CHATHAM — Though they favor a compromise to save trees at the gateway to downtown Chatham, state officials are still requiring a shared-use bike lane for the intersection of Crowell Road and Main Street.
Selectmen still chafe that plans for the new intersection still include shared-use bike lanes, despite the town’s efforts to route bikes away from main roads in downtown Chatham. But not wanting to abandon their place in the state funding queue for the $3 million project, selectmen voted this week to proceed with the design process.
Because Route 28 is a state roadway, MassHighway has the final say on the redesign of the intersection, and generally adheres to “Complete Streets” principles that require accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists.
The town proposed several alternatives for rebuilding the intersection to improve safety and traffic flow before advancing a plan with new traffic signals and turning lanes for traffic on Main Street and Queen Anne Road. Early plans would have required a drastic widening of Main Street on the east side of the crossroads, with the likely loss of mature trees along the edge of the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House property. In response, the town proposed a plan to include a sidewalk but to have bicycles use the vehicle travel lanes, identified by shared-use pavement markings called sharrows. The state rejected that counterproposal, engineer Keri Pyke of consultant Howard Stein Hudson told selectmen this week.
State officials argued that the plan wouldn’t provide adequate separation of vehicles and bicycles, and that ultimately “it would be a costly project with not much benefit,” Pyke said. MassDOT engineers said they would accept a plan that included a 10-foot-wide shared-use lane installed on the church lawn on the south side of the trees, ending in a crosswalk on the crest of the hill near the post office. Such a plan would require an easement from the church, Pyke said.
State engineers have signaled that they would be receptive to allowing some other deviations from their usual requirements to minimize the width of the road, she added.
Selectman Peter Cocolis said that while Route 28 is a throughway in most Cape towns, the portion at Crowell Road is used mostly by people accessing the downtown area.
“Route 28 is our Main Street,” he said. While he appreciates parts of the design, like the scaled-back traffic signals that will be less intrusive than the ones at other major intersections, Cocolis said it doesn’t make sense to encourage bike traffic in downtown Chatham, particularly with bike lanes that don’t lead anywhere.
Pyke said the project team made that very argument to state engineers, saying that the town has identified alternate bike routes that are safer than traveling along Route 28. They also pointed out that the shared-use paths are of limited value when they don’t connect to existing bike routes, she said.
“We got, ‘You have to start somewhere,’” Pyke said.
Resident Elaine Gibbs challenged the plans, saying she doesn’t believe the road layout is wide enough to accommodate the various lanes. Far from being safety enhancements, the short bike lanes are “dangerous, narrow corridors to nowhere” that will deposit unsuspecting cyclists in heavy vehicle traffic. Gibbs questioned the need for safety improvements at the intersection, saying accident data from the Chatham Police Department show few problems there.
Selectman Jeffrey Dykens disagreed. Several years ago, a pedestrian died after being struck by a car while crossing Queen Anne Road to reach the church, he noted. DPW Director Tom Temple said that on several occasions, his crews have had to replace equipment at the intersection after it was damaged by vehicles.
Temple urged selectmen to proceed to the next phase of the project, developing plans to meet the 25 percent design requirements. Doing so will provide an opportunity for the town to formally request waivers for design requirements like the shared-use paths and will provide additional opportunities for public input.
“I’m fearful of pouring cold water on it at this point,” Dykens said, noting that the state might be inclined to withdraw its funding offer. But board member Dean Nicastro said it may not make sense to allow the design to proceed if the town will ultimately reject it based on the bike lanes.
“If that is correct, then we should kill the project tonight,” he said. Nicastro said he favors moving ahead with the project, which has been in the planning phases since 2009. “These things can go on forever and ever and ever,” he said. The board unanimously agreed, and authorized the design process to proceed.
On the current schedule, the 25 percent design documents will be delivered to the state early next year, with a public hearing and further design refinements next spring. Construction on the $3.05 million project would likely happen over the winter of 2022-2023.