Safety zone aims to slow drivers on Merrimac St.

The city posted a 25 mph sign and placed traffic barrels and cones on Merrimac Street in front of the Pioneer League and Lower Atkinson Common recently to remind drivers to slow down. This is a temporary solution until the city completes striping of the street.RICHARD K. LODGE/Staff photo

NEWBURYPORT — A safety zone coming soon to Merrimac Street aims to slow motor vehicles traveling at high speed past Lower Atkinson Common, especially during Pioneer League baseball and softball games.

An ordinance, co-sponsored by Ward 4 Councilor Christine Wallace, Ward 5 Councilor James McCauley and Councilor at large Charles Tontar, designating a 20 mph zone was unanimously approved on its second reading by the City Council on May 24.

The zone extends down Merrimac Street from its intersection with Moulton Street to its intersection at Plummer Avenue. It also includes 125 feet on Plummer Avenue to further protect children at Community Action Inc. Head Start at the Seacoast Center, which is at the corner of Plummer Avenue and Merrimac Street.

In an email, center director Cathy Johnston said she welcomes “any improvement when it comes to the safety of the children for our preschool and the children using the Pioneer League fields.”

Johnston noted that safety has been an issue for as long as she can remember, especially since Plummer Avenue connects Merrimac Street to High Street.

The city repaved Merrimac Street earlier this year and has not completed the striping. The city has posted a 25 mph sign and placed traffic barrels in front of the Lower Atkinson Common fields on a temporary basis, but Johnston has not found that this has helped significantly.

“My hope is that with the addition of new striping, safety signs and lights that drivers will take notice and slow down for the safety of our children,” she said.

Merrimac Street receives a lot of regional traffic with motorists often not thinking about their speed or paying attention to the road, especially after coming out of the rotary.

When this ordinance was proposed at a council meeting in April, several people involved with the Pioneer League spoke in favor during the public comment portion, saying it would make entering and exiting the fields safer during games.

Wallace believes the creation of this safety zone and making it a 20 mph zone would be “another tool in our toolbox” for trying to slow drivers down.

“We also want drivers to be more aware because distracted driving is on the rise,” she said.

The councilor, who lives on Merrimac Street, knows there is no single solution in terms of infrastructure.

At a minimum, she would like sidewalks built on the side of the street where the park is located. Wallace also thinks additional crosswalks would help alert people that Merrimac Street is a residential area.

There is potential for a pedestrian push button, a flashing yellow light and other infrastructure, but those would be determined through more conversations with the various people involved, as well as the neighbors.

In addition to the Pioneer League and CAI Head Start, Wallace has been working with the Parks Commission, the Parks Department and city engineer Jon-Eric White to go over design plans.

The Parks Commission held a special meeting on the plans Thursday night as they relate to the Parks Department’s master plan for Lower Atkinson Common, which was approved last year.

As part of the master plan, the Parks Department wants to remove the deteriorating playground and build a new one at another location within the park.

Parks Commission Chair Kim Turner said these plans are all connected now with everyone working together to improve the area.

The Disabilities Commission has also pledged to help fund some of these efforts, whether it is for accessible sidewalk ramps or crosswalks.

The next step is to address parking in front of the Lower Atkinson Common fields, which contributes to some of the safety concerns.

The City Council will discuss an ordinance at its meeting today at 7:30 p.m.

Wallace sponsored the ordinance, which seeks to limit on-street parking on Merrimac Street during games times at the fields.

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