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Area communities use grant to get walkers safely to the other side

Area communities are stepping up pedestrian safety enforcement this summer, posting officers at crosswalks and busy intersections and in some cases running stings in which plainclothes personnel set foot on crosswalks to test drivers’ responses.

The increased enforcement is the result of state grants from federal money to six area police departments from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security’s Highway Safety Division. While the grants target bike and moped safety along with pedestrian safety, most of the increased local enforcement is focused on reducing pedestrian injuries. Dedham, Hull, Norton, Rockland, and Wareham received $3,000; Quincy received $5,000 because of its larger population.

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Police officials said the summer months are a crucial time to add manpower to pedestrian enforcement with both foot and motor traffic on the rise during good weather and vacation time from school and work.

In Wareham, where the town is averaging two pedestrian fatalities a year, extra funds for crosswalk enforcement are more than welcome.

“Any extra enforcement we can have is a big help,” said Wareham police Lieutenant Kevin Walsh. “We have had [recent] pedestrian accidents. One was a fatality, a homeless man.”

Two officers on motorcycles monitored a busy crosswalk on Route 6/28 last month and other “dangerous spots” along Onset Avenue near the beach, where summer foot traffic competes for space with increased vehicular traffic. The road runs past the Water Wizz park, fast food restaurants, and antique shops.

“People run across the highway,” Walsh said. “It happens on a daily basis.”

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In Rockland, where summer traffic also keeps police busy, the police use movable “breakaway” signs to warn motorists of a crosswalk’s presence.

“Some of them have been struck repeatedly in some areas,” said Rockland police Lieutenant Nick Zeoli. “That’s an indication of the need” for increased policing, he said.

Zeoli said the town was fortunate to receive the grant that helps pay for extra patrols, allowing officers to enforce safety rules and educate motorists on laws such as stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks.

“We’re pretty busy during the summer months,” he said. The extra patrols focus on the business district on Union Street and on Hingham Street (Route 228) where the town’s hotels are located.

“We give our officers an opportunity to take initiative when they see an issue,” Zeoli said.

In Dedham, Police Chief Michael D’entremont said the town set up sting operations at a High Street crosswalk, a business area used by employees, schoolchildren, and lots of drivers.

Police “had someone walking the crosswalk and officers on both sides stopping cars that don’t yield,” D’entremont said. Officers issued traffic citations and warnings, using their judgment.

Dedham police have also carried out targeted enforcement in two areas with small clusters of pedestrian accidents — none of them fatal. These are Providence Highway up to the intersection of Elm Street; and Bussey Street, a well-traveled roadway that connects to Boston and shopping sites.

Summer fun plays a role in policing for pedestrian safety in Norton too, according to a department spokesman.

“Our main area is in front of Wheaton College, East Main Street,” said Lieutenant Todd Jackson . “We have a lot of things going on at Wheaton in the summer: sports camps, events.”

The town also gets traffic headed for the Comcast Center in Mansfield. Cars come down from Interstate 495 and drive through town to the concerts.

Norton police also use plainclothes officers to walk across the intersection as a “decoy,” Jackson said. “We’re not looking to write a lot of citations,” he said, but “to increase awareness of students and residents all year long.”

Last year Quincy used a state pedestrian safety grant to focus enforcement at high-volume intersections and crosswalks, an effort that included sending a plainclothes officer across the street with an empty baby carriage. Police stopped more than 200 motorists.

“We’re doing something similar this year,” mayoral spokesman Chris Walker said Monday.

After the city had three pedestrian fatalities and recorded a big spike in total pedestrian accidents last year, officials began “a multi-pronged effort” to improve pedestrian safety by reviewing police data on accidents, increasing enforcement, and educating both drivers and pedestrians on “the need to be careful,” Walker said.

So far the number of accidents in Quincy has gone down this year, he said.

“Regardless of whether you’re at a crosswalk, you’re never going to win a battle with a 2,000-pound piece of metal,” Walker said. Pedestrians should not dart out in front of cars, or between parked cars, or cross a street with “their phones going or texting.”

Similarly, he said, “if you’re driving, your eyes need to be on the road.”

Few of the communities that received the grants have dedicated bicycle lanes, and officials said bike safety has not been a big issue.

Dedham, which has a bike lane on East Street of about a mile in length, is looking into the possibility of more bike lanes, D’entremont said.

Rockland has a “rails to trails” bike and pedestrian path safely away from cars. Like many communities, Rockland is also exploring the possibility of a bike lane for environmental reasons.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

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