Bedford Select Board Adopts ‘Traffic Calming’ Policy

December 28, 2022

The Bedford Select Board earlier this month adopted a policy that establishes the criteria and process for implementing “traffic calming” measures on neighborhood streets.

Jeanette Rebecchi, Transportation Program Manager with the Department of Public Works, and DPW Director David Manugian presented the details to the board. 

Traffic calming is defined as “the use of engineering design to reduce speeding, high traffic volumes, aggressive driving, and unnecessary vehicular traffic through local neighborhoods.”

Under the policy, residents take the lead in identifying the issues that merit attention. Indeed, one of the goals of the policy is to “incorporate the preferences and requirements of the people using the area.”

Other goals are to “create safe and attractive streets,” promote pedestrian, cycle, and transit use, and environmental protection. The policy also lists a number of objectives, ranging from lower speeds, fewer crashes, and reduced cut-through traffic to increased access for “all modes of transportation,” and opportunities for stormwater mitigation.

Calming is a strategy that benefits smaller residential streets and the roadways into which they feed, called collector streets, such as Davis, Page, and Springs roads. 

Excluded from the policy are arterial roadways with higher volumes and speed limits, including numbered routes, some of which are under the authority of the state Department of Transportation. 

“However, traffic issues on those streets should still be identified and brought to the town’s attention,” the policy states.  

There’s a specified procedure, beginning with an initiative petition and continuing through data-based research and, when warranted, implementation. Then there’s a detailed evaluation of steps implemented. 

The point of first contact is the volunteer Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), which was seeking a more active role, according to Rebecchi.

“This really was citizen-led from the beginning,” said Select Board member Margot Fleischman. “This is a natural outgrowth of the work TAC is doing.” 

She added that the policy “formalizes something being done on an ad hoc basis, often when one household steps forward.”

The overall process will be overseen by the town’s Staff Traffic Management Team, comprising one representative each from the Police, Fire, and Public Works Departments and the Town Manager’s office.

The petition that launches a calming study includes language that “commits the neighborhood to mitigating any verified issues.” The policy requires at least 75 percent of the households in the designated study area to sign the petition. The neighborhood designates a contact person as liaison with town agencies.

Speed, volume, and accidents are the variables that determine further action. The task force collects data in those categories and then compares them to “established thresholds.”

Those are technical aspects used by traffic engineers. The policy says the threshold for speed is an “85th percentile speed greater than or equal to eight miles per hour above the posted speed limit.” The volume metrics are based on measurements from two 24-hour periods.

If the research confirms that there’s a problem, the task force then determines “an appropriate mitigation measure,” the policy says.

The calming policy features a detailed “toolkit” that delineates a variety of mitigation measures, ranging from signs and pavement markings to more complex projects: raised crossings, roundabouts, curb extensions, islands, and intersection reconstruction.

“If the findings don’t confirm either a speed or volume issue, then the study can be concluded,” the document says.

Results are presented at a meeting of the TAC, according to the policy. If there is significant opposition among some residents to proposed mitigation steps, there is a provision for a “counter petition” that must be signed by at least 60 percent of the residents in the study area.

“Some changes could be done on a regulatory basis,” Fleischman pointed out. “Something that would require design and construction would land on a capital budget.” Town Manager Sarah Stanton added that even ordering traffic-control signage can be complicated by supply-change issues.

Implementation of traffic calming steps is followed by an evaluation period of at least three months, after which the task force evaluates new data and Police Department observations on driver responses to the changes.

“If the evaluation indicates that the original issue persists, town staff will review the situation and determine how to proceed,” the policy reads. “Some traffic behavior and patterns will persist despite efforts to influence them.”

“In these cases, the task force will determine when efforts have been exhausted and the study should conclude, based on engineering judgment.”

Rebecchi said a section will be added to the town website detailing the policy and including contact information.

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