discuss his findings regarding making the southern portion of Route 148 a Thickly Settled Zone. When we last spoke he told me he would research the possibility, and it was all dependent on whether or not the Commonwealth had ever conducted a Speed Study on the road. If the state had conducted a speed study on the road, and had set speed limits that were safe for the traffic then they could not change those limits. However, if the state had not conducted a Speed Study, then they could proceed, but there was a wrinkle to that as well. [NOTE: Speed limits are set based on the average speed of vehicles, and construction of the roadway to insure the safety of the vehicles, not pedestrians, or residents on the roadway.] In 1992 the Mass Highway Department did conduct a study of the road to coincide with its widening, and the current "advisory speed limits" were posted.

If the area had not been the subject of a speed study, and a Thickly Settled Zone with a speed limit of 30 MPH was implemented, it would be almost impossible to enforce. According to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90, Section 17 to enforce the speed limit in this kind of speed zone a violator has to be observed speeding for at least 1/8 of a mile, 660 feet, before issuing a citation. This makes enforcement in this type of speed zone almost impossible. All a speeder has to do is slow down when he comes upon an officer with a radar gun, and if his speed is high, but decreases to, or below the speed limit anytime during those 660 feet, he cannot be written up.

Confused? Wait, it gets better.

I know, it's wacky, however, if the area is not designated a Thickly Settled Zone, and there are proper speed limits posted, then an officer does not have to use the 660 foot rule to contend with, and if the radar says they are over the posted speed limit, even by 1 MPH, they can pull them over.


Yes, there is a "but". The signs that are up on Route 148 (Brookfield Road) are yellow, not the black and white speed limit signs. So, what's the difference? The yellow signs are only "advisory speed limit signs" for the area. They aren't enforceable. "Chapter 90, section 17 of the Massachusetts General Laws begins: No person operating a motor vehicle on any way shall run it at a rate of speed greater than is reasonable and proper . This is the "basic rule", and anyone could be cited if the observing officer felt that their speed was not reasonable and proper, but that leaves the determination up to the officer, and not the posted limit on a yellow sign. This is often fought successfully in court by violators if they can prove their speed was reasonable and proper.

So, what's with the yellow speed limit signs? Well, according to Chief Ford, who has been in contact with the higher ups at Mass Highway regarding this whole issue of speed limits on Route 148, the signs are not supposed to be there at all according to Mass Highway. They are supposed to be the black and white speed limit signs!

Woo hoo! This means that even if a violator is one mile an hour over the speed limit, they can be cited since they violated a "posted speed limit".

This now arms the police with something solid to use in their enforcement of the speeds in this area. Something they never had before.

Since I first brought this up to the Traffic Safety Committee in August of 2006, the Chief has done a great deal of work behind the scenes. I wasn't aware of the work he, and his officers, Lt Curboy, and Sgt Mercier, were doing regarding this despite my curiosity, and writing about it here several times. Communication may have been lacking, but the work, and research was not.

The Police have set up the new small speed board on Route 148 several times, and this past October they set up a new device, the kind that Mass Highway uses for more scientific studies. Lt. Allan Curboy had reams of data from the 11 day study with this new device that he shared with me. The average speed at the point where the device was set up just north of my house was between 45 and 47 MPH, although there were speeders as well, but most of them came in the early morning between 5 and 7 AM, and in the afternoon from 5-6 PM. This is the prime time for commuters to travel on the road.

One confusing fact I got from all the data retrieved from the device was that the vehicle count for the 11 day study in October was 84,000.


Over eleven days that comes out to 318 vehicles per hour on Brookfield Road, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. After 10:00 PM to around 4:00 AM, traffic is rare on Brookfield Road, so that would skew the numbers even higher during the day.

I think that the 84,000 count may be a bit inaccurate, but until there is another study in the fall of 2009 we will have to settle on these counts.

So, how does this all affect those living, walking and driving along Route 148? Well, believe it or not, something positive is going to come of all this. First of all the yellow speed limit signs are going to be replaced soon. The order for them was given by the Chief to the Director of the DPW to order them some time ago, and unless they are being hand painted by monks in a monastery in the Alps, they should be up soon. Once they are up, then Chief Ford intends to make the southern portion of Route 148 a "Zero Tolerance Speed Zone", in other words, go over the limit, even by one MPH, and its ticket time. There is a plan to place signs proclaiming this congested area as a Zero Tolerance Zone on the southern end of Route 148 heading north, and a mile or so up the road heading south. These kind of signs are as good as tossing "speed sticks" onto the road. They do decrease the speed of the vehicles.

There will also be an increased police presence on the roadway at varying times, and different days during the week, and a couple of days each week the police will place their electric message board on the road warning drivers that they are in a Zero Tolerance Area.

So, there you have it, the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another. Yes, it sure did take some time to get this far, but in the end I feel the results are good. Now, we will see if the plan will be effective. "Awareness, education and enforcement" was something stated by both the Chief, and Lt. Curboy during the meeting, sounds like a plan to me.

Route 148 has changed dramatically over the years. From an old county road connecting Route 20 to Route 9 and beyond, to being widened to handle modern traffic flows. Recently, we were able to convince the Post Mistress of the Fiskdale Post Office to begin mail delivery on both sides of the road instead of having everyone's mailbox only on the east side of the road. The traffic flow and speeds on the roadway no longer made this a safe way for residents to get their mail each day. After I had initially brought it up to the Post Mistress, and set the idea in her head, my neighbor took the reigns and finally got the approval for allowing west side residents to have their mailboxes in front of their homes.

Things can happen if one has the desire to make changes, and the patience to see them through.

So, what's next?

Well, there are still things to be done to make Route 148 safer for the residents, and pedestrians. Sidewalks would be nice.

Yeah, sidewalks...

Now, whose bonnet can this bee get under now?

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