The school traffic zone around Colt Andrews School is now marked with flashing signs on historic Hope Street, the installation of which was approved without input from the full Historic District Commission.
Two flashing signs — one at Hope and State streets, another at Hope and Franklin streets — warn drivers of the 20 mph speed limit in the area around the elementary school. Ordinarily a 25 mph zone, the speed limit drops during school hours when the signs are flashing.
The signs were installed last Tuesday, according to Town Administrator Tony Teixeira, the culmination of about a year-and-half of effort led by the Police Department and Town Councilman Nathan Calouro, he said. The effort began in early 2015 when three parents of students at Colt Andrews complained of drivers frequently speeding past the school (see the letter to the editor on page 6). They petitioned Councilman Calouro, who quickly involved the police department and began pushing for the flashing signs to alert drivers they are approaching a school zone.
“I am extremely proud of those signs,” Councilman Calouro said. “We needed those flashing lights because cars fly down there. What’s focused on is improved. When you see those lights, you’re reminded where you are. And as flashing school lights go, they’re aesthetically pleasing.”
Aesthetics aside, the signs are a public safety tool meant to slow drivers in zones where children are likely to be crossing the street. The Bristol Police Department wanted them installed years ago when Hope Street was redone, Councilman Calouro said, but the state would not pay for them. Instead, the Town Council unanimously approved the $12,000 cost of the two signs on Hope Street and a third on Washington Street near Guiteras School.
Since Hope Street is a state road, the town needed to petition the State Traffic Commission for approval, which can be a lengthy process. But Police Capt. Brian Burke pushed the issue and got approval as much as nine months sooner that it ordinarily would have taken, Councilman Calouro said.
The signs are in the middle of the downtown historic district, which requires approval from the Historic District Commission. However, the signs were granted administrative approval and the issue never came up for discussion at an HDC meeting, leaving at one member of the commission wondering why not.
“That’s a good question why it was not before the board,” commission board member Dr. Thomas Enright. “If it came up before the board, there probably would have been some discussion on that. We have a meeting Thursday; hopefully, we’ll have some more answers then. I’ll definitely bring that up.”
The administrative approval is a tool the commission uses to streamline the process for projects that don’t need lengthy discussion, according to HDC Chairwoman Oryann Lima, who decides on the quick approvals along with HDC staff member Susan Church. When someone in the historic district needs to install a stair rail to accommodate a disability, for example, or when a resident needs to make an emergency roof repair, there’s no need to delay the project while the applicants are waiting for the commission to meet.
“They fill out an application, and if it’s within the guidelines it get administrative approval,” Ms. Lima said. “When the state came in saying we need to do this, that was a sign-off. We wouldn’t say no to it anyway, because it’s a public safety thing.”
Lima also noted the signs are not permanent fixtures and make no lasting change on the historic district. Should Colt Andrews no longer be a school sometime in the future, the signs could be easily removed, having damaged nothing, she said.