Anticipating a surge in vehicles from seasonal activities combined with new business development, local officials are setting the stage for a new phase of traffic and parking improvements in Foxboro center.
These officials — including Paige Duncan, former town planner now elevated to the position of director of land use and economic development, Town Engineer Lance DelPriore and Kenneth Fitzgerald, administrative lieutenant for Foxboro police — met with selectmen last week to outline goals for the upcoming summer season, and beyond.
Duncan said the effort was prompted, in part, by a return to normal event scheduling at the Marilyn Rodman Performing Arts Center, as well as the anticipated completion of the Shovel Town brewpub, now on track to open in the old firehouse by late summer or early fall.
In addition, scheduled activities in the town center include the Foxboro Jaycees summer concert series, a weekly farmer’s market and a July 10 auto show.
“We know there’s always been a concern about parking and we wanted to get ahead of this,” she told selectmen.
According to Duncan, business owners and other stakeholders have raised concerns about parking availability after the brewpub opens, particularly with the theater simultaneously hosting events.
Duncan also acknowledged simmering anxiety from small business owners that a parking crunch would deter prospective customers.
“I know they want more customers,” she said of the small business community, “so drawing more people uptown is certainly a good thing.”
But Duncan argued convincingly that sufficient parking already exists in the town center, while conceding that better signage and a public information campaign is needed to overcome reluctance to use these off-street options.
She based this assertion on drone images captured during a recent awards event at the Orpheum Theater which documented the town hall parking lot on nearby South Street was just one-quarter full.
Other images showed four of 41 available spaces in use at the Schneider lot at the end of Bird Street. Empty spaces were also seen on side streets, in the so-called veterans’ lot behind Central Street storefronts and even on the Common rotary itself.
“It’s a behavior issue,” she said. “If you go to the Wrentham Premium Outlets, you will walk thousands of feet and not think twice about it. But when you come uptown, if you can’t park in front of Gunther Tootie’s, you say you can’t find parking.”
Duncan also told selectmen that Bethany Congregational Church expressed a willingness to utilizing some of its parking off Market Street for public use.
Although parking strategy topped the agenda, selectmen also revisited the rotary traffic configuration, which has been the focus of a multi-year exploratory program to help enhance traffic flow, reduce vehicle speeds and improve pedestrian safety.
As a result of that program, selectmen voted two years ago to install permanent traffic islands in the area of Main and Rockhill streets, which have largely eliminated lengthy back-ups along Main Street.
But temporary modifications involving traffic cones and barrels at the critical junction near Central and South streets proved less successful once those obstructions were removed — with motorists routinely circling the rotary still unsure of proper lane assignments.
Selectman Seth Ferguson said the traffic pattern remains especially confusing for out-of-town drivers or others unfamiliar with Foxboro center – many of whom are relying on GPS devices for directional cues.
“Crossing at that crosswalk is like taking your life in your hands,” selectmen Chairwoman Leah Gibson added. “Anything we could do to slow people down” would be welcome.
Fellow Selectman Mark Elfman suggested that traffic cones and other impediments utilized last summer forced motorists to commit sooner, and reduced panic impulses at the last second.
“It’s safer with the cones,” Elfman said, adding pedestrians also have more certainty where vehicles are headed. “You don’t have to worry about that inside car when you’ve committed to cut across two lanes of traffic.”
DelPriore conceded that “last-minute lane shifting” remains at issue at the key junction near Memorial Hall.
“The lane splitting worked,” he said of provisional changes made last year. “But at the time I think we wanted to go with a lower profile” interim solution without installing permanent islands.
Fitzgerald, the Foxboro police lieutenant, said the rotary layout also presents enforcement challenges — not the least of which is the lack of suitable spots to pull over prospective offenders.
“That’s a tricky one to even deal with, because where do you stop the person?” Fitzgerald asked rhetorically. “That’s a tough spot right there.”
Fitzgerald further suggested that town officials emphasize what he termed “the three E’s” of traffic planning: engineering, education and enforcement — in that order.
“The engineering can fix the problem,” he concluded. “It’s just not pretty.”
According to Duncan, formal recommendations include working with the town disability commission to locate handicapped spaces in the town center, creating a map or brochure outlining available parking and encouraging small businesses to steer customers towards off-street options.
“This has all been very deliberate,” Duncan said. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to do it.”