By Brett Yates
On an average day, more than 4,000 motor vehicles pass through Pittsfield, which has a population of 504, on Route 100, the north-south state highway that crosses its village center. Here, the speed limit drops from 50 to 35 mph.
But how many cars actually slow down? New data from the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission (TRORC) sheds light on driving habits in the area, and town officials intend to introduce electronic signage to clue in the drivers themselves.
“Speeding traffic through the village has been a longstanding problem, and various previous select boards have tried to address it. This has been at least a decade-long effort,” Select Board chair Ann Kuendig observed.
This year, the Pittsfield Select Board resolved to “start from square one,” as she put it, and in June requested a traffic speed study on Route 100 at three points: the north end of the village; the south end; and between them, the village green. TRORC completed its analysis on Aug. 17 after setting up automated recorders to measure the volume and speed of traffic over a two-week span, starting July 27.
Traffic studies usually center upon what engineers call “the 85th percentile speed.” This refers to the speed that 85% of cars are observed to be traveling at or below in free-flowing conditions. At Pittsfield’s midpoint, along the village green, the 85th percentile speed is 39 mph for southbound traffic and 41 for northbound traffic.
But at either end of the 35-mph zone, drivers tend to go faster. The average of four sets of measurements taken near the village’s entrance and exit places the 85th percentile speed at 45, or 10 above the speed limit.
Years ago, Kuendig pointed out, the Select Board appealed to the state for a reduced speed limit on Route 100 in Pittsfield to try to get cars to slow down. The Vermont Traffic Committee rejected the petition.
Speed feedback signs offer another option for addressing the issue. They monitor speeds and then use electronic displays to tell motorists how fast they’re going. While they don’t issue tickets, they give drivers an opportunity to self-correct.
“We have noticed in surrounding towns that these speed feedback signs are going up everywhere,” Kuendig said. “And this is the course that we’re going to try.”
To put up a speed feedback sign on a state highway, a town needs a permit, and completing a traffic study is a prerequisite. The Pittsfield Select Board agreed to send its application to the Vermont Agency of Transportation on Aug. 18.
Speed feedback signs “run $3,000 and up,” according to Kuendig. The town aims, at first, to buy two for the north and south ends of the village on Route 100, with the expectation of using federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act for the purchase. Officials may add more to other town roads in the future.