If all goes according to plan, the heart of Concord center will be undergoing surgery for the sake of safety later this year.
A $200,000 state grant is set to transform the intersection of Main and Walden streets into a more pedestrian friendly environment. The most dramatic aspect of the plan are “bump-outs” at each crosswalk that will provide walkers with better views of oncoming traffic without having to stand in the roadway.
Erin Stevens, town transportation and mobility planner, said the improvements will help people feel more confident when crossing and guide motorists through the somewhat awkward intersection.
“For so long the focus has been on moving cars along. We need to walk that back,” she said.
In addition to better sightlines, the bump-outs will reduce the slope of existing sidewalks and create a more level surface at the crosswalks, to the benefit of everyone ambling through the center and in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Along Main Street in front of Footstock, the bump-out will create a small plaza of sorts with the addition of two trees and the loss of one parking space. Stevens said the town will take a wait-and-see approach as to whether or not to install a bench or bike racks in the space.
To delineate crosswalks, the plan calls for installation of either stamped concrete or polymer cement material with a brick pattern. This solution is more durable when compared to actual bricks, especially when snow plowing and other maintenance is taken into account. Also, it is ADA compliant and a consistent surface without uneven edges for people using strollers, wheelchairs, walkers or other mobility devices. Covering the entire intersection with a similar product in a granite cobblestone pattern is also being considered as a way to further define the shared space.
Stevens said that historic districts in other towns have had good experience with the product and in some cases have removed brick sidewalks in favor of the polymer. She has been in conversation with the Historic Districts Commission regarding color and pattern and will present the plan at their next meeting.
At a site visit last week, Dave Anderson, owner of Main Streets Market and Cafe, expressed concern about drainage. A close look at the intersection reveals significant changes in elevation that can cause havoc during heavy rain and snow storms. Anderson said at times water overflows down the alley past his restaurant. Town engineering consultants are aware of drainage challenges and their plan calls for additional storm grates along Main Street, noting that regular clearing of the grates is essential for the system to function properly.
Although the travel lane width remains unchanged, the new configuration brings into sharper focus the narrowness of the roadway, especially when considering bike riders. A new state law requires motorists to give bicyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable users four feet of passage, which is not possible through Concord center.
Some cities and towns erect signs to remind motorists that state regulations also permit bikes to use full lanes. While additional signage is probably not desirable in the center, during the site visit Stephan Bader suggested that sharrows (painted bike symbols) placed on the roadway are a simple, low cost option. “Cars shouldn’t be going faster than bikes through the center anyway,” he said.
Planner Stevens sees Main and Walden as a first step toward more pedestrian-friendly crosswalks at busy intersections.
“We’re not starting here and stopping, all options are open,” she said.
Other possible crosswalk improvement locations include Sudbury Road and Main Street at the library (plus pedestrian crossing lights from the Stow Street parking lot) and Lawsbrook Road and Commonwealth Avenue. As with most things municipal, funding will determine how many more intersections will benefit from the kind of significant safety improvements envisioned for Main and Walden.
Another solution could come from a bygone era. Growing up in Concord, Dave Anderson recalls a time when a police officer wearing white gloves directed traffic while standing in a box in the center of the intersection, “Every day the box would be wheeled out from the sidewalk with a spotlight trained on the officer.” He thinks the box may have been used into the 1970s until a passing truck’s door swung out and demolished it.
Current plans don’t include a new police box, which likely would require Historic Districts Commission approval.
To see the full Main and Walden improvement plan check out: https://concordma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/40417/Shared-Streets-and-Spaces-Grant—Main-and-Walden-Street-Project