Maureen Masta, a resident of Sunrise Towers, demonstrates how she peers around the bumper of a car stopped at a crosswalk to see if the coast is clear for her to continue across the street. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
Downtown residents don’t feel safe crossing the street
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The city has lengthened the pedestrian crossing times at a downtown intersection and is considering other safety improvements after an 80-year-old man was hit by a car and seriously injured, Public Works Director Wes Anderson said yesterday.
The crosswalks at South Main Street and Union Avenue are heavily used, including by residents of the nearby Sunrise Towers, a 98-unit public housing building that includes the elderly and disabled.
At 4:45 p.m. on Oct. 11, Nelson Pollander, who lives in that building, was using a walker in a crosswalk at the intersection when he was hit by a car. The driver of the car was not charged. A witness said the light was not in Pollander’s favor when he entered the crosswalk, Police Chief Matt Canfield said.
Just one-tenth of a mile south on South Main Street is a crosswalk where a man in a wheelchair was struck and killed by a car three years ago. That crosswalk, which leads to Vista Foods supermarket, is not protected by a traffic light. The driver was not charged.
Theresa Grenier, who also lives at Sunrise Towers, collected 60 signatures from her neighbors urging safety improvements at the intersection and presented them to the City Council.
She attended the council meeting Monday night with her neighbor, Paulette Bradac, who said a major problem is drivers making right turns while pedestrians are in the crosswalk.
“We feel the turn-on-red light at this location is an extreme safety hazard to the pedestrian traffic, in particular, a hindrance to the elderly and the disabled population,” Bradac said. “We have recently taken measures to raise awareness and vigilance among the residents of Sunrise Towers upon crossing these streets. However, we ask what can be done to prioritize the policing of these areas and if serious considerations can be taken to cease right-hand turns on red lights at these intersections of concern.”
Laconia Police Lt. Tom Swett said both the pedestrian and the motorist need to be vigilant.
“Enforcement always comes up, but voluntary compliance is best,” he said.
It is illegal under New Hampshire law (Section 265:11) for drivers to make a right turn while a steady or flashing walk sign is being displayed.
Pedestrians are supposed to leave the curb when a white walk sign is displayed and before it turns into a blinking red sign. They are to cross before the red blinking sign stops blinking and turns to solid red.
Some at the Sunrise Towers were concerned the pedestrian crossing times were too brief.
Anderson, the Public Works director, said he has changed the total crossing time at the intersection to 35 seconds, about double what it used to be. The longest crosswalk there is 99 feet.
One way of making the intersection safer for walkers would be red numbers that count down during the pedestrian crossing phase, Anderson said.
“It tells the pedestrian how much time is left, so maybe they don’t start to walk late in the cycle,” he said. “It also lets the driver know how much time is left and they may be more likely to wait to go until the pedestrian phase has ended.”
There are also traffic lights that give audio cues to walkers.
Anderson said it would cost $250,000 to bring the crosswalk into full compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. That cost includes new traffic control devices, work on the sidewalk and associated infrastructure.
He is requesting that funding in the next budget and has similar requests in for the “Busy Corner” intersection of Winter Street, Church Street and Union Avenue; and for the intersection of Union and Gilford avenues.
As for the unprotected crosswalk on South Main Street across from Vista Foods, Anderson said one possibility might be a blinking light that pedestrians would activate before they enter the crosswalk, which is already marked by signs on either side of the road and one in the middle of the street.
At around midday on Tuesday, several residents of the Sunrise Towers took advantage of a break in the weather for a smoke break. Each of them reported feeling unsafe when using crosswalks, whether to go to Vista Foods for groceries, or to Walgreen’s for medication.
Maureen Masta said she sets her mobility scooter to full power before she enters the crosswalk and gets halfway across before the light starts blinking.
Before she clears the crosswalk, she leans forward to make eye contact with any driver approaching in the right-turn lane. Only then does she continue on to the safety of the sidewalk.
The crosswalk in front of Vista Foods is also a challenge, said Nan Michalewicz.
The traffic moves quickly there and there’s no light to alert drivers to the crosswalk.
State law requires drivers to stop for someone attempting to cross, but that’s no guarantee of safety. Parking lanes on either side of the street can create a blind spot preventing a pedestrian from seeing an oncoming car.
“If the one on the right stops, the one on the left comes flying around,” said Michalewicz said.
Mary Green attempted to attend the City Council meeting on Monday night, and was able to navigate the crosswalks and sidewalks to get to City Hall, only to have the elevator fail to respond to the call button.
So, she headed back home, and found her path blocked by a woman driving a truck who had stopped partway into the intersection.
“I hollered at her, I said, ‘Can’t you see someone’s in the crosswalk!’”
(Adam Drapcho contributed to this report)
(This article has been updated since its original publication)
There is a crosswalk directly across from Vista Foods, a popular grocery store for downtown residents, but they don’t feel safe crossing the street there. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
Crossing this walkway at Union Avenue and Main Street in Laconia can be hazardous for those who can’t walk briskly or use a walker or wheelchair. Vehicles turning right on red are breaking the law if they do so while the walk sign is lit up. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)