September 12, 2007

Downtown Framingham pedestrian improvements in the works

Several projects are planned or underway to help boost downtown Framingham's pedestrian appeal, a town planner reported last night. And, other efforts will encourage more use of mass transit and accommodate bicyclists.

Thanks to federal and state grant money, the area's regional transit authority will be receiving 10 new minibuses, each equipped with wheelchair lifts and bicycle racks, over four years.

There's also money to install new bus shelters downtown, bicycle lockers at the train station, and bicycle racks around town, said Bryan Taberner, assistant director of the Division of Community and Economic Development. The bus shelters will include solar-powered lighting, and information about bus routes and schedules.

Taberner gave his report to the Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

A detailed engineering plan to improve streetscape features such as lighting and sidewalks will be funded from money the town received as part of an economic stimulus package.
That program calls for "preliminary design plans for pedestrian enhancements that will create safe, comfortable, attractive and clear pedestrian linkages . . . between the MBTA Commuter Rail Station, the LIFT bus hub, and downtown's mixed-use developments," according to documents handed out at the meeting.

"The design will enhance existing sidewalks on Park Street with street trees, new paving, signage, and street furniture, and will create new sidewalks and pedestrian amenities along the Franklin Street extension."

There will be public comment meetings before plans are drawn up. The town expects to soon sign a contract with consultants The Cecil Group for this work. Cecil Group has also worked on revitalization plans for Providence, R.I. and Boston Main Streets.

Separately, the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization is doing an assessment on how to better link downtown business areas to adjacent neighborhoods. That will include pedestrian and cycling issues. They began gathering information last week, Taberner said. (The Boston MPO is also doing an assessment of the Concord & Hartford Street intersection, due to the large number of accidents there, he added.)

In addition, the town will be conducting a study on whether to invest money needed to turn Nevins Hall in the Memorial Building (town hall) into a regional performance venue. Turning the auditorium there into a world-class venue could potentially cost more than a million dollars, Taberner noted. Other economic-stimulus funding will be used to determine how to improve the Pearl Street parking garage. Once packed with commuter cars, the garage is now underused in part due to the garage's condition, feelings of unsafety, and poor streetscape between the garage and train station.

A Walkable Communities Workshop next Thursday, Sept. 27, will discuss ways to improve walkability in downtown Framingham. It will include a presentation on walkability factors, followed by a "walking audit" of some downtown areas, and then a follow-up session to brainstorm possible improvements. The workshop is scheduled from 8:30 to 11 am and is free to attend. For more information or to pre-register, contact Bryan Taberner at 508-532-5455 or or Cathy Buckley Lewis at Boston Region MPO, 617-973-7118 or

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