Recent deaths raise concerns

WESTFIELD – Attention has been drawn again  to Western Avenue following the death of cyclist Howard Beardslee on Jan. 13, the second fatal bicyclist accident in recent month.  City police reports say that Beardslee, 60, was on his bike traveling westbound when a Ford Explorer struck the bike after crossing the fog line near Westfield State University’s Scanlon Hall.
In early November, John Kurty, 86, succumbed to his injuries after being struck by a pickup truck in front of Westfield State’s Woodward Center on Western Avenue as well.  Witnesses at the scene report Kurty was not wearing a helmet.
These recent accidents have raised questions on bicycle safety. Attention and concern has also been shown towards the proposed Western Avenue Project.
Jeff LaValley, chairman of the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail, said that, first and foremost, bicyclists should always wear a helmet. In addition, they should wear reflective clothing and their bicycles should be outfitted with front and rear lights.
“It is a tragic reminder of the dangers faced by pedestrians and bicyclists everyday they share the road with motorists” said Mayor Daniel M. Knapik said. “My thoughts and prayers go out to the family”. Mayor Knapik also added that “the City is committed to ensuring safety for all as we rebuild our streets and neighborhoods”.
Westfield Engineer Mark Cressotti said the city is “seriously investigating the inclusion of a multi-use trail” in the proposed Western Avenue improvement project, and that the recent fatal bicyclist accidents have “reinforced this direction”.
Representative Don Humason also added that although there have been two fatal accidents in the past few months, these are the first fatal bicyclist accidents heard of in quite a long time. Although both are freak and unusual accidents taking place on the same road, Humason said that Western Avenue “is a road in need of some renovation.”
Westfield State University also spoke up about this horrific accident and issued the following statement: “As a member of the Western Avenue neighborhood we are deeply saddened by the recent accidents that have occurred along the Western Avenue corridor. The safety of our neighbors, students, faculty and staff and all those who make use of community resources along Western Ave is our priority. We will continue to be a part of community dialogue on this issue – providing input and pledging financial resources – in order to support the city to make critically needed and long overdue improvements to this widely used road so that tragedies like these can be prevented.”
Humason said while it may not have prevented the tragic deaths, having an access road to Route 20 would definitely alleviate much of the traffic on Western Avenue.
The university explored putting a road from campus to Route 20 using federal funds, However, that idea has been almost abandoned.
“The problem is that federal money can only be used to connect two existing roads, like Western Avenue and Route 20, not a roadway and a driveway,” said Humason.
The road that was considered would run from the campus behind Juniper Park School to Route 20 on the backside of Llewellyn Drive. Residents there protested.
“Some of the neighbors said they didn’t want a road going through their backyard,” Humason said. “But I think it could have been done in such a way to protect the neighbors.”
Humason said he believes by opposing the road, residents only hurt themselves.
“It would have taken all sorts of traffic off Western Avenue onto Route 20 where there are fewer houses,” he said.
Humason said he believes the access road is still something Westfield State is interested in and he wondered if anyone made a proposal to Congressman Richard Neal who became the new U.S. Representative for Westfield with the November, 2012 election.
Humason said that as a resident of that area, he would like to see the road in place.
“I don’t want to see traffic lights every 15 feet in that neighborhood,” he said. “I guess they feel they need to have that. I’d rather have the road built and take most of the traffic off Western Avenue – it would reduce congestion on two roadways.”

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