We thought the barn door had been closed, and secured, but good, with elaborate and expensive crosswalk construction, bold warning signs and pavement painting along Elm Street, at Smith College's front door.
The tragic death of a Smith student crossing Elm Street in the early morning sun more than a year ago quickly galvanized efforts for an active effort to slow down motorists and protect pedestrians.
Only days after the accident, in-the-road signs, similar to those on Main Street in the downtown, sprouted along Elm Street to draw attention to the rights pedestrians can claim.
And then came the weeks-long reworking for a six-block section of Elm Street at a cost said to be $100,000, funded we are told by the college.
The work included multi-hued crosswalks, attractive red paving stone, new curbing thrusting into the roadway, and an inviting three-block long bike lane for those of us who enjoy a three-block long bike trip.
The total effect of all of this road and safety work seemed to confirm the image of Smith College as an island of privilege. Six blocks in a city of 30,000 citizens were now safe for pedestrians all because of an unfortunate fatality and the deep pockets of the college. But the latest accident, which sent two Smith students to the hospital, demonstrated that there are no islands of privilege for beleaguered pedestrians.
And moreover, what possible purpose is gained by designating three-block long bike lanes? What about bicyclists who travel downstreet from Florence along busy Route 9 or from Easthampton along Route 10? Where are their painted bike lanes?
What about the timid pedestrian who dares to step into the crosswalk in front of the Florence Savings Bank on Main Street in Florence, or in front of Friendly's, or near the Civic Center and the Florence Rest Home, or where the bike path crosses North Maple Street? Where are the warning cones in the street at those locations? Where are the fancy extruded curbs and brick paving stones?
When I moved back to Florence in 1990 I asked the Department of Public Works if yellow signs warning motorists about the state law protecting pedestrians could be positioned in the Main Street roadway. No way, I was told.
A few years later a child was killed by a motorist at the intersection of Chestnut and Main Streets and the city's response was to put up a sign prohibiting right turns on red. Big deal.
While extraordinary steps are taken to protect Smith students and others in the so-called Elm Street crowd who must cross the street from time to time, pedestrians in Florence are pretty much on their own, an island of neglect rather than privilege.
That's not only true at designated crosswalks but at the main traffic signal at Main and Maple Streets. I make more than a few trips a day from my bookstore to the post office or bank and on any given day scores and scores of cars shoot through the intersection, long after the green light has flashed yellow and then turned red, and still the vehicles race through, as pedestrians shake their heads in disbelief.
I could make hundreds of citizens arrests each day for such violations, although I don't feel that is my job. I've witnessed amber and red-light violations even as a police cruiser sits parked in the Mobil station lot on the corner.
A crackdown at that intersection is urgently required to head off another fatality. The effect of a show of police force by arrests and ticketing would send a message that it is prudent to slow down when traveling through Florence from one end to the other.
No sophisticated radar equipment is needed or grant money required to post police on foot at the intersection to whistle down any an all traffic signal violators, as well as pedestrians who cross against the traffic.
Police officials say that, with their limited resources, they are trying to combat speeding in many parts of the city but we have yet to see much in the way of results.
There is a new transportation task force presumably at work on ways to slow down the mad rush of vehicular traffic throughout Northampton. It needs to move beyond Elm Street and drag itself out of City Hall and into other neighborhoods in the community to understand the full extent of the problem.
downstreet.net©2000. All rights reserved.