Orleans Main Street Upgrade Means More Green Space, Less Parking

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Municipal Planning and Zoning

The busy intersection of Main Street and Brewster Cross Road could get a pocket park as part of the Orleans Village Center Streetscape Plan.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS Battered but unbowed, the stretch of Main Street between Routes 28 and 6A can look forward to a spruced-up look that will include more trees, more lighting, more places to sit, and a little less parking.

Representatives from Stantec, the town's consultant, gave an update to the board of selectmen June 20 about plans for an upgrade of the street. The work was put on hold pending completion of the state's intersection projects and the town's laying of sewer pipe.

One thing the plan won't include is burying utility wires. Planning and Community Development Director George Meservey gave the board a report on the difficulties of doing such work as part of the project. Coordination with the variety of utilities using the existing poles could take several years, he said, observing that its current situation is “probably not the condition we want to leave Main Street in for several winters.”

John Hayden, a senior transportation engineer with Stantec, said any improvements made on the 800- to 900-foot section of Main Street between the state's intersection projects “won't be affected when the sewer comes in. The connections are already beyond the street line.”

The basic premise for the redesign, he said, is “a roadway that is friendly to bicycles and pedestrians.” That means rebuilding sidewalks “reusing brick as much as possible,” better defining crosswalks, and adding bump-outs from curbs to shorten crossing spaces and “give pedestrians higher visibility to drivers, and cars to pedestrians.”

Hayden called Main Street's intersection with Brewster Cross Road “a sea of pavement” that the plan will “tighten up to channelize traffic a little better.” A major change is ahead for Post Office Square and Friends' market, where two driveways on either side of Main Street will be combined and realigned to face each other.

Jamie Falise, a senior landscape architect with Stantec, called the Cape Cod Commission's 2011 Orleans Village Center Streetscape Plan “a wonderful document” that “served to drive our design. It took a lot of the guesswork out of it.”

The proposed work includes planting additional street trees “to highlight the heart of the walking area,” Falise said. “It's lacking in trees.” Other sections, he said, have mature trees that “really soften the corridor.”

Some of the new trees will be planted in “street trenches” rather than individually to maximize use of space. Selectman Mefford Runyon said he hoped they would be shade trees and not ornamental. Falise admitted the commission plan recommended smaller ornamental trees, and that “one of my concerns is that the trees may be a little small. I agree with you they should be more mid-size.” He said he's discussing the matter with the town's tree warden.

Additional plantings will also dress up the intersection of Main Street with Brewster Cross Road, which the commission study urged be highlighted as a “gateway.” More green space, seat walls on which pedestrians can rest, benches and bike racks could add up to a “pocket park” that might even have space for public art.

Pavement markings known as sharrows will encourage motorists and cyclists to share the road. “There's not enough real estate through this corridor to set up dedicated bike lanes without eradicating all the on-street parking,” Hayden said. “If it means cars slow down to allow bicyclists to proceed, that's what needs to happen. It's a strategy used in other locations around the country, a traffic calming measure. Initially, it's going to be a cultural shift, a mind shift.”

Parking was a concern for some attending the meeting. Hayden said Stantec did a parking study before preparing its redesign, in which five on-street spaces will be lost along the corridor. Changes at the parking lot at Friends', however, will add two more, for a total loss of three.

That didn't satisfy downtown property owner and former selectman Scott Barron, who questioned whether “anyone was going to walk down to Friends' and walk back. People drive in front of stores and park.” He questioned whether there was enough space for a tree in front of his building that houses If The Shoe Fits. “Main Street has been suffering the last few years,” he said. “I'm disappointed that we lost five spaces. Trees don't make much difference to businesses.”

The selectmen authorized Stantec to prepare an application for a MassWorks Infrastructure Program that could provide significant state funding for the project, with some expressing regret that the work could not include burial of utility wires.

“I have viewed what happens on Main Street as too late (to include) this,” Runyon said, but he noted that the recent sewering constitutes just 13 percent of the piping that will go in downtown. “That's still a few years out,” he said, “and could be perhaps planned for.”

Selectmen Chairman Alan McClennen offered an option as well.

“As we move forward downtown with the goals and objectives of the town, we probably will see some new development,” he said. “One of the things the town might require for service to those new developments is underground utilities from the service pole. We might think about amending the zoning bylaw to require it. If we don't, there'll be poles all over the place.”