Working Group Rejects One-way Downtown Traffic Plan

By: Alan Pollock

Selectmen have rejected any changes to downtown Chatham parking or traffic flow to accommodate social distancing. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM A working group has issued its recommendation on creating a one-way traffic pattern downtown to allow better social distancing for pedestrians: scrap the idea.

Instead, the 18-member group recommended leaving current traffic patterns in place, but creating three small no parking zones to allow pedestrians to stay distant from one another by stepping off the sidewalk when necessary to pass others. The plan also designates five short-term parking areas where motorists can drop off or pick up passengers or pick up curbside orders from restaurants or stores.

With business representatives and members of town public safety and planning staff, the working group considered the initial proposal to convert Main Street to one-way eastbound vehicle traffic, with expanded one-way sidewalks and a drop-off lane. Selectman Dean Nicastro said the group quickly determined that the idea “was really not particularly workable.” Group members walked the downtown area and identified pedestrian “choke points,” “largely locations where the sidewalk is pretty narrow and where people tend to congregate,” he said.

Marked with signs that read “10 minute standing, curbside delivery and to go pick up only,” the zones are each two or three parking spaces in size, located near the Captain’s Table, Chatham Cookware and Chatham Jewelers, Bluefin, the Chatham Squire and the Candy Manor. Each will be marked with diagonal pavement stripes. In all, the new pick-up zones occupy 14 of the 133 parking spaces downtown.

Four additional spaces will be lost to accommodate three temporary no parking zones: one on either side of Bearse’s Byway and two in front of the chamber of commerce information booth. Selectman Cory Metters, who has operated a downtown business for 20 years, questioned the wisdom of the two spaces at Bearse’s Byway, where he said it may not be safe to have pedestrians leaving the sidewalk.

“It’s a kind of dicey area for vehicles to maneuver,” he said.

The working group will continue to meet occasionally throughout the summer to monitor pedestrian and traffic flow downtown, and Metters urged them to keep an eye on pedestrian safety near Bearse’s Byway.

“That is going to be critical this summer,” he said.

Board member Jeffrey Dykens thanked the working group for its efforts, but said he was hoping for a plan with more creativity and energy.

“I’m a little underwhelmed by this plan,” he said. Dykens said he liked the idea of reducing vehicle traffic downtown to create a “very pedestrian-friendly yet safe venue,” but said he would support the working group’s recommendation. “I hope that we would readjust it if it doesn’t go well,” Dykens said. With regard to a one-way vehicle flow, “maybe we’ll wind up there, maybe we won’t,” he said.

Selectman Peter Cocolis said he, too, was initially interested in the one-way traffic plan, “although the police chief and the fire chief came back with a number of concerns.” In recent weeks, a number of other area towns have proposed creating new pedestrian zones in downtown areas, but residents have raised safety concerns that “just a line” separates pedestrians and motorists. “I think this is a good compromise,” Cocolis said.

Nicastro, who represented the selectmen on the working group, said it wasn’t just police, fire and public works officials who worried about the one-way traffic proposal.

“The sentiment not to go that far was voiced within the community of the businesses,” he said. “Most of us felt if you did that, if you had it one way as opposed to a complete shutdown, it would severely impact the circulation of traffic around Main Street” on roads like Seaview Street, Chatham Bars Avenue and Lower Main Street where motorists would seek to reverse direction to head west. “I think we wanted to avoid that,” and the simplest solution was to keep current traffic patterns in place, Nicastro said.

Resident Elaine Gibbs asked how the town would enforce the 10-minute short-term pick-up zones.

“I think you’re going to have major traffic jams,” she said. Without a police presence, “I can see people parking their cars and walking away,” Gibbs said.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said the town plans to deploy a police officer on a bicycle to monitor downtown parking and traffic. There was discussion of using civilian “ambassadors” to do so, but it was decided that “it takes a skilled person with conflict resolution” skills for such a job, Goldsmith said, so the town is recommending the use of a police officer.

Selectmen voted unanimously to endorse the working group’s plan. New pavement markings and signs are expected to be installed shortly.