May 25, 2007

Residents ‘inundating Acton officials with requests for more sidewalks’

"When town officials studied the commuter-rail station and its parking problems last year, [Selectwoman Lauren] Rosenzweig said, many residents expressed a desire to make the entire area more pedestrian-friendly for commuters, parents with strollers, teenagers unable to drive, and disabled residents," the Globe reports.

The Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization is holding a walkable communities workshop in Acton June 5. Framingham has also applied to have such a workshop held in town this year.

"Glenn Berger, owner of Exchange Hall in South Acton, said he would be thrilled if Acton improved pedestrian access. Exchange Hall is a historic building formerly used as a meeting hall and department store. Now it houses a variety of businesses, and Berger hopes to renovate it and turn it into a restaurant and function hall.

"Already he has plans to move the sidewalks near his property farther from the street so there is more of a buffer. Better sidewalks throughout the village would go a long way toward attracting more walkers, he said. 'Right now the feeling is this is more of a place to drive through and not a destination, which is the goal,' Berger said."

Being a walk-to destination requires an appealing streetscape, not just the presence of sidewalks (as I've said many times, there are sidewalks on Rte. 9, but few people use them because that whole environment is aesthetically hostile to pedestrians even if technically possible [as long as you don't try to cross the street].) A sense of place also helps.

Walkability makes a local retail district more appealing to visitors, residents, potential homebuyers and businesses.

Ann Sussman, an architect and member of the town's Design Review Board, said amenities such as sidewalks draws residents to a community. Real estate listings for communities such as Concord and Lexington tout the ability to "walk to town center," she noted.

"It never says, 'Walk to strip mall or walk to Kmart.' There is a ripple effect when you have a walkable community."

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