CHATHAM – From the front parlor of the Carriage House Inn, co-owner Brian O'Connor has a clear view of the intersection of Route 28, Old Harbor Road and Shore Road. He's watched over and over again as pedestrians try to cross the intersection, which lacks crosswalks or a pedestrian crossing signal.
“We've got a great view of people not being able to cross,” he said as cars zip through the intersection, often traveling faster than the 15 mile per hour speed limit. Pedestrians are “taking their life in their hands” when they try to cross at any point in the busy intersection. “No one knows where to cross safely,” he said.
O'Connor and his partner, Peter Varns, have requested that the town initiate the process of, at minimum, installing painted crosswalks and pedestrian crossing signs at the intersection. But only two of the four roads that feed into the intersection are controlled by the town; Route 28, which turns the corner from Orleans Road to Old Harbor Road, is under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Highway Department, according to Public Works Director Tom Temple, and therefore any changes to the intersection are controlled by the state.
There is only one sidewalk along any of the roads at the intersection, located on the north side of Orleans Road, and the state won't install crosswalks unless they connect to sidewalks, Temple said.
“The state doesn't want crosswalks going nowhere,” he said.
The sidewalk along Old Harbor Road that ends at Barcliff Avenue is in the process of being extended to the east, Temple said. The town is now in the process of hiring an engineering firm to complete plans. However, it will only be extended as far as Sail A Way, which is about 400 feet shy of the intersection. Temple said extending the sidewalk all the way to the intersection would trigger a complete reconstruction of the crossroads, an expensive and long-term project that would likely require easements from abutters.
“That would be a nice TIP project,” he said, referring to the Cape Cod Transportation Improvement Program, a prioritized list of state and federally funded transportation projects. Chatham currently has two projects on the TIP, the West Chatham Roadway project, scheduled to get underway this fall, and the Crowell Road-Route 28 upgrade, which is still in the design phase and slated for construction in 2021.
O'Connor has asked the town's traffic safety committee to look into the situation in the hope that it will lead to recommendations for changes. Right now, he said, the intersection is dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists, and the lack of a safe and obvious way to cross the roadways leads his guests, and others, to drive to nearby destinations like the fish pier or downtown, which would otherwise be easily walkable. With traffic and parking at the pier and downtown a perennial issue, making it safer for some people to walk might at least put a slight dent in those problems, he suggested.
The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority has bus stops at the intersection, he added, and it is along the designated town bicycle route. The Chatham Conservation Foundation recently placed an informational plaque on property it owns on the southeast corner of the intersection. There are three inns within a few hundred feet – the Carriage House Inn, The Chatham Gables Inn and the Captain's House Inn – and just down Shore Road is the Chatham Bars Inn, many of whose employees use the bus. There are arrows that allow traffic to turn onto Route 28 from both direction, further complicating things for pedestrians.
“It's optimized for cars, but not for pedestrians,” he said of the crossroads, one of the key intersections in town. Pedestrians or bicyclists trying to cross the intersection from the east side of Old Harbor Road must wait for a car to trigger the traffic signal, O'Connor added. “We've waited there for five to 10 minutes” before being able to safely cross, he said.
“There's no good way to cross, and it's not clear where to cross,” he said. “You literally need to ask the cars to stop,” and it isn't always easy to get drivers' attention given the speeds in the intersection. “Right now people sort of just wander the corners, looking to see if anyone is coming.”
O'Connor and Varns have owned the inn for a year and previously lived in Brunswick, Maine, where he said there was considerable support for pedestrian and bicycle safety. Along with the letter to the traffic safety committee, they've sent letters to their neighbors and have collected about 100 signatures on a petition, which they intend to submit to town officials.
Pressure on the state could go a long way toward getting the intersection upgraded, O'Connor said. Recently a state highway crew was at the crossroads inspecting the roads some repaving and drainage work on sections of the road that have deteriorated is slated for the next few weeks.
“The state is paying attention to the state of the road,” he said, “but the town needs to make the request” for the pedestrian safety upgrades.
He suggested that since the town owns the eastern side of Old Harbor Road and Shore Road, crosswalks could be placed there without state approval. Temple said that would require determination of the location of the right of way owned by the town. But he added that support for sidewalks and crosswalks from residents and especially abutters will be necessary for the state to consider any upgrades of the intersection.
This is the second time this month that attention has been called to a lack of pedestrian safety at a major intersection in town. Earlier this month the South Chatham Village Association voted to request a crosswalk and a pedestrian crossing light at the intersection of Route 28 and Route 137. Again, because that involves a state-controlled roadway, the town cannot accommodate the request unilaterally and must work with the state to reach a solution. So far there's been no further developments on the request.
O'Connor said that recently a landscaper discovered paving stones buried under the inn's lawn that lead from the circa 1850 house to the front gate along Old Harbor Road. The stones have been uncovered and restored, making for an inviting path, but unfortunately it leads to a narrow grass strip along the road that isn't safe for pedestrians. A sign at the gate reads “Please Look Both Ways Before Crossing.” He said his guests are often surprised that such a busy intersection so close to downtown lacks basic pedestrian accommodations.
“Our primary concern is the safety of the intersection, and the ability to cross the intersection,” he said.