Friday, August 29, 2014

Feehan Driveway, Neighborhoods, and City Officials

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Friday,


By Bill Gouveia



            Do we all have the right to decide how many cars can drive by our homes? 


            I was just wondering, because the situation in Attleboro between Bishop Feehan High School and their neighbors on Harvard Street has me a bit confused.  Some would maintain that is not an unusual state for me, but I digress.


            By now most of you probably know of this battle.  It has been the subject of many news stories and a few opinion columns.  If you don’t have a connection to the school or the Harvard Street neighborhood, you might not even care.


            But for those who missed it, the private Catholic high school has been located for many decades in a heavily residential neighborhood.  Currently the only viable entrance and exit to the school is from the parking lot to Holcott Drive, then onto busy North Main Street (Rt. 152).  Traffic jams are common when school starts and when it ends.


But there is an access gate that leads from the end of Harvard Street onto North Avenue.  That gate was last briefly used some 13 years ago before Feehan shut it down due to protests from Harvard Street neighbors and city officials.


            Now the student population has greatly increased, and the school wants to exercise its legal right to open and utilize their driveway and the public road.  They cite safety as their major concern, which is also the primary reason homeowners on the road give while seeking to prevent it.


            Not surprisingly, Bishop Feehan’s attorney says the educational institution has the right to use the gate.  A bit more surprisingly, two different lawyers for the city have agreed. 


            But the neighbors on Harvard Street (and others) seem to think they have a right to just say “no”.  They have support from Mayor Dumas and City Council Transportation and Traffic Committee Chairman Walter Thibodeau, who have threatened to pursue legal action and even abandon part of the roadway to prevent the opening.


            Feehan has offered to restrict the hours the gate is open to just ten per week, two hours per weekday during the school year.  But that has not slowed opposition one bit.


            The city council has already voted 5-3 to authorize the mayor to have plans drawn up that would discontinue the northern end of the road to keep Feehan from opening the gate – even though their own lawyers have warned this could give the school legal grounds to sue for damages.  The Mayor has threatened to use “all legal options”.  Thibodeau declared the proposal “dead on arrival” before the council even discussed it.


            For a moment, let’s forget about whether using Harvard Street is really a safety issue.  Let’s put aside whether it makes traffic around the school safer or not.  Never mind right now whether the politicians are pandering or protecting.  I have a completely different question:


            Why are the homeowners on Harvard Street more important than those on Holcott Drive?


            Seriously, what’s the deal?  There doesn’t appear to be much difference between the physical characteristics of the two roads.  One is not a wide super-highway and the other a narrow dirt country lane.  They are both streets with good, hard-working citizens and taxpayers inhabiting the homes along them.  And this is not a ban on big trucks we are talking about here.


            If the Holcott Drive neighborhood suddenly decided the traffic from Feehan made them unsafe, would the city council and the mayor back them too?  Would Bishop Feehan students have to be flown in by helicopter?


            If Holcott Drive residents planted some shrubs in front of the driveway entrance there, would that be seen as some heroic sign of protest or an illegal impediment to private property?


            The Harvard Street neighborhood wanting to protect their homes and families is perfectly understandable.  But wouldn’t removing some of the traffic from Holcott Drive make that road safer?  Is one neighborhood being sacrificed for the other here?


            I haven’t studied the traffic situation enough to know if opening the gate is the right plan.  Neither has the city council.  Maybe there should be a bit more study and conversation before decisions are made.


            And maybe city officials should explain just which neighborhoods deserve special attention, and which ones don’t.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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