City to take a look at 'viral' intersection

Julie Manganis, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.
·4 min read

Apr. 17—SALEM — A pair of Salem intersections — one of which has existed in some form for nearly the entire history of the city — are now on the radar of the city's Traffic and Parking Commission after gaining recent online notoriety.

The intersection of School and Tremont streets, and before that, the intersection of Grove and Tremont, have been livestreamed on Twitch tv, an online gaming platform, by Tremont Street residents who want to call attention to the number of vehicles that failed to stop for stop signs there.

But the stream soon became a phenomenon with followers from around the world, some of whom were also gambling on things like numbers of vehicles stopping. It also started to draw visitors to the neighborhood who sought a few seconds of online "fame" by waving at or dancing for the camera.

The operators of the stream moved the angle of the camera last month to address complaints about privacy from nearby residents and used a "chat box" to block one home from view. But it's still an issue, one resident told the commission Thursday night.

Longtime Tremont Street resident Christine Derby said she's seen people outside her home at 3 a.m. doing backflips. She and other residents have ongoing concerns about their privacy.

"I know they have a right to do it," Derby said of her neighbors who set up the camera, "but it's frustrating."

Commission member Eric Papetti said the problem of vehicles rolling past the stop signs, and the hazards of trying to negotiate the intersections is something the city needs to take a look at, calling it "long overdue for attention."

He said a traffic calming study done with a fresh set of eyes might lead to some improvements.

David Kucharsky, director of traffic and parking for the city, said he and Salem police Lt. David Tucker began collecting data a couple of weeks ago that shows an estimated 7,000 vehicles a day use Tremont and 2,700 vehicles a day use Grove.

Part of the problem now are navigation apps used by drivers to avoid North Street, said Tucker. But another part is the geometry of the intersections. "If you're trying to pull out of Grove onto Tremont it's a very dangerous spot," said Tucker.

Derby suggested some short and longer-term ideas, starting with using an orange traffic barrel with a stop sign or light in the intersection, and then re-painting stop lines and crosswalks, moving the sign so that it's more visible and ultimately redesigning the intersection to create a traffic island.

At one point during the meeting, commission member Jeff Swartz drew a few chuckles when he asked about prior traffic studies of the intersection. "When was the last study performed at this intersection?" he asked.

"I'm not aware of anything," Kucharski responded. "We could look and maybe there was a development in that area that did one, but off hand I don't know."

Tucker indicated he did not believe there was ever a study done.

"So when the traffic stop sign was installed there at that point in the past, that was done without any data?" Swartz asked.

"Welcome to the commission," chairwoman Tanya Stepasiuk said. "Before we were in existence there was virtually nothing so we've been lucky enough the past three or four years the staff has done a great job."

She said the commission has been going intersection by intersection as each comes to their attention. "Now we're turning our lens to this one," Stepasiuk said.

She also welcomed suggestions for other intersections to be studied for improvements through the city's traffic calming program.

"We're not going fix this overnight, said Stepasiuk, "but we will, let's say, within a few months, we'll have some sort of intervention. That's usually how it happens."

While she was speaking, Papetti looked up the Grove Street stop sign in the city's traffic code and learned it had been approved in 1960. (A check of the city's traffic code shows that the sign at School and Tremont dates to 1984.)

School Street can be seen on re-creations of maps from the 1700s as "The Road to Trask Mill." The winding stretch of road led to what is now downtown Peabody, where Capt. William Trask, one of the founders of Salem, built a grist mill in 1636.

Nearly four centuries later, 258,517 people have signed up from all over the world to watch a grainy image of it online.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.