Is Traffic Committee Defunct?
By Joyce Westner
Oct 17 – Everyone has an opinion about traffic, but the committee that’s supposed to advise the town about how to improve the safety, accessibility and the streets and sidewalks has suspended their meetings. And in August all its members sent their resignations to the Select Board but didn’t get any response—until last night.
Former Traffic and Transportation Advisory Committee (TTAC) Chair Ben Keeler told the News that the committee was disheartened that despite its mandate it’s pretty much ignored when the town makes decisions that affect traffic. He said that despite the group’s work over the years to create the town’s “Roadbook,” the town’s internal Traffic Review Committee has been operating with little input from TTAC. And he wonders about the Traffic Review Committee’s transparency, blaming the failure to get a Highland Avenue median divider approved because “nobody presented a detailed plan to Town Meeting, and the feedback was only about the negative issues.”
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Nevertheless, at the tail end of this Monday’s Board meeting, according to Keeler, the committee received “a couple of supportive comments about needing to provide us with better goals and guidelines.” Board Members Michelle Prior and Mike Bettencourt spoke briefly in support and Bettencourt said that traffic is the number one concern in recent citizens’ survey responses and that town has obligation to listen.
According to Keeler, the Select Board will ask TTAC back for discussion after November’s fall town meeting.
Keller supplied the News with a copy of the letter that TTAC sent to the Select Board:
Date: August 12, 2023
From: Winchester TTAC
To: Select Board, Town Manager, Town Engineer
From: Ben Keeler, Chair of Winchester TTAC, on behalf of the committee
Re: Suspension of TTAC meetings and Resignation Tender
The members of the Traffic and Transportation Advisory (TTAC) have voted to suspend further meetings
• In order to give the town manager and the select board an opportunity to consider whether they want the advice we are/were chartered to provide to them. We see this opportunity as timely given the recent appointments of Town Engineer and DPW Director and the ongoing search for a Planning Director who collectively constitute the staff support of TTAC.
• For want of a chairperson to replace Ben Keeler who has served two terms and wants to dial back.
We further hereby tender our resignations subject to the acceptance of the Select Board
• In order that the Select Board and/or the Town Manager can reconstitute such an advisory committee as they deem beneficial to the town, if they so choose.
• All of us believe the issues we have been attempting to address are vital to the Town and all of us are willing to continue to serve in some capacity at the pleasure of the Select board.
The fact that no one on the committee is willing to take on the role of chair is a matter of personal priorities but also a function of the frustration the committee has experienced to date. The Town has made important progress as a result of the committee’s efforts. However, while TTAC was formed to advise the Select Board and the Town Manager in their management of a multi-departmental Traffic and Transportation Program, we have seen little commitment to such a program and little commitment to use our committee’s efforts constructively toward the goals of such a program.
TTAC/Town Success: Policies and Physical Improvements in which TTAC has had a role
We think Winchester is moving in right direction toward a genuine “Complete Streets” approach to traffic and transportation. We feel TTAC has played an important role in increasing public understanding and acceptance of Complete Streets principles and practices. However we feel progress since the inception of TTAC has been unacceptably slow and error prone in implementation. Some of the positive steps TTAC has been party to include:
1. McCall improvements and improvements around Muraco
2. Woodside Ave. and Wildwood improvements
3. Striping policy adopted by the Board and partially implemented
4. Sidewalk policy adopted by the Board (We have no knowledge of implementation)
5. Main Street bike lane advocacy
6. Consistent use of new traffic calming tools including speed humps and speed signs
7. Tri-community route through Center improvements
8. Private Fund raising to address wayfinding on the Tri-Community underway now
9. Policy Regarding "Do Not Enter" and "Do Not Block Intersection Signage" adopted by Select Board
10. Acquisition of better sidewalk clearing equipment
11. Productive coordination with various committees with interests in pedestrian facilitation and creation of a web page for TTAC on the town website and Creation of a more robust Request for Roadway, Traffic, Bikeway, Walkway, Parking or Transit Transportation Improvement form and process for tracking citizen requests
12. Advocacy support for many residents and town groups/organizations
TTAC/Town Failures; Opportunities for Future Success
In its 65+ regular meetings under 3 chairs (preceding his current term, Ben Keeler served as co-chair) TTAC was unable to develop a standard work product and thus tended to be reactive to issues brought to it under a variety of circumstances. Early on, the committee discussed but did not adopt a work plan to produce biannual reports timed to contribute to capital and operating budget cycles. The issues brought to TTAC have been diverse and often urgent, keeping us busy but not clearly faithful to our original purposes, and not particularly satisfying to us as volunteers. Failures include:
1. Lack of TTAC involvement in Traffic and Transportation Master Plan and failure to inventory problems or certain facts such as location of existing crosswalks, curbing, and sidewalks
2. Failure of the Town to clarify the role of the staff Traffic Review Committee and failure of TTAC to coordinate effectively with town departments to make use of citizen complaint data
3. Lack of involvement in capital proposals e.g. Highland and Lynch and lack of coordination with ongoing capital expenditures repaving etc. and with 3rd party activities such as Eversource and
4. Failure to develop a by law requiring developers to include sidewalks in new construction or major renovation (subject to a few exceptions)
5. Failure of TTAC to develop a standard policy with regard to crosswalks, such a policy was advanced in draft form but never refined to reflect comment and needed further research
6. Failure to deploy proven traffic calming measures especially raised intersections and platforms
7. Failure of TTAC to coordinate effectively with schools and school groups, SRTS
8. Failure of the town to follow through re: Bacon street; Safety Zones
9. Failure of TTAC to address parking issues including the new and existing housing with limited parking, downtown and public transportation parking and the manner in which wintertime parking is enforces
10. Failure of TTAC to address operating issues including standard operating procedures for snow clearance, oversight of contractors, and lack of training on pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure maintenance
Options for Future Success
We believe the mission of TTAC is sound and that volunteers with a keen interest in traffic and transportation can add a lot to the Town’s Traffic and Transportation Program. We also think that given the Select Boards many responsibilities, a specialized committee focused on traffic and transportation operating under broad but strong and clear policy guidance from the Select Board can help make the board’s traffic and transportation decisions more consistent and effective.
Options for the future could range from actual delegation of authority over traffic and transportation from the select board to a committee (requiring a home rule petition) to remaking TTAC as a Town Manager’s advisory committee reporting to and advising the Town Manger in her duties as Manager of the a multi-departmental Traffic and Transportation Program. The latter role would absolve participants of the open meeting law. Staffing changes could also be considered including a regular recording secretary with perhaps rotating departmental staffing.
The single most important factors in our opinion for a reconfigured TTAC would be deep, unequivocal support for complete streets by the Select Board and Town Manager especially the promotion of walking and biking as normal ways to get around town and connect to public transportation and insistence on support for getting more done for our transportation dollars – promoting a “can-do” approach at every level and in every department.
What we have been doing isn’t working fast enough or getting enough done. We stand ready to step aside or start over.
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