Workers install a faux brick crosswalk in front of the J.V. Fletcher Library in Westford on Aug. 21. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

Disability Commission Chairman Wants Visibility Improved at Crosswalks in Town Center

Workers install a faux brick crosswalk in front of the J.V. Fletcher Library in Westford on Aug. 21. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

Workers install a faux brick crosswalk in front of the J.V. Fletcher Library in Westford on Aug. 21. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

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The town center has three new faux brick crosswalks, completing an effort to maintain a historic appearance around the Common. But not everyone is happy about it.

Kate Phaneuf, chairman of the Commission on Disability is concerned that motorists will not detect the new crosswalks as readily as the ones just removed. The former crosswalks had broad white paint stripes giving a ladder effect. Phaneuf said she would like to see those broad stripes painted over the fake brick. Instead plans call for the crosswalks to be outlined with thin, vertical white paint strips, called transverse markings, which Phaneuf said, will wear away quickly.

A faux brick crosswalk in Westford center. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

A faux brick crosswalk in Westford center. PHOTO BY JOYCE PELLINO CRANE

“As they wear away, it’s more difficult to see there’s a crosswalk. Whereas the broad white stripes are more visible,” she said.

To illustrate her point, Phaneuf took photos of an existing faux crosswalk at the Common, depicting fading white transverse markings, which she displayed as part of a presentation on accessibility in the town center to the Disability Commission on June 28.

A faux brick crosswalk stretching from Northern Bank to the town Common. The transverse markings are fading. PHOTO BY KATE PHANEUF

A faux brick crosswalk stretching from Northern Bank to the town Common. The transverse markings are fading. PHOTO BY KATE PHANEUF

An October 2010 study by the Federal Highway Administration concluded that midblock crosswalks with the ladder-like stripes are detected at about twice the distance as crosswalks outlined with transverse markings.

According to the study, “this increase in distance reflects 8 seconds of increased awareness of the crossing for a 30 mile per hour operating speed.”

The outlining of the crosswalks will be done by a private contractor in September, stated Highway Superintendent Richard “Chip” Barrett.

In total, there are five faux brick crosswalks stretching from the Common. Two — one leading to the Parish Center for the Arts and the other to Northern Bank — were installed last year, and three this month. Two of the new crosswalks lead to the J.V. Fletcher Library and the First Parish Church United. The third runs across Lincoln Street near Town Hall.

Ellen Harde, who is the face of the Common Restoration Project, noted the Disability Commission opted on June 28 not to oppose the three proposed faux brick crosswalks that are now installed in the center.

“I spoke at the meeting, explaining that the Common Restoration Project went to the Architectural Access board in 2008/2009 about the accessibility of the Common, specifically the bandstand, and everything done on the Common is in compliance,” Harde stated in an email.

Harde also noted that a commissioned engineering firm and Town Engineer Paul Starratt confirmed for the Town Center Parking Committee and Pedestrian Safety Committee that the crosswalks are compliant.

The Common Restoration Project members oversee the appearance and upkeep of the town center through fundraising efforts. The group sponsors the tree lighting ceremony each November and built the replica of the historic bandstand that stands on the green. In March, a push to fund the design work for a traffic signal on the edge of the Common at Boston Road and Main Street was defeated at annual Town Meeting, in part, because some opponents said it would detract from the town’s country charm.

“There’s competition between people wanting to keep the town looking like the 1890s and people needing accessibility,” said Phaneuf.

Phaneuf, who charged that the faux brick installation was expensive for the town, stated the commission chose not to appear before selectmen immediately after the commission’s June 28 meeting because “arrangements were already in place to install the faux-brick crosswalks with transverse markings at the end of July and we felt it would be unnecessarily disruptive to object at that late date; and we have been discussing going before the selectmen at some point in the future with a full package of recommendations about improving accessibility and safety at Town Center…”

The total cost of installing the three new crosswalks was $19,700, including $2,300 for a police detail, according to Barrett.

The crosswalks in the town center formerly consisted of broach white stripes for a ladder effect. This type of crosswalk is more visible for people with vision disabilities, said Kate Phaneuf, chairman of the Disability Commission. WESTFORDCAT FILE PHOTO

The crosswalks in the town center formerly consisted of broach white stripes for a ladder effect. This type of crosswalk is more visible for people with vision disabilities, said Kate Phaneuf, chairman of the Disability Commission. WESTFORDCAT FILE PHOTO

Harde is determined to stick to the original plan for the crosswalks.

“There is one more step in completing all five faux brick crosswalks at the Common: to improve their visibility for both pedestrians and drivers, each crosswalk will have a solid white strip on each side, the length of the crosswalk,” she stated. “Each strip is, I believe, 18 inches wide, and painted with that thick, thick paint that does not fade.”

UPDATE – The following sentence: “Harde and her supporters successfully voted down a push at annual Town Meeting to fund the design work for a traffic signal on the edge of the Common at Boston Road and Main Street, arguing it would detract from the town’s country charm,” was changed to “In March, a push to fund the design work for a traffic signal on the edge of the Common at Boston Road and Main Street was defeated at annual Town Meeting, in part, because some opponents said it would detract from the town’s country charm.” Ellen Harde argued that she took no public stand in opposition to the traffic light and took no action to influence or initiate the opposition voiced by others.