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Downtown Lights: 'There are All Sorts of Funny Shenanigans Going on There'

There's a funny situation at the lights near Church Street, and you'll have to deal with it through the winter.

Why do we have three lights, but two lanes?

It's one of many questions that have come up concerning the progress, and strange setup, of the Downtown Improvement Project.

While Fred Litchfield, the town's engineer who is most familiar with this project that is headed by the Department of Transportation, wasn't at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday night, Chief Mark Leahy was able to field a question.

It's a question many readers have asked, as well, and Selectman Leslie Rutan brought it to the table during her regular report. 

"When you're heading down Route 20 going east," she said, "you come to the intersection with Church Street, and there is a left arrow there. And in addition to the left arrow there is a left arrow sign. Now, you have two separate green lights. If you're in the lane with the left arrow, there have been several situations where people have wanted to go straight. So if you have someone stopped for the red arrow, but the other two are green ... there are funny shenanigans going on there. I just don't see three lanes there; but there are three lights. The way that it's set up is not good. People don't know if it's a left turn only lane and they don't know whether or not they need to stay there either."

Chief Leahy, who attends the progress meetings along with Litchfield, said that ultimately, the finished product will indeed involve three lanes.

"Through some magic formula, they decided not to do that until springtime," said Leahy. "I like the term 'shenanigans,' because that summarizes it. It's designed for three lanes, but there are two because of the poles that we can't seem to get removed. If the utility companies could get the poles removed, we could ahve striped the lanes appropriately."

The confusing markage has had an adverse affect downtown, added Leahy, but "that doesn't seem to be on the high priority list for utility companies. It will be clearly marked someday. It has been very challenging from an enforcement standpoint because the road is not supposed to look like that ... but it does."

Nancy Carens January 30, 2013 at 11:50 AM
Worst area is at Patty Lane. If you are heading westbound on 20 trying to make a left onto Patty Lane with green arrow, you cant because trafffic coming eastbound on 20 is stopped all the way to Hudson, blocking the road.
Postman January 30, 2013 at 12:15 PM
Yeah, that great green arrow that lets 4 cars by, tops. Why not make it an uprotected green after the arrow and skip the 3rd lane? Let's not forget about the genius move of putting up a "No Turn On Red" sign on Rt. 20 west turning onto church st. either. This is causing HUGE grid lock problems near 135. Why the hell can't we turn right on red as we have for many years!!! This has done nothing but make things worse. What poor planning!
SoTired January 30, 2013 at 01:40 PM
I also do not like what they did where 135 meets 20. Right lane is now a left turn lane and they can't turn right on red. This is going to increase traffic through the smaller residential streets. I do not see how any of this is going to be an improvement - even when completed.
Maria Boeckeler January 30, 2013 at 01:52 PM
I agree with Postman.
Rachelle Hughes-Berk January 30, 2013 at 02:36 PM
There's so much I don't understand about the design choices in this town. Aesthetics certainly aren't at the top of the list of priorities, as evidenced by all of the gas stations and poorly kept buildings in the middle of town. It would be nice if we had an attractive town center like neighboring towns. I am, however, glad they put a light at Hudson and Main, making it actually possible to go east bound from CVS (in a round about sort of way). What a mess.
Ron Goodenow January 30, 2013 at 02:40 PM
Ditto...Gee, the utility company wouldn't be our old reliable National Grid would it? No wonder there is confusion. This company is owned and largely managed from the UK, where they drive on the wrong side of the road. :-) I drive through there in a state of amazement, but I am old enough to remember when there were no lights there and my kids were learning to drive.
Nic January 30, 2013 at 02:57 PM
According to the signs, 135 is a single lane where you can go left or right. However, drivers continue on using the single lane as a double lane. I almost lost the right side of my car to Volvo wagon because the driver came up on my right side to make an illegal right on red turn. And it still takes forever to try to take a left onto Rte 20 east from Church St. The light is only green long enough to allow 8 cars through while traffic going east on Rte 20 allows about 20 cars.
Leslie Rutan January 30, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Thanks so much for your comments! I have spoken again with the Town Engineer about the 'no right on red' at rt 20 W and Church, and he has said again that this allows a greater number of cars on rt 20 E to get through the light to turn left onto Church. As poles are removed in the spring from both the Patty Lane intersection, and from the rt 20 E intersection at Church (which is the issue I raised at this week's BOS meeting) , further recs may be made about the signals, turns, etc. In the meantime, feel free to contact the Town Engineer directly at 508-393-5015 - he welcomes your comments/input, and can use these with ongoing discussions with the DOT, which is ultimately in charge of this project. .
Leslie Rutan January 30, 2013 at 03:21 PM
I will also ask that the Town Engineer check the comments made here, and log them for purposes of his future discussions with the DOT. Thank you.
SoTired January 30, 2013 at 09:05 PM
Although it isn't lined that way, that 135 onto 20 intersection has been used as 2 lanes for as long as I've lived here - 12 years. Up until this traffic improvement right on red was legal. I assume it will become "official" because the signs now indicate 2 lanes can turn left. They just haven't painted the stripe on the road yet.
LMarch January 30, 2013 at 10:30 PM
Being a customer of Bank of America, it's crazy that you can only take a right turn out of the exit. How about Pierce St.? Can you turn left onto it from Church St. now? Also, signs heading West on Rte. 20 say "left turn only", to turn left onto 135, yet cars constantly proceed straight thru the light. Will this be three lanes eventually? The entire downtown is now overrun with signs all of which add to the confusion.
Jess January 31, 2013 at 02:36 AM
I agree with the aesthetics comment! Shrewsbury, Marlboro and Westboro all have beautiful centers. This would be a great time to put up some nice looking street lights, maybe put the wires underground? We have so many run down abandoned buildings on rt 20, it's embarrassing. I am happy to see a few of them have gone away and that there seems to be restrictions put on the way that new buildings look but more needs to be done. People move to this town for the great school system but can't take pride in the way it is kept. PS, what about the building with zem han in it in the center.. can someone figure out how to fix the ice problem. The scaffolding makes it look like it's constantly under construction. This building is a rebuild of a historical northboro landmark and could make the center look pretty it weren't surrounded by scaffolding.
jane January 31, 2013 at 02:42 AM
The location of the "no right on red" sign at Rte. 20 and Church St is ridiculous since it cannot be seen if you are in the right lane until you are actually going around the corner since it's behind a pole. What genius planned this? I've been going through it until I happened to notice it just the other day, then yesterday I watched six cars stop at the red light then continue onto Church St. and I assume they didn't see the sign either. Factor in darkness and you can be sure nobody will ever see it. I'm not sure how the renovation of the center has really benefitted the town other than the much needed light and re-routed traffic at Hudson St and Rte 20. I'd like to see someone address the deplorable vacant former furniture store that is an eyesore. Tear it down or remodel! Northborough Center is hardly an attractive area-more like a truck stop with all the gas stations and automotive services.
jane January 31, 2013 at 02:44 AM
So you can't go left? Are you kidding me? I wonder if BOA approved this plan that inconveniences its customers. One more reasons to go out of town for something...
Ron Goodenow January 31, 2013 at 03:29 AM
To suburban and Jess, I agree that the town has been an aesthetic disaster, and is apparently devoid of a long term plan to address this and other issues that are more than budgetary. This said, Northborough has a lot of smart and good people involved in trails and general conservation. When I, as a photographer, put my back into trying to shame the building inspector and others into enforcing signage rules (with the help of the Patch editor who posted my commentary and photos) I was delighted with the response by some town officials, and the town looks a million bucks better in that regard. The bottom line is that our Selectmen and other town leaders need to hear that how things look, landscaping, getting rid of eyesores and engaging in long term planning is important, and something we as tax payers want. We want more than a few nice parks and places to walk. Its hard to turn a town like ours -- a highway one without a nice town square or town center -- into something more, but believe me, it can be done. Try to be positive, but firm. Let the experts figure out how to deliver.
Postman January 31, 2013 at 01:03 PM
Ridiculous! A greater number of cars could turn onto Church St. from Rt. 20 East BEFORE the Green Arrow Light. The only reason they have to stop the right on reds is because they put up that stupid arrow that only allows 4 cars to go through it. Get rid of the 'no turn on red' sign and then make the left onto Church St. an unprotected green after the arrow is done. Very simple. People are still going right on red because it's stupid not to. I see the sign and will continue to "roll on through" like I have for 20 years. Just look what happens when the power goes out and all we have are blinking lights downtown, essentially making them stop signs, there's NO traffic! And yes, it looks ridiculous too.
Postman January 31, 2013 at 01:10 PM
Leslie, thank you for your help. I don't mean to sound like I'm "ranting" at you. The town engineer has me wondering what's going on over there. This situation reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where Elaine was offended that someone didn't use an exclamation point on a note and then went on to use WAY too many while editing a book at work. I wonder if the engineer was slighted in a similiar manner along the way? This is that absurd.
LMarch January 31, 2013 at 01:27 PM
I have to admit that I haven't seen the "no right on red" sign onto Church Street either. Will look for it on way home tonight! I have to hope that once all the lanes are properly marked and painted with arrows, things will get better. Maybe!
Nic January 31, 2013 at 02:15 PM
Might want to double check that. The sign at the end of 135 indicates a single lane which allows for making either a right or left. (Not two lanes turning left.)
Karen January 31, 2013 at 03:13 PM
As someone who lives off of Whitney Street, I use that left turn from 20E onto Church several times a day. I get very frustrated sitting at that arrow when there is NO OTHER traffic. With the old traffic patterns, I would be well on my way. It is now so terrible and I have often gone down Lincoln/Pleasant instead. Was the goal to increase traffic on small residential streets? I agree 100% with Postman. The dedicated arrow should turn to an unprotected green. As far as the “No Turn on Red” on 20W onto Church (which I didn't even know was there!) before turning on a red light, you must come to a complete stop and yield to pedestrians or other vehicles. Making the point of the Town Engineer invalid. If people are not following the proper Right on Red behavior, that is a different issue. Also, people in general are so frustrated with the new traffic signals/signage, I’m seeing more people running lights, pushing greens, and turning against the new signs than ever before. If the traffic flow makes sense, you won’t get this behavior. The goal should be to get traffic THROUGH the town efficiently. Holding people up at restricted points, keeps traffic in town by creating unnecessary bottlenecks.
Tree Hugger January 31, 2013 at 03:16 PM
In all honesty though, how many banks can they squeeze into Downtown Northborough? I count 4 immediately downtown, with a fifth about to open. God forbid something like a neighborhood restaurant or pub open up.
Debra Claxton January 31, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Please remember this is a STATE project. Our BOS probably had no say in anything. The left turn arrow is terrible! Karen and Postman are right on with their suggestions. I agree the town looks decrepit. There are three more buildings coming down, too. How about a design regulation for downtown? The new United Bank building does well to fit into downtown. Why can't we have more of these "new" buildings and less of whatever they want to build?
LMarch January 31, 2013 at 10:14 PM
I had to look at the sign on 135 again after reading these comments. The sign is split in two, with a left turn arrow and a left/right turn arrow. It certainly gives the impression that 135 is two lanes and according to the sign, both lanes can turn left. Am I interpreting the sign wrong? Again....very confusing!
Town Resident February 01, 2013 at 11:57 AM
I agree with what everryone is saying. The 2-3 cars that can get through the left onto Church st is crazy! The no right on red coming from the other direction makes even less sense with the red left arrow. I hope the timing of the lights is just temporary. Going east bound I often have to stop at a red light in front of Honey Farms, go a little bit and stop at another red in front of the library.
Maureen February 01, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Drives me a bit crazy when someone doesn't go left to Church st when no one is coming west but the light is red in front of me. I know you shouldn't go thru a red light but annoying. :)
Leslie Rutan February 03, 2013 at 09:27 PM
Thanks again for all of your comments! The Town Engineer has been checking for them the last few days, so that he can pass on concerns to / discuss with the DOT. We'll know better how the downtown will look, once the poles in question are removed, the final topcoat has been put down, and the lanes are better defined. I too have concerns about the number of signs that have gone up, some of the 'arrow' lights, timing of lights, etc.
Karen February 08, 2013 at 05:30 PM
I just wanted to come back and report on some crazy driving I saw as a direct result of the bad lights in the center of town. One day last week, I sat through the red arrow at Rt20E onto Church thru 3 cycles. On the last of the three cycles, I observed THREE cars also miss the red arrow, so they went straight and turned left into the CVS parking lot. They drove thru the lot to Pierce, then turned left and then right to get on church. They were on their way and I still sat sitting at a red arrow. And I was not at all mad, I was thankful since without those 3 additional cars I actually had a chance of making that light legally-finally. These new light patterns are BAD and need to be fixed before people's frustrations cause an accident.

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