Thursday, October 4, 2012

Downtown Restoration...And the Debate Goes Roundabout!

Virtually everyone agrees that something, anything, must be done downtown to move traffic along faster, and make it more user friendly and safer for pedestrians. And in general, make it far more pleasing to the eye.

That was the consensus expressed at the recent public hearing held by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MA DOT)  before the Board of Selectmen (B0S).  On the table, was $8 million in federal and state money to kick off this project, as presented by the BETA Group.

As the dust settles after  town officials and residents weighed in to argue the merits of the initial design, disagreement with parts of the plan still reverberate around town.  In essence, the design calls for replacing the roundabout (or rotary) in front of the Memorial Building with synchronized traffic lights to speed up traffic flow.

Selectman Ginger Esty disagrees.  While supporting the beautification and safety aspects, she still struck hard at what she described as fatal flaws.  She stressed that the ground-level railroad tracks bisecting Concord Street in the heart of  downtown, are a major impediment .

She said.  "When the gates (railroad) are down, all bets are off", explaining that the gates stop traffic when trains, both freight and passenger, frequently pass.  In fact, she added, when that happens, there is complete gridlock starting from the railroad station at the south end of Concord Street all the way up to the Memorial Building.  And there is no corresponding movement in sight on Beacon Hill to fund depressing either the tracks or the roadway.

At the same time, Esty challenged the merit of removing the roundabout in favor of traffic lights. She said no town in Massachusetts has torn up a rotary in favor of synchronized lights, nor has any plan to do so been registered with the state.

Will traffic and pedestrian lights as the ones at the intersection of Route 126
and 135 replace the rotary in front of Memorial Hall?

Ken Miller, a transportation expert, echoed Esty's analysis, saying that in front of the Memorial Building, "the rotary works pretty well, and better than lights in that  location".  Both referred to a similar conclusion reached at a large meeting held in Framingham back in 2010.   Esty further pointed out that the minutes of that meeting were never released which, she claims, was the responsibility of the Department of Public Works.  She insisted those minutes should be included in the on-going review of the entire project.

Current chair of the Planning Board (PB), Tom Mahoney, did not endorse using lights instead of the roundabout.  Neither did Andrea Carr-Evans, past chair.

Immediate past chair, Carol Spack, emphasized that Framingham still needs a "vigorous analytical process" of the entire matter.  There may be other options, she indicated, that could cost less than what is being planned.

Four BoS members heartily endorsed the BETA Group presentation: Chair Charlie Sisitsky and members Laurie Lee, Dennis Giombetti, and Jason Smith.  They urged continuing action in the planning mode as vital to the future of Framingham.  And so did Christine Long, current vice chair of the Planning Board.

Town Meeting Member  and Southsider, Jim Rizoli, commented on the meeting this way:  "You can do all the road fixing, streetscape additions, nice lighting, etc., but the biggest problem that ties up the whole town is the traffic.  And the trains are where this problem starts".  Eliminating truck traffic would also be a big improvement, he added.

The issue of crime in the greater downtown area was not specifically addressed during the meeting.

Xtra Xtra will provide additional analysis by town experts and officials as the planning process continues.  Your comments are welcome.. Remember to include full names, dates, and other details that will interest your community.