With exploratory efforts to reconfigure the Common rotary’s Main Street entrance now a permanent feature in the town center, officials are set to road test even more far-reaching changes aimed at improving traffic flow and pedestrian safety.
Selectmen on Tuesday green-lighted yet another multi-week pilot trial — this one focusing on the School Street side of the Common rotary, beginning at the Orpheum Theater and stretching towards Central Street.
The tryout period, which commences on Monday, May 17, and lasts through early June, will allow officials to evaluate a series of modifications involving parking and traffic flow before permanently implementing them.
The process is seen as building on the Main Street entry redesign to pursue a broader, systemic approach at traffic management in the town center, a key objective in advance of the fire station redevelopment plan and other pending projects.
“There’s definitely going to be a learning curve,” public works Director Chris Gallagher told selectmen Tuesday night. “It’s just going to be a chance to see how people react to it.”
Although the Main Street improvements were suggested by the Pare Corporation, this next round of modifications is proposed by Kittelson & Associates, a Boston-based traffic engineering firm specializing in roundabouts hired with a $27,000 planning grant.
“This will let us buy some materials, rent some supplies and actually walk through this trial process for the next phase of the traffic and pedestrian safety around the Common,” Gallagher explained.
According to Town Engineer Lance DelPriore, an earlier proposal to implement “reverse” angle parking around the Common has now been jettisoned in favor of parallel parking on both sides of Common, both adjacent to the Common fence and also on the outside of the rotary.
“We settled on parallel parking as a means to free up space and increase pedestrian areas,” DelPriore said.
During the upcoming trial period, existing angled parking spaces in front of the Common fence will be cordoned off temporarily by large planters — Gallagher said the highway department recently purchased 13 additional planters for this purpose — while temporary parallel spaces will be added on both sides of the traveled way.
“That will help delineate where the parking ends and create a safe buffer zone behind those planters for pedestrians to walk on,” Gallagher said. “This would give us safe [pedestrian] passage all the way around the Common on the School Street side.”
Proposed modifications include substituting 11 parallel spaces on the inner rim of the traffic rotary, in front of the firefighter’s memorial, as well as creating eight new parallel spaces on the outer rim in front of the former fire station, consignment shop and Bank of America locations.
DelPriore said this will result in the net addition of one parking space.
In addition, existing traffic islands at Memorial Hall and at the head of Central Street will be enlarged temporarily in hopes of reducing traffic speeds which also will have the effect of reducing crosswalk distances in those locations.
Like the autumn 2019 Main Street tryout, traffic cones, barrels, reflectors and other temporary barriers will be used to delineate these new features, including a narrow “splitter island” in front of Bay Colony Group intended to prevent motorists in the inside lane from veering right out onto Central Street.
Although further tweaking may be necessary based on observations during the upcoming trial period, officials said the town’s experience with the Main Street improvements has been encouraging.
“I have to eat my words there,” admitted Selectwoman Leah Gibson, who initially had misgivings about the Main Street changes. “It all worked. We had the temporary trial and it worked.”
Still, two-term Selectman Chris Mitchell, who participated in his final meeting Tuesday night, said he intends to establish a front-row seat in order to monitor developments.
“I’m taking the day off with a lawn chair and I’m gonna watch this,” he said.