Vinnin Square needs a two-footed fix

Work on a $2 million Vinnin Square traffic and pedestrian safety improvement project won’t start for a year, maybe two. But Swampscott and surrounding community residents need only wait a week before they can vent their frustration over the way Vinnin Square defies transportation common sense. 

A Town Hall hearing scheduled for Aug. 8, 6:30 p.m., will showcase the project and become a forum for complaints about how Vinnin Square is an exercise in frustration for anyone on four wheels or two feet. 

Swampscott logged 1,848 crashes between 2008 and 2018, and 366 accidents occurred at the point where Paradise Road feeds into the heart of the Vinnin Square commercial zone. 

The state project will pay for new traffic signals and signs, pavement markings, and disability access ramps with the work starting on the square’s Swampscott end and moving toward the Salem line.

Like Route 1, Paradise Road takes the blame for traffic that begins in the parking lots bordering the roadway. With multiple side roads and turn offs from Paradise Road into commercial parking lots flanking it, traffic is a stop-and-go grind creating the perfect recipe for crashes. 

The parking lot ranging from CVS to Marshalls — a several-block stretch — is one of the more chaotic parking configurations ever designed. Pedestrians and cars compete for the right of way and the lot’s main exit is prone to traffic backups that are not alleviated by a properly-timed traffic signal. 

The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization studied Vinnin Square/Route 1A traffic flow for five years and released their findings in 2017. The study revealed a stark fact: Vinnin Square’s traffic patterns were inadequate years ago to meet business and residential growth around the square.

The study’s conclusion should be no surprise to drivers who frequent Vinnin Square: Paradise Road and side roads fill up with traffic and make it hard to get in and out of the square and around it. 

“Paradise Road is way overdue for improvements,” said Swampscott Police Chief Ronald Madigan. He said the $2 million to be spent on traffic improvements will focus on pedestrian safety and easy pedestrian access to different locations in the square. 

Making pedestrians the priority highlights Vinnin Square’s biggest challenge. You can take a bus to Vinnin Square but it is a driving destination with the sprawling parking lots to prove it. The square’s stores are arranged in long blocks which means drivers are determined, especially in bad weather, to find a parking spot as close to their destination as they can.

If Vinnin Square is truly going to undergo pedestrian-focused traffic improvement, then changes to the traffic layout should include a careful look at making the parking lots flanking the square more pedestrian-friendly.

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