A month-long tryout that forced motorists to change how they enter and exit the Common rotary will be a permanent feature going forward, selectmen decided last week.
Acting in their capacity as road commissioners, board members on Nov. 26 voted 4-1 to make permanent temporary modifications which had been implemented at the head of Main Street, considered the most congested of seven roadways feeding into the Common rotary.
Selectmen also signaled an intention to explore similar changes at other access points to the rotary as part of a broader effort to enhance traffic flow and parking access throughout the downtown area.
The provisional changes, at this point limited to improving traffic circulation around the Common, were implemented Oct. 21 based on the findings of a traffic study conducted last spring.
According to Timothy Thomson, a traffic engineer with the Pare Corporation, three related criteria were monitored during the trial period: The length of vehicle queues at all access points, the ability of vehicles to weave between lanes on the School Street side of the Common, and the impact of the temporary changes on side streets.
The most significant improvement, he added, was reducing lengthy back-ups along Main Street as motorists waited for a break in rotary traffic.
“That delay has essentially gone down to zero,” Thomson asserted.
The absence of back-ups on Main Street had a secondary benefit by reducing traffic volumes on Baker and Market streets, Thomson said, since frustrated motorists were less inclined to use them as cut-throughs.
Police Chief Michael Grace continued to support the changes, saying that a review of accident data from 2017 and 2018 showed no increase resulting from the temporary configuration.
“The numbers are right on par, so we haven’t increased at all,” Grace said.
According to Town Engineer Chris Gallagher, the traffic barrels which have been in place since October could remain throughout the winter months or be replaced with temporary rubber curbing with reflectors.
Either way, Gallagher said, a reconfigured traffic island with granite curbing could not be installed until next spring at the earliest.
While selectmen were generally encouraged by the trial period, it was clear that further refinements may be in order.
Noting that traffic from Main Street now flows unimpeded into the outside lane of the rotary, Selectman David Feldman suggested a yield sign be installed there to help reduce vehicle speeds.
“It’s still a rotary, so rotary traffic rules should still apply,” Feldman said. “Other than that, I’m fully supportive of [the changes].”
In addition, Selectman Chris Mitchell reiterated the difficulty of crossing over to the inner travel lane from Bird Street.
But Gallagher said the permanent reconfiguration would reduce the footprint of the barrier island and provide an additional 40 feet to make a crossover maneuver from Bird Street.
It was unclear whether one-way traffic on Rockhill Street flowing from Market Street to the Common will be retained as a permanent feature.
Despite these and other assurances, Selectwoman Leah Gibson cast the lone vote against making a final determination at this time, suggesting that a brewpub being developed in the former fire station could significantly alter traffic projections.
“There are definitely pros and cons,” Gibson said. “It’s a balance.”
Problematic predicamentsIn a related matter, selectmen found themselves wrestling with pleas from some downtown merchants to reinstate short-term, on-street parking signs in front of their businesses.
Roughly 50 signs were recently removed as part of a branding campaign expected to complement efforts to improve traffic flow and parking access in the town center, while reinforcing it as the historic and cultural heart of the community.
Although selectmen had endorsed the campaign back in October, board member David Feldman urged that 15-minute parking signs be re-installed in front of Comey’s Cleaners, Foxboro Wine & Spirits and South Street Pizza.
“You have to take care of businesses that have ‘in-and-out’ traffic,” said Feldman, adding that on-street spaces are sometimes monopolized for extended periods during the day, making it difficult for regular customers to park close by.
But rather than reacting to anecdotal reports, both Town Planner Paige Duncan and Selectwoman Leah Gibson argued that a formal process should be developed to evaluate site-specific on-street parking requests.
“I think there has to be criteria,” Gibson said. “Otherwise I’d worry about creating a slippery slope.”
Ultimately, Chairman Mark Elfman suggested the board revisit the matter in two weeks.