Practical physics: Turners Falls students analyze speeds on tricky village roads

  • Students in the Turners Falls High School physics class show the accelerometer they used to study local roads. Right to left, Haleigh Greene, Isabelle Farrick, Cameron Bradley, Jakob Burnett, Brian Poirier and Eric Fenton. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Turners Falls High School science and technology teacher Brian Lamore, far left, and his students discuss their physics project during an assembly last week.

Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2020 5:38:25 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The newest advisors to the Montague Selectboard may be a group of high school students.

As the culminating project for the semester, the Turners Falls High School physics class studied two difficult turns on roads in Turners Falls to try to determine whether the speed limits should be changed or if special restrictions should be added.

In most semesters, science and technology teacher Brian Lamore ends his physics class with some sort of real-world modeling problem; but it’s usually something more traditional, he said, like launching a toy rocket. But when a tractor trailer rolled over last April on the Third Street curve heading downhill into Turners Falls, Lamore revised his class’ assignment, allowing them to analyze the turn.

“The accident was really the impetus,” Lamore said. “Unfortunately, someone else’s misfortune translated into an opportunity for students to learn.”

The second turn, also on Third Street but at the intersection with Park Street, was chosen because it is difficult for similar reasons to the first one. Unlike most turns, both of these ones bank away from the direction of the turn, which adds extra burden to the tires, Lamore said.

Lamore and the six juniors and seniors in the class started taking measurements in November. The three relevant variables, they explained, were the slope of the road, the radius of the turn and the friction of a vehicle’s grip on the asphalt. The goal was to calculate the speed at which a vehicle would slide out of its turn.

The physical measurements of each turn radius were based on images from Google Maps, Lamore said; but the others were based on field work. In one part, the class rode in a van through the turns while monitoring an accelerometer, a device that measures acceleration across three axes.

The class finished its interpretive work earlier this month, Lamore said. Last week, the class presented its findings and recommendations during a school-wide assembly.

The currently posted speed limit on the Third Street hill is 25 mph. The class found that, in ideal conditions, a vehicle would slide out at 35 mph. So they did not recommend a change there.

As for the corner with Park Street, the class found that the turn is only safe at speeds under 13 mph in ideal conditions. If the town were to add a warning sign there, the class recommended a 10 mph limit.

Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis, who had been invited to the presentation and was in the audience, was enthusiastic about the study, and asked the students if they would be interested in discussing their work with the Selectboard.

Lamore later said that some of the students are interested in meeting with the board, but some are unsure if they would be able to make it to a night meeting.

If and when the students will meet with the Selectboard, and whether it would be legally advisable for the board to act on the students’ recommendations, are unclear.

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.


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