Oak Hill Road residents seeking safety solutions

by beth on September 17, 2021

Post image for Oak Hill Road residents seeking safety solutions

Above: This rollover in was the first in a string of seven accidents in Southborough on Oak Hill Road in July and August. (image cropped from Facebook post by SFD)

Based on a string of accidents on their road this summer, residents organized to lobby for changes. Last week, they asked for help to make Oak Hill Road safer. Selectmen indicated they will follow up with the Town’s safety chiefs on the issues raised.

Residents Andrew Pfaff and Eric Fernandez represented their neighborhood in a presentation to the Board of Selectmen. They acknowledged that safety concerns had been raised by residents years ago. Since then, more families with children have moved onto the street since while the road has become more dangerous.

The pair outlined their recommended safety measures. They included asking the Town to install a feedback sign (displaying drivers’ speeds), build sidewalks, reinstall some of the eliminated crosswalks, and request an increased delay between lights at the Route 9 intersection.

They also hope the Town can lower the road’s speed limits. (They are currently set at 35 mph for most of the road with a section at 30 mph.) That one may be more complicated than they initially believed.

The residents stressed that there were seven accidents in less than two months. The discussion referenced a flipped car on their road and another being “T-boned” at the intersection with route 9. Police logs indicate those accidents and a head on collision all took place in the last three weeks of July. Other accidents in July and August included less serious fender benders.* Residents also referred to frequent near misses when backing out of driveways and a number of blind drives on the road. They described drivers as frequently running the red lights at the route 9 intersection.

Pfaff noted that many residents/families walk and cross the road to get to the trails. [Note: The trails to the Turenne Wildlife Habitat & Town Forest are accessed from Walnut Drive, an offshoot of Oak Hill Rd. Technically, Bay Circuit Trail is also accessible from the road, but the starting point behind a guard rail isn’t easily accessed.] They were frustrated that when the road was repaved, crosswalks were eliminated. He understood that the DPW was concerned that the crosswalks may pose a liability. With no sidewalks, drivers wouldn’t view the spots as natural crossing points.

Pfaff recommended reinstalling at least one crosswalk at Walnut Drive. Selectman Marty Healy worried that painting a line without additional measures might be dangerous. He suggested that a flashing crosswalk light may make sense to install.

Pfaff, a member of the Capital Planning Committee, also asked for sidewalks extending at least from Route 9 to Walnut, if not all the way to the Ashland line. He noted that their road was #4 on the Town’s priority list for sidewalks. (That list was determined five years ago.)

In the September 8th discussion, Pfaff said that his research found signs all the way from Sutton and through Ashland directing drivers to head down their street to get to Route 9 and the MassPike. In the Board’s packet, an email from Galligan estimated about 5,000 vehicles traverse the road per day.

Materials in the packet also included police logs of accidents and incidents, plus data collected on drivers’ speeds on the road between July 21st and 30th.** The data showed that in 9 days studying vehicles headed towards Rte 9, 13 drivers traveled at least 55 mph, another 484 drove 45-54 mph. Measuring for 6 days in the opposite direction found 14 drivers going 55+ mph and another 265 driving 45-54 mph.

Oak Hill Rd speed data Northbound Oak Hill Rd speed data Southbound

Since most drivers are within 5 mph of the 35 mph limit, Galligan posited in her email that speed wasn’t a “huge issue”. In last week’s meeting, Selectman Sam Stivers noted surprise at the conclusion. He said that enough people were going 50-60 mph and all it takes is one or two to cause a problem.

Stivers recommended splitting the safety measures into short term and longer term goals. He opined the Town should pursue installing radar signs as quickly as possible. He also suggested Children Xing signs at crosswalks. Sidewalks should also be pursued as part of the Town’s longer term infrastructure Complete Streets projects. 

As for lowering the speed limits. . . In May, Town Meeting voters approved adopting MGL 90 17C, giving selectmen authority to lower speed limits to 25 mph on thickly settled roads if they determined there was a safety issue. Pfaff said that he had just learned from Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan that as a special speed limit road it may not qualify. To make change, the Town may have to convince MassDOT. Later, Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski stated that she believed the Article approved by Town Meeting hadn’t yet been certified by the Attorney General’s office.

Residents’ requests also included a change dependent on another yet-to-be-passed law. If the state passes the bill allowing cameras at traffic lights, they asked to have one installed at their intersection with Route 9.

Road hazards weren’t the only issue raised in the meeting. Residents on the street are frustrated by loud Jake Braking from tractor trailers overnight. (If, like me, you were unfamilar with the term, you can learn more here.) Pfaff said he understood that Oak Hill Road would always be a path through town for tractor trailers. It’s the form of braking they want to eliminate. They asked for a “No Jake Braking” sign on the street that threatens a fine.

Chair Lisa Braccio was concerned about a potential hazard if truck drivers had difficulty slowing as they head downhill towards Route 9. It was one of the items she wanted to look into further. In later public comment, resident Jonas Linden said Jake Braking should be considered by the Noise Bylaw Committee (appointed earlier that night).

Several times during the September 8th meeting, selectmen mentioned a need to balance safety concerns with complaints from residents in many neighborhoods. (This was the second item on that night’s agenda addressing road safety concerns in town. To read about the other, click here.) 

Oak Hill Road’s Roger Challen, a former selectman, said he had been where they are. But he hoped the need to address many road concerns didn’t mean the Board wouldn’t act on any. Braccio assured that wasn’t the case. Later she clarified that the Board intended to follow up with Galligan and the chiefs of Police and Fire to discuss the requests.

During the zoom discussion, a statement was displayed from the neighborhood. You can read that here. [Note: It references 495/MetroWest Region’s Top Ten Transportation Nightmares, which technically referred to traffic delays on Route 9, including the intersection, and didn’t specify safety hazards.]

*It appears residents began raising red flags following daily accidents in mid-July. Although with less frequency, accidents continued this summer. Southborough Police logs excerpts include the following accidents on Oak Hill Road or the intersection with Route 9:

7/13/21 0609 Car ran off roadway and flipped. Driver claims road rage. Evidence does not support his claim.

7/14/21 0698 MVA PROPERTY DAMAGE ONLY TURNPIKE RD

7/15/21 1123 Car passing truck pulls into opposite lane. Driver in opposite lane distracted. Result is head on crash.

7/24/21 1451 MV on Oak Hill waiting at Turnpike Rd. light. Very minor tap in the rear end. Other driver left the scene without exchanging info.

7/30/21 1122 MV crash at Turnpike Rd. and Oak Hill light. Truck ran red light and crashed into oncoming motorist.

8/3/21 0831 Minor MV crash at Turnpike Rd. and Oak Hill light. Paper exchange. No report

8/27/21 1438 Minor damage. Vehicle backing out of driveway on Oak Hill struck by passing car.

**Speed data was collected at 44 Oak Hill Road, where the limit is 35 mph. The sign used to collect speeds had the display turned off. It is possible that at least one of the Southbound 55+ mph drivers was a misreading, since the sign collected a maximum speed of 99 mph.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 resident September 21, 2021 at 8:52 AM

I fully understand the issue at hand here. I see the speeding and I see how people have disregard for the bus stop signs and it is very dangerous to walk or run on Oak Hill Road. But, let’s remember that those of you complaining bought a house on a busy street. As stated many families with children have moved in. Yes, on a busy street. If you want a quiet, quaint little street, you should have moved somewhere else. It is like the signs you see that say “drive like your kids live here”. Well, my kids don’t live here because I bought a house because I have kids on a quieter street. If you think when you buy a house on a street like Oak Hill that it will be easy to get out of your driveway, you are living in a fantasy world. Do your homework when buying a house. Visit different times of the day to see what the area is like, then decide if that is the house for you. Don’t move in and think you will miraculously change the flow of traffic with a few or even many complaints. If anyone thinks that putting up signs or flashing lights or that putting in a sidewalk or crosswalk that this will all go away, you are living in a fantasy world. Changing the speed limit will do nothing as nobody pays any attention to the speed limit as it is. The police show up to sit for a while and as soon as 1 car knows they are there, they warn every other car they come in contact with and the traffic significantly slows. It defeats the purpose. We can’t have one of our police officers sitting up there all day long. Most of the people who are the issue are coming from Ashland. Then there is the 11 pm motorcycles who think it is great to fly up and down the street. Take whatever measures you want, but it won’t change. If you want a quiet street, that is where you should have moved to. All the houses up and down Oak Hill have good yards, teach your kids to be in the backyard, install a fence, what ever you think will keep them safe. Please just don’t raise my taxes doing modifications because you bought a house on one of the busiest streets in town. I understand but it isn’t realistic to think you will change this without significant cost to the taxpayers.

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2 K.Woodward September 21, 2021 at 4:30 PM

I grew up on Oak Hill Rd many years ago. It has always a busy road,however people should respect the speed limit . We all should expect a level of safety regardless of whether we live on a busy or less traveled road. There is power in people banding together to change things.

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3 Nathan Kendall September 21, 2021 at 6:55 PM

I do believe this topic needs to be talked about, however after seeing accidents, watching drivers, and living on a similar street raceway (breakneck hill) I can confidently say, not much will help. The majority of accidents these days are caused by distracted drivers. Signage and signal delays won’t do anything for these drivers because they weren’t paying attention to begin with. One other popular cause of accidents is a complete disregard to others on the roads. These are the drivers that know they are speeding or running red lights. They chose to put everyone else in danger, know there’s a low probability of getting caught but do it anyways. Again, no signage or delay in signals will help these drivers.

One thing I can think of that may help is grinding rumble strips on side roads such as oak hill, central, breakneck, white bagley, to alert the driver of a major intersection coming up. People tend to react when their car is shaking and making noise just like on a highway. This should be relatively inexpensive to do also.

One other thing that will definitely help, but is controversial (and expensive) in Mass is cameras. Down south, there are sections of highways there’s speed and/or red light cameras. I feel that once someone is given the warning that a camera will capture you speeding/running a red light, people will smarten up. They’re almost impossible to fight in court also.

Speeding tends to be a culture thing in Mass. If you’re driving on the Pike or 495 you know the average speed is 75-80 when both have speed limits of 65. It’s great to see this to see this topic come up, but it’s a tough one to solve without making driving inconvenient for everyone.

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4 Tom September 23, 2021 at 11:37 PM

Hopefully the state passes the legislation that would allow for red light cameras, as that has definitely helped in other areas of the country (as well as in other cities and municipalities in other countries such as Canada). It just makes sense that if you do something illegal, that can potentially kill someone, you get fined (and in an ideal world, demerits as a repeat offender). As Nathan alluded to, as soon as you might get caught for it, and that getting caught will have consequences, people might smarten up. And if they don’t, it hopefully would be a good revenue source for the town, without requiring manpower on the ground by means of a patrol car to catch those people themselves. This is the beauty of these types of installations, they help cut down on something without requiring more labor resources to be dedicated to it. I honestly hope the law gets passed (and wish it had a higher fine personally) so that the town could consider installing this in a needed area.

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