by Edward Shanahan
sitting on a bench in the triangular park across from the Florence
Association building as steady traffic hums past us to the left,
to the right and behind us. We are surrounded by traffic and the
noise and smell of traffic.
Only the traffic signals at Main and Maple Streets bring occasional
abatement of the flow and the din.
setting for our interview could not be more appropriate. On this
sunny fall day, I am talking to Ed Hagelstein about his obsession
with safer city streets and his concern that traffic in Northampton
has sped out of control.
Hagelstein, a Northampton native, has lived on Nonotuck Street
for 34 years. Before that he lived a few hundred yards down Park
Street from the bench we are sharing. For the last two years,
Hagelstein has become something of a traffic activist - first
as a member of the Mayor's Safe Streets Task Force, and for the
last year as virtually the only member of the public to show up
for each and every meeting of the Northampton Transportation Committee,
save one when he was out of town, (but
he then sent a letter to the committee to make some point).
He ticks off statistics from the summary of the recent transportation
plan prepared for the city by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission:
Between 1997 and 1999, there were 1,495 traffic-related injuries
in Northampton or 500 a year. Based on population, that's one
injury for every 19 residents.
that same three-year period, there were seven fatalities.
The summary claimed that "the city was ranked as the most dangerous
community in Hampshire Country based on traffic crashes per population."
cause is no secret, people are driving much too fast. "Speed is
what kills, speed is what kills," says Hagelstein, who is now
retired from his job as a radiochemist for a firm in Connecticut.
Much of his anger at unsafe driving derives from his own experience
of traveling 100 miles a day to and from his job in Windsor, Conn.
over a span of 35 years. "That was very good training for survival
on the highway," he says.
The Safe Streets Task Force was an outgrowth of a 1999 accident
that took place on Elm Street resulting in the death of a Smith
involved with the task force, Hagelstein's personal interest in
traffic issues took more concrete form.
our conversation, he voices frustration that no specific steps
have been taken to curb out-of-control traffic since the task
force report was issued last summer. Instead, another committee
is at work studying broader issues of transportation policy.
"Because I have a passion for street safety, I feel we are not
moving fast enough," Hagelstein says. "I felt we should be implementing
some of the recommendations for safer streets in tandem with developing
an overall transportation plan."
says the city claims it does not have the resources - manpower
and money - to increase activities to make streets safer, especially
in the area of enforcement.
Hagelstein seems unconvinced that the resource issue is what is
behind the delay in slowing down traffic and promoting greater
He cited a number of steps that could be taken that would not
cost any money, such as passing a city ordinance banning the use
of hand-held cell phones while driving.
step would be to dictate that motorists should drive with their
headlights on at all times, a proven safety practice which is
engineered into many newer cars.
The city should also support legislative changes in auto insurance
laws to increase incentives for safe drivers by further reducing
insurance premiums for those with good driving records, rather
than only penalizing bad drivers with higher premiums.
step, he said, would be a "big, more creative or innovative enforcement
effort. What we've been doing doesn't work. That's a given," which
would require a shift of resources.
He suggests that all city DPW vehicles, including "dump trucks,"
be made available for traffic enforcement, by equipping them with
radar. "It would be like having another unmarked cruiser on the
early October, I attended one of the two public forums held by
the Transportation Committee, at which there appeared to the total
consensus on the current lack of rigorous enforcement of traffic
rules - whether it was speed limits, running yellow or red lights,
ignoring stop signs or passing in restricted lanes.
of course, this consensus arose from a mere 30 or 40 people out
of a city population of almost 30,000, who took the trouble to
show up at the forum.
believes public apathy is as much a cause of the spiraling traffic
problems as bad, irritable, dangerous drivers. "Why should the
city chase after this problem if the public is not sufficiently
interested, " he asks.
1999 survey by the Safe Streets Task Force and the Leeds Civic
Association found that 73 percent of those responding said speeding
on Florence Street was the major traffic issue. "Where were they
the other night at the forum," he asks.
contrast to demonstrations and protests aimed at Saving the Mountain
or Saving Old Main, says Hagelstein, "there has never been a protest
over death on our highways. We're not going to protest what we're
there are some 42,000 traffic fatalities and 3.2 million injuries
Hagelstein notes that the transportation plan does not use the
word "accidents" as causing traffic injuries or deaths. They are
"crashes" because the way many people drive "it's just a matter
to time before they hurt somebody."
is a real proof there is a God and he real busy all over the country
trying to save people," says Hagelstein.
course, God should not be our only recourse for making our streets
safer and keeping our families in tact, but for now it's about
the best we can do.