Pedestrian crossing where Hopkins student hit by van will stay

  • Last fall, Hopkins Academy students and parents placed signs along Route 9 and at the crosswalk where a student was struck by a car on his way to school. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation will make improvements to the area, but it’s not likely that the pedestrian crossing will be eliminated, members of the Select Board heard at their Wednesday meeting. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Friday, January 27, 2023

HADLEY — A Route 9 crosswalk where a Hopkins Academy student was seriously injured by a hit-and-run vehicle last fall will continue to be improved by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, but there is little likelihood the pedestrian crossing will be eliminated.

At the Select Board meeting Jan. 18, Police Chief Michael Mason said that the High Intensity Activated Crosswalk beacon, also known as HAWK light, will stay in place, based on an on-site meeting with state highway representatives that afternoon that also included state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, Department of Public Works Director Scott McCarthy, Select Board Chairwoman Jane Nevinsmith and Select Board member Randy Izer.

“It became apparent to me very early on that they came with statistics and information to show us that the HAWK crosswalk is a federally acceptable crosswalk signal and it’s not going to be removed,” Mason said.

The review of the existing state highway crossing came as the Northwestern district attorney’s office and Hadley police were poised to update the public last Friday on the investigation into the Oct. 11 crash that left a 13-year-old Hadley boy injured, as well as photo and video surveillance of the suspect vehicle, and how the public can help [see story, A1].

Mason said state officials are trying to figure out how to make the area safer with the crosswalk and HAWK signal staying in place, presenting statistics that similar crossings in similar high-traffic areas can reduce crashes by 69%.

Improvements the state already supports include adding a second set of lights lower on the post, more at eye level, than the ones high above the road, and marking the crossing as an intersection.

Already, Mason said, the state has made the crossing a “high vis” crosswalk, with hashmarks on the pavement, and have extended the time the lights flash to give drivers and pedestrians more warning for when cycles are switching. Police will also be given educational materials that they can hand out to students and others who use the crosswalk.

In addition, the state will look into making that section of Route 9 an official school zone and are considering putting warning signals about the crosswalk farther ahead on the road, a concept the Select Board voted to unanimously endorse.

Other ideas are less likely, such as making West Street and Route 9 a signalized intersection and using transverse rumble strips on the road. West Street doesn’t have enough crossing volume to warrant traffic signals, according to the state, while residents living nearby any rumble strips are likely to complain about the noise they generate.

But Mason said a so-called road diet that would turn the section of highway into a single lane in both directions, with a turn lane in the middle, may be possible, similar to what most of Route 9 from Hadley center to the shopping malls will be like when the reconstruction project is complete.

“What that would mean is you’re essentially going to lose your two lanes out of town and your two lanes into town in that particular area,” Mason said.

The Select Board supported the idea of a public forum for the community, including Hopkins students, to offer input directly to state highway officials.

Joining the board meeting remotely were Hopkins eighth graders, along with Ruth Barba, a social studies teacher at the school.

“The students are very excited to learn more about what’s happening with the HAWK sign and see how we can make our community safer, especially Route 9,” Barba said.