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Residents ask for traffic improvements at Concord's Thorndike and State streets

A truck rests upside down after overturning on South State Street, Concord on Friday morning; May 24, 2013. No major injuries were reported. 
(Annmarie Timmins / Monitor staff)

A truck rests upside down after overturning on South State Street, Concord on Friday morning; May 24, 2013. No major injuries were reported. (Annmarie Timmins / Monitor staff)

A pickup truck flipped over in a crash on the corner of Thorndike and South State streets last month. It landed in Keri-Anne O’Mara’s front yard, but she wasn’t surprised.

O’Mara has lived there for 22 years, and she’s witnessed many accidents. Drivers often speed down State Street, she said, and parked cars block the view of traffic from the two-way stop sign at Thorndike Street.

“There has been horrific accidents every summer,” she said.

O’Mara and her family take photos of accidents outside their front door. They can’t miss them, because crashes make the house shake. Now, O’Mara and some of her neighbors have signed a petition to the Concord City Council requesting safety improvements.

Timothy Willis, a Thorndike Street resident who wrote the petition and collected 16 signatures, notes that there have been three accidents at the intersection this spring.

“So I’m thinking, this is going to get out of hand, I want to do something,” Willis said.

The petition, which was submitted to the city council in April, asks for a four-way stop sign, a parking ban along South State Street or a switch to one-way traffic on Thorndike Street between South Main and South State streets.

But that doesn’t mean city officials will recommend those changes; Traffic Engineer Rob Mack said he is gathering data about the intersection. Mack said the traffic operations committee, which includes engineers and other city staff members, began discussing the petition at a recent meeting.

“We’ll take a look at the sight lines at the intersection and the traffic volumes, try to find out what the reasons were for those particular crashes,” Mack said. “If it’s related to the intersection, or if it’s related to driver error.”

Ben Figueroa, who lives next to O’Mara on Thorndike Street, said visibility is a problem. Yesterday morning, it took him more than one attempt to turn from Thorndike Street onto South State Street. When he first pulled out, he realized there was oncoming traffic. He quickly backed out of the way.

“It’s hard to see around the cars parked” on State Street, he said.

Figueora was standing on his front porch three weeks ago when two trucks crashed and one landed on O’Mara’s lawn. He said he feared the passengers were injured and rushed back inside to call 911. Everyone walked away from the scene without serious injuries, he said, but “I was pretty shaken up.”

Willis said his petition is not a “knee-jerk reaction” to the recent accidents.

“I’m always seeing a lot of close calls,” he said.

While he was writing the petition, Willis asked the Concord police for statistics. The police told him there have been seven accidents since 2010.

Mack said there’s an average of about two accidents per year at Thorndike and South State streets over the past several years. That’s not as bad as other problematic intersections, he said, but he’ll still look into potential improvements.

City Councilor Allen Bennett, whose Ward 6 includes South State and Thorndike streets, said many of the intersections off South State Street are troublesome. Most streets have a two-way stop sign at South State Street, and some are one-way.

“But that intersection at State and Thorndike has been an issue for a long, long time,” Bennett said. “There’s been a lot of accidents there.”

Bennett said he’s worked to address other issues on Thorndike Street in the past few years. Parking is now prohibited on Thorndike Street between South Main and South State streets, for example.

“But there definitely needs to be something going on there that’s going to alleviate this problem,” Bennett said. “I don’t think we’ll ever get it totally under control.”

St. John Regional School sits on one corner of the intersection, and Principal Stephen Donohue said he shares residents’ concerns.

Donohue said he hopes safety improves at the intersection before the school moves to the former Rumford School in 2014. Students will regularly walk through that intersection to reach St. John the Evangelist Church.

“Out in the future, we’re concerned about what that corner will be as we use it more,” Donohue said.

He wrote a letter on behalf of St. John Regional School to the mayor and city council in support of the residents’ petition, but said he’s not sure what should be done to improve safety.

“I really just said it’s a problem,” Donohue said. “I’m not the engineers. Whatever they come up with (as) a solution to help would be fine with me.”

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

I had an extremely close call there just last week. Almost zero visibility from parked cars, combined with with a sleepy stretch of South State Street between Perley and Concord Streets where drivers instinctively accelerate, makes it inherently dangerous.

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