UMass vs. Amherst

By Nick Milano

When driving in Massachusetts, you’re likely to pay attention to traffic reports about Storrow Drive. If you are heading to the Sox game, the Weston Tolls. If you are going home from work, the Leverett Connector, the Zakim Bridge, the Cloverleaf. These are all common enough, but over the past two weeks, it is safe to say that traveling to and from campus trumps all of the above.

With temporary roadblocks up on Lincoln and Sunset Avenues, among others, off-campus students, faculty and staff have all been inconvenienced to placate a few landowners.

There is no doubt that hosting thousands of seasonal students is a struggle for a small town like Amherst. They must have a larger police department to deal with a population that spikes for two four month periods of the year; they must set aside appropriate resources for fire and medical emergencies. The roads must surely take a beating from the amount of traffic that may not be designed to handle.

So, surely Amherst has to contend with major headaches as it hopes to accommodate over 20,000 students. And that’s just UMass.

But there are just as surely many benefits. Local businesses from bars and restaurants to delivery pizza places to bookstores all do an incredible amount of business compared to what they might normally see if there was no behemoth of commerce looming just a mile away.

It is also not as if students are constantly under threat either. Ride a PVTA bus and you are bombarded with signs detailing what might happen if you are an underage student found in possession of alcohol. A new sign is up this year though, threatening Amherst and Hadley’s new nuisance house and party rules basically promising to put partying students through hell for doing what college students have done for decades.

The town of Amherst takes out enough of its anger and spite on students as it is, often not without merit. As I wrote last week, some drunken scum stole flags off the Amherst American Legion and damaged its flag pole. Incidents like that draw the ire of the entire town, and for good reason.

One could only hope that the same happened when two of the major roads leading to campus were shut down to through traffic. But there actually has been widespread disappointment. Amherst’s token right wing whack-job Larry Kelley has posted on his website all the public comments made to the town regarding the closures. There are definitely a few who appreciate the new obstacles, but the vast majority bemoans them.

Granted, the roads in question may not be designated to handle this kind of traffic, but speed ramps could potentially do the trick. It seemed whenever the ramps were put up, they would be gone the next week, then back up for a couple of days like a bipolar person jumping from personality to personality. In shutting down these roads, Amherst has now funneled the traffic through just a few roads when coming from Amherst Center.

University Avenue is a possibility, but there is always traffic on Massachusetts Avenue. Further, the UMass Police are constantly standing guard on University Avenue to pull you over, search you and hassle you in anyway possible if you are going 26 mph instead of the prescribed 25 – whether it’s 9 a.m. on a Monday or nearing midnight on a Friday.

Taking North Pleasant is just pure torture if you are trying to get to the lots near Mullins Center or the Campus Center Garage. Students walk onto the streets as if they are invincible and UMass police are always patrolling like sharks on the prowl. Jaywalking is certainly just fine. But beware if you do not see a student preparing to cross the street, the police react like you hit the kid.

One other potential route is taking East Pleasant either from North Pleasant or by going around the Wildwood school on Strong Street. This has been the most convenient route lately, but it makes the commute at least five or 10 minutes longer.

The road closures also affect those who take the bus. This year, I have suffered some of the longest bus rides to and from school and winter has not even hit yet. Even those who are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, use less gas and save money on parking permits get a raw deal. Meanwhile, those in the giant houses along Lincoln and Sunset are rewarded.

Amherst and UMass obviously have to coexist because UMass is going nowhere. Randomly shutting down roads that get students, faculty and staff to campus conveniently and quickly to campus might appease a few property owners, but it is a bone-headed decision made in spite of the economic engine that powers this region. Hopefully, these road closures are not made permanent.

Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]