Electric car charging stations, proposed as part of a makeover of the parking lot at the Chatham Town Offices, would be an appropriate, far-sighted addition to the downtown infrastructure. Chatham has been proactive in taking advantage of renewable energy opportunities, with solar arrays at the former landfill, police and annex buildings, and having facilities for electric vehicles – more and more of which will be filling our roadways in the very near future – will further the town's image as a “green” community.
The charging stations are just one small aspect of a larger project that involves not only re-doing the parking lot and addressing drainage issues, but also upgrading sidewalks between Cross Street and Chatham Bars Avenue. The town has applied for a MassWorks Infrastructure Program grant to cover the projected $890,000 construction cost. Cost savings will be realized by doing the project in conjunction with planned sewer main upgrades along that section of Main Street.
We're concerned, however, that the general problem of downtown sidewalks – necessary infrastructure for the ultimate “green” activity – has yet to be addressed seriously in a comprehensive way. Significant sections of sidewalks outside of the area covered by the MassWorks grant are in deplorable condition, and are in fact a tripping danger, and not just to folks with mobility problems. Obviously, many of these sidewalks – running all the way to the Lighthouse Overlook in the Old Village – are also either inaccessible or barely accessible to people in wheelchairs. For a community that prides itself on a pedestrian-friendly downtown, this is inexcusable.
A few weeks ago, Public Works Director Tom Temple assured summer residents that a comprehensive sidewalk plan for the town was in the works. Frankly, we've heard that before. While there have been some isolated sidewalk upgrades, there are long stretches of existing walkways that really demand attention. Some of the worst, as Temple pointed out, are along Route 28, which falls within the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Department of Highways, which has tied sidewalk improvements to a long-promised re-paving of the highway. Whether that ever comes to fruition is anyone's guess; meanwhile, Route 28 sidewalks are among the most treacherous in town. Maybe the town should consider making those improvements on its own dime.
First, however, the town should really make upgrading the sidewalks under its control a priority, especially those in the downtown area. Work on the sidewalk plan should be accelerated with the goal of seeking funds for improvements to existing sidewalks throughout downtown and the Old Village at next spring's annual town meeting. We doubt this would be controversial, and would benefit everyone – residents and the businesses alike – and help improve Chatham's image as a welcoming community.