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Jaywalking in Wolfeboro: potential tragedy or nuisance?


July 22, 2010
WOLFEBORO — The topic of jaywalking engendered a lively discussion at the Wolfeboro Police Commission meeting on July 8, a day after Selectman Marge Webster brought up the issue at the July 7 selectmen's meeting. She said that she has heard complaints from residents and has witnessed the traffic congestion downtown with people crossing from all directions herself.

With Webster and Selectman Chuck Storm in the audience on the warm evening meeting at the Community Center, Commissioner Ron Goodgame broached the subject of whether fines should be imposed on Main Street jaywalkers, suggesting, "at some point you have to draw the line."

Goodgame was met with immediate opposition from his fellow commissioners, Chairman Curt Pike and Joe Balboni. Pike said that he doesn't think it is a safety issue, and noted that though traffic gets bottlenecked, the situation only lasts two months of the year. He also expressed concern that fines would project a negative image of the town.

Balboni, who drives his construction trucks down Main Street "maybe 20 times a week" said that drivers just have to "exercise extreme caution and crawl through town." Imposing fines is not acceptable, in his opinion.

"Does it help at all?" questioned Goodgame.

Chief Chase offered the opinion that crosswalks are needed, for they "define the responsibility of drivers." Section 265:35 of the state statute puts the onus on the driver to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, but it also says that "no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute a hazard."

State statute 265.36 "Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks," one of three provided by Lt. Dean Rondeau to the commissioners, states in part, "Every pedestrian crossing the roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway."

Rondeau pointed out that the lowest fine meted out by the court is $42.60. "That's like killing ants with a sledgehammer," said Pike, but as far as he is concerned, it is up to the selectmen to make the rules and he suggested that they solicit input from the public through the media.

Former commissioner Ben Ladd spoke up from the audience to suggest that the commission ask the selectmen in attendance to share their views, and Webster and Storm obliged.

Webster said that she already received a "flurry of emails from the Chamber of Commerce" following the selectmen's discussion, and said, "I don't want to add work to the police department, but I also don't want a tragedy." In her opinion, discussion of the issue is "healthy."

She defined the problem as particularly evident at night and said that she liked the chief's suggestion of having the town go by the state statute. Also, she felt the town "needs to maximize education," and that includes better signage.

"So it takes ten minutes to get through town," said Storm, " What's the big deal?"

The former Californian said the problem isn't as bad here as it is in the Golden State. While he recognizes the congestion, he suggested that we just have to "suffer through it" and noted that it only occurs a couple of months a year. He told the commission that he liked the idea of merging the town ordinance with the state statute.

Ladd added, "I've lived here for over 50 years and the situation is the same…The town becomes gridlocked. We have four roads going in and none going out."

Pike joked that one solution would be to "make South Main Street one way – out."

The discussion ended amidst laughter. An easy solution to Wolfeboro's traffic congestion was not in sight that evening. Fines were unpopular and education was recommended. Will people pay attention?

The next police commission meeting will be held at the Wolfeboro Public Library on Aug. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

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