The Commonwealth plans to do some sidewalk improvements along Route 9 as part of a Stimulus-funded resurfacing project in Natick and Framingham. However, the plans also call for eliminating some existing grassy strips between blacktop sidewalks and the roadway, instead relying on painted lines to mark walkways, Department of Transportation officials said at a public hearing tonight in Framingham.
Fortunately, several town officials objected to this idea, suggesting instead either a change of material -- such as concrete -- or even raised sidewalks, to "restore not the privilege but the right of walking on the right of way," as Planning Board Chairman Carol Spack said. (That whole painted line idea didn't work very well when it was tried next to BJ's.)
Several officials including Selectmen Chair Ginger Esty urged the state to work on the Rte. 9 median, making a more visually pleasing separator such as has been done in Shrewsbury. Alas, due to the $12.5 million budget limit, it sounded unlikely there will be any improvements on the median for this project. However State Sen. Karen Spilka said that separately, the Metropolitan Area Planning Councilis working on a longer term Route 9 corridor study that will hopefully deal with issues such as this. "That is taking place now in a much more thorough way" than the resurfacing project, which is in design now with hopes to advertise for bids next month and start construction in April.
The project includes plans to fill in some gaps where there are no sidewalks at all, although Sue Bernstein's query about adding sidewalks to the south side of Rte. 9 across from the reservoir near several apartment complexes, allowing people to walk to Temple Street, received a negative response (it's not included and there are no plans to do so). It's still unclear whether there will be a sidewalk in front of the State Police barracks, as apparently there are some security concerns.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much of tonight's comment time was spent talking about pedestrian needs -- adequate and safe sidewalks and crossing areas. One resident of a condo complex along Rte. 9 who came primarily to find out about noise issues during the roadwork, also complained how difficult it was to walk on Rte. 9. In fact, she said one night she tried to walk and ended up calling a taxi because it was so scary. Walking right next to zooming traffic doesn't feel good. Which is why removing grassy barriers is absolutely the wrong way to go.
I added to that plea for better sidewalks, building on those comments to zero in on one of my favorite themes: Sidewalks need to be aesthetically pleasing, and streetscapes need to be walker-friendly, if people are going to use them. Simply installing concrete (or even worse, painting lines on asphalt) will not get people out on foot.
William Hanson, chair of the Framingham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, outlined several steps that could make Rte. 9 safer for cyclists, including striping a bicycle lane near traffic on ramps to give motorists a heads up that there may be bicycles on the road. He also asked state transportation officials to make sure they maintain pedestrian access during construction and ensure "the sidewalks is not a free staging area for materials."
I also submitted written testimony to the Mass. Dept. of Transportation. If you'd like to, you can send it to Frank A. Tramontozzi, P.E., Chief Engineer, MassDOT - Highway Division, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116-3973 and reference Project File No. 604991.