By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — The popularity of the Windham Rail Trail is posing traffic safety issues for the town.
Safety officials told selectmen this week they are concerned that lack of parking on Roulston Road is putting trail users at risk, with cars lining both sides on the crowded southern trail head.
But officials and neighbors agreed the northern trail head on Depot Road is seeing problems of its own with speeding traffic a threat to trail users.
“Scary” is how Windham Rail Trail Alliance president Mark Samsel described conditions to selectmen.
Help is on the way for the south end of the trail near the Salem line.
The town is close to a land deal with the state that will let Windham develop parking north of the intersection of Routes 28 and 111 for people to access the trail.
Selectman Al Letizio Jr., whom the board delegated to work on the issue, said he will bring a proposed agreement before selectmen Nov. 18 for the state property.
It’s an amendment to an existing deal with the state that provides parking on Depot Road.
“We’re rocking and rolling,” Letizio said.
He said he hopes to have full approval for the deal no later than December.
It’s unclear when the town would develop the parking area or how much it would cost.
Town Administrator David Sullivan told selectmen when it was first considered a couple of years ago, the estimated cost of a gravel lot was about $10,000.
The town’s approach to Depot Road may involve a combination of enforcement, road or sidewalk work, but what exactly is uncertain yet.
Selectmen’s Chairman Phil LoChiatto indicated officials will continue working on the issue.
Police Chief Gerald Lewis and fire Chief Tom McPherson, who serve on the town’s highway safety committee, brought the issue before selectmen.
“The rail trail has been a tremendous addition to this community. It has brought a lot of folks to town,” Lewis told selectmen.
He pointed to cyclists, inline skaters, moms with strollers, and kids using the trail from Roulston Road, with vehicles parked on both sides.
“It is a hazard,” Lewis said.
He called for something to be done soon, because neighboring Salem is moving toward trail improvements that could add more users.
Samsel acknowledged increased usage.
“A lot of folks are coming up from the south to use that trail,” he said.
The town, meanwhile, has tried through enforcement and pedestrian crossing improvements to make Depot Road safer, but officials said more may need to be done.
“We have a speed problem on Depot Road,” Lewis said.
“Occasionally, cars do fly through there,” he said.
Samsel said parking is tight with an influx of families, especially on the weekend.
“Sunday mornings it’s scary,” he said.
Lewis said police are looking at extra enforcement but suggested the time might be right for road safety improvements.
Selectman Roger Hohenberger suggested additional signage and striping might help, noting that seems to slow traffic through downtown Derry.
“I think that really works,” Hohenberger said.
John Mangan, who lives in the Depot Road neighborhood, said traffic has become a worry for residents.
“When you go out and get your mail, you have to be careful,” he said.
Mangan wondered if the town needs to take a look at the problem in conjunction with traffic on nearby North Lowell Road.
He pointed to potential future development by Crossing Life Church, as well as road work in Derry diverting drivers through the neighborhood.
Cars traveling 40 mph along North Lowell Road are still going that fast as they move through Depot Road near the trail parking area, he said.
“Their right-hand signal is still engaged,” he said.
Despite the traffic worries, Windham officials see the rail trail as something that is having good benefits for the town.
“The rail trail has turned out to be a really nice attraction,” Letizio said. “The rail trail is growing to the next level. We want it to grow to the next level.”
Derry hasn’t experienced similar traffic and pedestrian safety issues yet, Derry Rail Trail Alliance president Erich Whitney said.
But Derry also is seeing many people use its section of the trail.
“I am surprised at the amount of public support and demand for this resource,” Whitney said. “People are taking ownership and pride in the trail and for that I am incredibly grateful and thankful.”