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Neighbors near Hingham's Summer Street press for safety solutions

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  May 6, 2013 04:45 PM

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Christine Dietterich is concerned for her safety every time she pulls out of her Summer Street driveway.

The Hingham resident says she gets nervous when her kids get off the bus on the busy street, and winces when she sees cars cruising down the open road faster than the 35 miles per hour speed limit.

While a larger fix to the problem may be some time away, Dietterich and neighbors are banding together to try to find short-term safety solutions for the corridor, which stretches from Hingham’s Bathing Beach through the rotary and all the way to Hull.

“The biggest thing is that the speeds are out of control,” Dietterich said. “It’s a 35 mph on the main part of Summer Street coming from the rotary…people are flying.”

Serious accidents have peppered the history of the street, including a double fatality in 1988, to a serious accident in 2000 to another fatally with a young neighbor, Joe Zona, in 2005.

More recently, accidents involving alleged drunk drivers occurred in 2009 and 2012. A rollover accident happened this past November.

“We feel we live between fatalities,” Dietterich said. “It’s a game of Frogger getting out of our driveway.”

One of the problems is that the four-lane street, two on either side, gives drivers a false sense that they have more room than they actually do. According to Dietterich, people cut corners as they go around the bends, and with only a small bit of space between the fog line and the sidewalk, it’s difficult to maneuver around those cars.

Cars also fly down the street coming from the rotary, which some view as one lane and others view as two.

Then there are the short-lived red lights along Summer Street that make it difficult for cars on side streets to enter the corridor.

And that’s just driving. Not to mention the difficulty in walking anywhere with sidewalks intersected by telephone polls. In less forgiving weather, the sidewalks are half covered with leaves or snow.

Town officials are aware there is a problem.

“It’s not an easy solution but it does need to be worked,” said selectman Bruce Rabuffo.

Rabuffo noted that the stretch of road has always been troublesome. Several years ago, the state lowered a hill on the road to make it easier to see other cars and also increased the roadway to four lanes to try to accommodate traffic.

Yet problems still exist, and safety concerns are seeping into Hingham’s waterfront, making economic development difficult.

“How can we go back and revisit Summer Street while making it more safe while fixing the traffic circle and the waterfront?” Rabuffo said.

Though Dietterich and others have suggested shrinking the roadway to one lane on either side, Rabuffo said high traffic counts on the state road prohibit that change.

Another solution would be to change the rotary to a traffic light, but there are a significant number of utilities underfoot.

A study would need to be undertaken by the state to determine the best solution, Rabuffo said, but the Derby Street corridor is the town’s first priority.

Neighbors are aware a long-term solution is still years away, but have continued to meet with local officials, most recently in late March, to try to influence change.

“Our goal at this point is we’re trying to create a task force,” Dietterich said.

That task force would consist of Harbor Development, Traffic Committee, and Planning Board members, as well as neighbors and other town officials.

In the meantime, Dietterich and neighbors have had several talks with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to try to change the timing of some traffic lights.

The Hingham Police Department has also done their best to patrol the street, and setting up radar trailers to alert people of their speeds.

Even with those efforts, more needs to be done Dietterich said.

“You’re dealing with so many different government [agencies], but we have to do something, “ Dietterich said. “We can’t sit back anymore.”

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