Our View: Safe Space Downtown


Monday's decision by the Chatham Board of Selectmen to cancel the Fourth of July parade, fireworks and Friday night band concerts was not unexpected; there's just no way social distancing, crowd size and other restrictions likely to remain in place for most of the summer could be complied with during those events.

The vote by the board of health, endorsed by selectmen, requiring the wearing of face masks downtown at all times is likely to be more controversial. Some may see it as overreach; after all, there's already a state order in place requiring face masks out of doors when social distancing is not possible. Some officials didn't think it went far enough, that other locations, like the fish pier and Lighthouse Overlook, should have been included.

At next Wednesday's meeting, selectmen are scheduled to discuss managing pedestrian and vehicle traffic downtown. Some sort of compromise in this area will be necessary as a complement to the mask order. Downtown's sidewalks are simply too narrow for many people to feel comfortable using, even with the mask restriction. We don't agree with closing the downtown thoroughfare completely; this would be detrimental to businesses and also dangerous in terms of emergency services. Better options are making the roadway one-way eastbound, with cones marking the single lane and parking eliminated so pedestrians can be farther apart and merchants could have some space to display merchandise outdoors. Another possibility, likely to be more acceptable to downtown business owners, is to ban parking along Main Street and use those spaces as sidewalk overflow. This may inconvenience a few, but will also get folks used to using underutilized parking areas like the elementary school.

Many people are likely to stay away from downtown's narrow sidewalks for fear of being in close proximity to others, even with the mask requirement. Creating more safe space, in one of the ways noted above, may just help salvage this summer for many downtown businesses.