Traffic safety continues to concern Essex police, trustees

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A speed monitor shows a driver going 10 miles over the speed limit on Maple Street in August 2015. (File photo by Colin Flanders)

The board of trustees is considering how it can help combat dangerous driving after Essex police reported an uptick in drivers running red lights, and residents continue to say speeding is rampant in the village.

Combatting traffic violations remains a constant challenge and one without an easy answer, Lt. Robert Kissinger said at a meeting last month.

Drivers can become oblivious to traffic signage if there’s too much on the roads, and more tickets don’t seem to slow people down, Kissinger said.

Speed monitors showing speeds in real time have helped confirm complaints and show the department where to put officers, but even those lose their effect after a while, Kissinger said.

The department doesn’t use traffic cameras because Vermont law requires police to confirm the driver of a vehicle before issuing a ticket. Kissinger said there are systems available, but the department would need to check and see if the Vermont Traffic Bureau would approve such tickets.

Even then, the department would likely need an additional officer to focus on those violations since Kissinger believes EPD could write about 50 tickets a day with the use of traffic cameras.

For now, the department is making small tweaks where it can, Kissinger said, like working with the Vt. Agency of Transportation to sync all lights on Park Street, which he said has caused back-ups at the Five Corners.

He added a public service campaign might help, but because most drivers in Essex Jct. are commuters — he estimated up to 90 percent — it’s unclear how effective that would be.

Therein lies a challenge for both police and the trustees, who must decide how to slow drivers down in the congested area used mainly as a pass-through.

Raj Chawla, a member of the biking and walk committee, suggested the village look at narrowing roads or intersections to make it harder for people to drive fast. He said he’s heard of many problems with children riding bikes on Maple Street the wrong way.

“That whole corridor is really dangerous,” Chawla said. “It’s a miracle we haven’t had a kid taken out a week here. Just a miracle.”

Trustee Lori Houghton said although structural changes would result in a “public outcry” due to slower traffic, she believes it’s important for the village to maintain its designation as a walking and biking community.

“There’s few of them in Vermont left,” Houghton said. “It brings people here, and it also gives the village some vibrancy to it. A lot more people are walking in this community now … we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to help that.”

Plus, Chawla said, slowing drivers down from their current speeds means “we’re getting them back to where they should be.”

The trustees asked Kissinger to research the biggest problem areas where the department could make some immediate progress.

The discussion comes after a summer that saw major paving projects engulf the village center and another postponement of the Crescent Connector, long considered a remedy for traffic issues in the Five Corners.

It also carries budgetary implications: Joint municipal manager Pat Scheidel reported the department is “sorely in need” of more patrol officers and said to remember the conversation come Town Meeting Day.   

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify comments made by Raj Chawla.