April 15, 2005

Improving The Streetscape On Car Dealership Row

A Portland, Ore. neighborhood is wrestling with the same kind of dilemma that faces Rte. 135 in Framingham around the T station: how to make an appealing pedestrian streetscape/shopping area on a street currently filled with unattractive auto dealers (or in Framingham's case, dealerships and other businesses & buildings that are not conducive for pedestrian activity).

"Right now, there's not a whole lot for pedestrians to go to," said Linda Robinson, a board member of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association, told the Oregonian. "Nobody would walk that street for pleasure."

That's the same reason the presence of the commuter rail station in downtown Framingham hasn't done anything to rejuvenate the nearby business district -- the streetscape is so unattractive, commuters simply drive in and out, and are never enticed to stay downtown and do anything else.

In Portland, although 122nd Avenue was rezoned to encourage mixed use and pedestrian-friendly development back in 1986, little has changed. One problem: zoning setback regulations, which required a new car dealership to be set back from the sidewalk instead of built up at the sidewalk -- as the company wanted, and as would have been better for pedestrian activity.

The commuter rail station is a potential magnets to bring shoppers to downtown Framingham. Try to imagine how different things might be if there were a streetscape around there that had attractive storefronts, an appealing sidewalk and some cafes with outdoor seating. But as long as the station is surrounded with an unattractive streetscape, that potential will never be realized.

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