When a truck hit and killed a five-year-old Sidney Olson in an Elm Square crosswalk Tuesday, Andover officials were just beginning to study traffic impacts if all lights in the intersection were programmed to turn red when the walk signs were illuminated.
“Our plan is to complete a traffic study to determine the driving impacts of adding features such as an ‘all stop’,” Asstistant Town Manager Michael Lindstrom wrote in a Facebook discussion about pedestrian safety in Elm Square.
“This work will begin immediately,” Lindstrom said in a brief email response when asked for an update on Friday morning.
Currently, lights in Elm Square are configured so drivers can turn right when walk signs are lit. The controllers have a feature known as “Lead Pedestrian Interval,” which lights the walk signs before the right turn lights, giving pedestrians a slight head start.
The intersection has “Yield To Pedestrians In Crosswalk” signs at each entry point to the intersection. The Town repaved Main Street last week, but lane and other marking lines had not been repainted when the fatal crash occurred.
“I’ve nearly killed so many pedestrians at that intersection.”
The lengthy discussion on the “What’s going on in Andover?” Facebook group drew 81 comments this winter documenting residents’ efforts to get the Town to improve safety at the intersection, as well as several anecdotes of near misses where Main and Elm Streets intersect across from Memorial Hall Library.
“I’ve nearly killed so many pedestrians at that intersection,” one person wrote in the thread.
Andover News is collecting donations to a GoFundMe campaign for the Sideny Olson’s family.
A statement from the Olson family released by the Essex County District Attorney’s office Thursday said the walk sign was lit when Sidney was crossing the street.
“Our greatest hope is that Sidney’s boundless love for everyone encourages others to look out for the common good of our community following this tragedy. This intersection has long been considered dangerous,” the Olsons said. “While we’re not engineers, we also know our community can do better. We hope the town makes fast changes to that and other high-traffic intersections so no one has to experience the pain we feel right now.”
Town wanted to avoid “additional delay for motorists”
A group of Andover residents met with Andover Police Safety Officer Glen Ota last year to discuss their Elm Square safety concerns. Andrew Lewine, who attended the meeting, reported in the Facebook discussion the residents were told the Town would not implement the “pedestrian phase,” where all traffic is stopped while walk signs are lit.
“Unfortunately, the response was that implementing an exclusive pedestrian phase…would cause additional delay for motorists, which was deemed unacceptable,” Lewine wrote in the thread.
On Thursday, WalkBikeAndover began circulating a petition demanding the immediate installation of “No Turn On Red” signs and programming traffic lights to turn red in all directions when walk signs are lit.
“To date, when asked to make these changes, the Town has rejected them and prioritized minimizing driver delay over pedestrian safety,” WalkBikeAndover said in the petition, which had more than 1,900 signatures on Friday morning.
Town Manager Andrew Flanagan echoed Lindstrom’s comments about the need to study the intersection before making changes on Wednesday, when Andover released a statement on the fatal crash.
“The Town of Andover has prioritized improving pedestrian safety across the community in recent years and has worked actively to make our roadways safer for all users through investments in traffic-calming infrastructure, education, and enforcement measures.” Flanagan said. “Last week, at Andover’s Annual Town Meeting, voters approved funding for a traffic study for the Elm Square intersection. The Town will thoroughly assess this area and act to implement any improvements deemed necessary. This work will begin immediately.”
The $50,000 for a traffic study of Elm Square and the Route 133 corridor was part of the $24.5 million Capital Improvement budget Annual Town Meeting approved last week. Asked on Thursday to elaborate on specifics, Flanagan said the initial work will include “engaging a consultant and begin data collection.”
Photo: Dave Copeland/Andover News