Two resident openings on new committee to prioritize building sidewalks in our “unwalkable” town

by beth on September 8, 2015

Post image for Two resident openings on new committee to prioritize building sidewalks in our “unwalkable” town

Above: Is Flagg Road where we need a sidwalk the most? Or is there another street you think should top the list. Residents will get a chance to weigh in this fall. (Image taken from Google Maps)

Last week, the Board of Selectmen approved forming what Chair John Rooney predicted will be “a very unpopular committee”. Their mission will be to prioritize what streets in town need sidewalks the most.

Its a list that selectmen expect to be controversial. But they agreed that the town needs it.

The BOS hopes to be able to appoint members to a 90 day-term ad-hot committee, which will include two citizens at large, at their next regular meeting. That is currently scheduled for Tuesday, September 22.

(Interested in throwing your hat in the ring? Click here.)

The request for the committee was submitted by Department of Public Works Director Karen Galligan. She told Selectmen that she’s reacting to pressure from residents to add more sidewalks.

Galligan pointed to the Park Central developments planned off Flagg Road as the impetus. But she said that residents from other busy streets in town have also been asking for sidewalks.

Calling the town “unwalkable”, the DPW head said that there are too many areas that need sidewalks for the town to build them all. She doesn’t believe prioritizing should be her call alone. She asked for help creating the list so she can develop a master plan for community sidewalks.

Galligan said she would like to propose some new sidewalk construction to a future Town Meeting. A list would also serve the Planning Board when hearing development plans. (They could ask developers to build sidewalks in an area on the list, rather than adding them to a proposed cul-de-sac.)

Some selectmen wondered why she wasn’t bringing the project to the Public Works Planning Board. Galligan claimed that the the board doesn’t represent the cross-section she needs demographically or geographically. She asked for a specialized committee to pull together residents and departments including recreation, the schools and public safety.

Selectwoman Bonniee Phaneuf suggested that the PWPB could then hold forums for wider participation. Other selectmen supported Galligan’s pitch that given the temporary nature of the charge, a specialized ad-hoc committee would be more appropriate.

PWPB Chair Desiree Aselbekian took affront. She told the board that the committee’s objective fell under her board’s charge. And she claimed that the board’s demographic and geographic makeup was irrelevant.

Aselbekian said that PWPB members always seek to represent the community’s need, not their own. She believed that the board was capable of holding appropriate forums.

Speaking for herself, Aselbekian claimed that the BOS has repeatedly dismissed the value of the PWPB. She argued that the board has failed to consult them on other past issues. And she emotionally offered to put forth a motion at a future Town Meeting to dismiss the board if the Selectmen don’t see value in it.

Phaneuf countered that all the selectmen had supported a role for the PWPB, they just didn’t agree on precisely what it should be. Rooney clarified that he sees the objective as too large to be appropriate for the PWPB alone. And he said that he did want the PWPB to continue their work, including having a role on the ad-hoc committee.

In a 4-1 vote, selectmen agreed to create a committee comprised of seven members comprised of:

a member of the Public Works Planning Board, the Recreation Director, a member of the the Council on Aging, one public safety official, two citizens at large, and th seventh member to be appointed by the school superintendent, but who must be a member of the Southborough school system.

(Click here for the official charge.)

Phaneuf opposed the vote for the very reason some supported it – the short-term. She opined that the charge of prioritizing all the town’s sidewalks is too broad to get full community feedback within 90 days. Earlier in the discussion, Phaneuf stated that people have been pushing for sidewalks on some streets far longer back than discussions on the Flagg Road 40B.

After further discussion (but without a new vote), Phaneuf supported the idea with the following amendments. If the committee requests more time to complete the work, the term will be lengthened. And meetings will take place at night, to allow broad public participation.

1 djd66 September 8, 2015 at 2:47 PM

Here’s my $0.02
1) Sidewalk on 85 from Framingham Road ALL the way to Southville Road
2) Fix the sidewalk in the “center” of town -I know it is going to get rebuilt – in the mean time, can you fix the ridiculousness that currently exists?

2 KTP75 September 8, 2015 at 3:48 PM

I am interested to see what the committee comes up with. There is one section of Flagg Rd in particular that I would like to see addressed, the section between Strawberry Hill Rd and the intersection of Deerfoot/Clifford/Flagg. It has heavy pedestrian traffic, including children walking and riding bikes to Neary/Trottier. There is barely enough room to fit two cars… never mind two SUVs. The trees along that stretch are banged up from cars/trucks side swiping them. It is very very dangerous and has been a long time concern of mine. I am interested to hear others thoughts, with the increased traffic on Flagg, it is just going to get worse. At the very least, they should take out a tree or two, no life is worth a tree.

3 Kelly Roney September 9, 2015 at 12:20 AM

I very much agree that that section of Flagg is scary for pedestrians. When I used to live in the area and walk my dog there, I had to be vigilant to keep both of us safe.

Not sure about removing the large trees. Their scars testify to their effective protection of people who stand between them, something a curb could never provide.

4 KTP75 September 9, 2015 at 10:12 AM

except if you are on the wrong side of the tree…. only 1 big truck/car can fit through at a time… so an oncoming car would be forced to pull to the side and wait as one comes through. So imagine if the car was not paying attention or going to fast… there is no room to get through. Next imagine someone being between the car and that tree. Make sense? The tree is a hazard…. and you can’t say this about every spot in town. I don’t know any spot in town where two trees are that close together on a busy (about to get busier) two way street. I don’t know that the tree is the answer, although it seems like that would help. It should be addressed… it is a major safety hazard.

5 Louise Barron September 8, 2015 at 10:34 PM

Quite franklly my dear, I don’t give a hoot. The existing sidewalks weren’t plowed last year, so even if we had more sidewalks, they would be ignored during the winter. Every issue depends from where you live. Right now, some of us have our priorities, which do not include additional sidewalks.

6 KTP75 September 9, 2015 at 3:39 PM

What about the 8 other months that there is no snow on the ground? What are your priorities? My priority here is to provide safe passage for pedestrians, school children and cars. That is a heavily trafficked area because of the school, fields and the paths leading from the school that empty out onto that intersection.

7 Al Hamilton September 10, 2015 at 9:08 AM

Here is a simple suggestion if you are lucky enough to have a sidewalk now. Clear it yourself. We have about 1/2 mile of sidewalk in our neighborhood and it is cleared on a very regular basis by a few neighbors who have snowblowers.

In many cities and towns it is the abutter’s responsibility to clear the walk on his/her frontage.

We should not look to government to solve every small problem we have. Government provision of services should be a last resort not a first option.

8 Allan Bezanson September 11, 2015 at 11:22 AM

Well said!

9 djd66 September 11, 2015 at 4:16 PM

Al –

I think KTP was referring to actually having sidewalks – not clearing them. Believe me – i do not look to government for anything. However given the $1000’s i spend in taxes, I do not think I am a communist to ask for sidewalks in 1 side of the street.

10 Resident September 9, 2015 at 9:27 AM

Since we are talking about roads and sidewalks, I wonder if anyone have noticed a dangerous intersection between Sears Rd and Ledge Hill Rd? Every time I need to make a left turn driving from Ledge Hill Rd onto Sears Rd, I feel like risking my life. There is no way any driver is able to see the upcoming traffic from Sears at the intersection because of the hill. We haven’t lived in Southborough long. Is anyone familiar with this issue? Thanks!

11 djd66 September 9, 2015 at 1:56 PM

Yes,… this has been a problem for a long time. At one point, the town considered closing Ledge Hill to Sears Road. As a resident on Ledge Hill – it would be great if everyone would slow down – including the people that are cutting through to Saddie Hutt, Sears, and Presidential. I’m a runner, have kids that play/bike and I walk my dog – sidewalk or no sidewalk – people drive too fast in our neighborhood. Here’s my offer – when I am diving on your road – I will drive like my kids live there – if you could reciprocate that would be great!

12 KTP75 September 9, 2015 at 3:50 PM

I think that would be the only solution… i don’t know how you would fix something like that situation without blasting the mountain. It also very dangerous on the curve right before the peak of Sears. Cars speed down Sears fairly regularly… you are correct, if people just slowed down it would be a much safer situation. My guess is you have a lot of people who aren’t from around here cutting from 30 to 85.

13 Louise Barron September 9, 2015 at 10:03 AM

Yes, Ledge Hill is a death trap. It is a totally obstructed view until your car is almost fully jutting onto Sears Rd. to view any oncoming cars from the left. At this point in the discussion, I will say that anyone (and there are many) who walks a baby in a carriage and a dog on Sears, Flagg or any other narrow road is looking for trouble. These roads are not safe for even walkers, especially anyone with headphones, who is not paying attention to the traffic. I have witnessed near misses with parents with baby carriages. This is not a smart practice.

14 Resident on Jericho Hill Rd September 9, 2015 at 12:49 PM

Our forgotten corner of Southborough here with another proposed priorty formula: cars and tractor trailers cruising down Jericho Hill at 50mph instead of the posted 25 and no sidewalks + cars and tractor trailers cruising on Northborough Rd at 50mph instead of the posted 20 and no sidewalks + very frequent pedestrians, children, bicycles on both roads = tragedy waiting to happen. Food for thought.

15 southsider September 9, 2015 at 5:54 PM

Parkerville ( south side ); Gilmore ( so narrow we’ve banned trucks from using it! )

16 Matthew September 10, 2015 at 9:41 AM

It’s funny that Parkerville is mentioned as it has to be one of the widest streets in town and has sidewalks. But it’s also made unsafe not just by the same types of drivers that cause problems everywhere else but mostly by the pedestrians who feel they have to walk and run IN THE STREET.
Clearly the town has a problem than needs to be fixed by installing, maintaining, and plowing the sidewalks but the pedestrian population also has to smarten up and get out of the road when safer options are available.
Is there a law or unwritten rule that says this is permitted? Or is it just up to the citizen to walk where they please?
Is it OK to honk at these people or would that be illegal? Feels like it ought to be OK if the driver sees the pedestrian putting themselves at risk.

17 beth September 10, 2015 at 1:44 PM

I hear what you’re saying. But I think you are misunderstanding the comments of others.

There is a lot of Parkerville with sidewalks. But there is also a 1 mile stretch south of Route 9 without sidewalks. If you get on Parkerville from Route 9 eastbound, there are no sidewalks until you reach Gilmore and Hubley roads

18 Alan September 10, 2015 at 12:21 PM

I agree. Finn school always seems to be neglected. Sidewalks were proposed along all of Parkerville road because of the school over 25 years ago.

19 SL September 25, 2015 at 8:01 AM

I agree with Matthew. Compared to some other streets in town, Parkerville is very wide, and it is very safe to walk there even in the area without sidewalks (I have often walked in the spot you mention with baby strollers).

But in the same neighborhood on the south side of town, Middle Rd and Mt Vickery are extremely dangerous to walk on. They are very narrow, have no sidewalks, and are very curvy with blind corners. When I walk down Middle to Parkerville, I have to cross the street several times to try to stay out of the blind corners. They are also cut-through roads from Rts 9 and 85 so cars go very fast on them. Just last Saturday a car slammed into a telephone phone on Middle Rd.

20 Cathy Watson October 7, 2015 at 9:12 AM

I was going to refer to Middle Road and Mt. Vickery, but you said it all.

21 Rachel September 10, 2015 at 12:28 PM

Route 85 all of the way! It’s nerve wracking driving when there is a runner on the road.

22 Kelly September 10, 2015 at 2:47 PM

Flagg Road could use sidewalks, but I don’t ever see that happening. There is no room to put a sidewalk, and I can’t imagine every homeowner on that road willing to give up a portion of their land for it. Would the town take it by eminent domain? As it is now, walking, jogging or biking on Flagg Road is a risky proposition. Once Capital Group’s developments are built, good luck driving on that road, and you can forget about walking on it. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to pull over on Flagg because there isn’t enough room for two cars to pass due to landscaping trucks, school buses, snowbanks, etc. This is a road where I see children walking and biking to school all the time, yet their safety has been overlooked in the interests of development – disappointing, but not at all surprising coming from this town.

23 KTP75 September 10, 2015 at 4:33 PM

I agree I am not sure a side walk covering the entire distance of Flagg is possible.. or warranted for that matter. You could definitely put one in on the side of the road heading northbound from that intersection all the way to Strawberry Hill…. maybe further. It would be great to get safer passage all the way to the Bantry neighborhood. I do know that there is old house that is very close to the road that would probably create an issue. One problem is that there are trees in the way and it has been a longstanding policy and/or feeling in town that removing trees will destroy the rural character of the town. I like trees, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t like trees when they create major safety issues. Are there any statutes with regard to road width?

24 Al Hamilton September 11, 2015 at 8:16 AM

KTP

The Right of Way, in Southborough, for a road built from scratch is 50′ of which perhaps 20 ft are paved. We have a lot of roads that do not meet these standards. A number of roads have evolved from cart paths to lanes to roads and the right of ways may be substantially more or less than the modern standard.

From my quick look I think the right of way on Flagg road is about 40 ft.

The trees will probably win in a contest with pedestrians. Of course it is completely out of character with our “rural” feel. 125 years ago if you flew over Mass you would have seen a lot of open fields and only small wooded areas as wood was used for fuel and lumber and the fields were used for agriculture. If you doubt it look at all the stone walls in the woods. These were built to enclose fields and provide a place to get rid of the nasty rocks that we grow so well.

So, if you want to really return to our rural roots and provide an authentic rural feel, fire up the chain saws.

We need to abandon the fantasy that we are a small rural community. The relentless denial of what we are, a well to do suburban community with a healthy commercial base, will eventually result in someone being seriously hurt.

25 Donna McDaniel October 19, 2015 at 10:58 PM

Just to note:
Yes there were open fields for that “authentic rural feel” Al describes– but in those days the places between the trees were where they grew crops and grazed cattle. That’s why they took the trees down plain and simple (incidentally: removed without all the fancy equipment we have these days, not to mention all the stone walls they built too).

26 Al Hamilton September 10, 2015 at 6:23 PM

Kelly

Take a close look at the town GIS system. http://www.mapsonline.net/southboroughma/index.html

You will see that the town owns about 6′-8′ on either side of the edge of the macadam. probably enough of room for a sidewalk without eminent domain or at a minimum very modest taking. The fate of the trees is another issue.

I am afraid that the trees will probably have a higher priority.

27 Carol September 11, 2015 at 11:21 AM

In some towns they have built sidewalks that are not city sidewalks but weave and go around the trees. Look in Wayland for many of those. They are wide enough for what they are used for. Some trees may have to be removed, but not all of them.

28 Al Hamilton September 11, 2015 at 2:52 PM

I am familiar with similar sidewalks in Lincoln. They are nice, however, if you want to build this type of sidewalk on Flagg Rd then you are going to have to acquire at least an easement on the abutters land. This will require a 2/3 vote at Town Meeting and will cost money.

As you point out, regardless, some of the trees will have to go. The hard question is, are Flagg Road residents willing to give up 5-10 ft of their frontage in order to secure the benefit of a sidewalk?

29 Tim Martel September 11, 2015 at 11:54 AM

Most of the roads in town are Scenic Roads, I believe. So any work that would impact a tree or stone wall would need to receive written approval from the Planning Board after a public hearing was held.

I also believe (but can’t confirm) that the DPW has previously looked into widening Flagg and adding shoulders/sidewalks, and concluded that there just isn’t enough room to do it. I imagine it would require a significant taking of private land by Town Meeting, at significant expense, and probably significant objection (over the loss of walls and trees as well as the taking itself).

I’d also add a warning that to improve Flagg road would make it safer only in the very short term, because the better roads would provide justification to add even more development in the area. Definitely a be careful what you wish for situation.

30 Kelly Roney September 11, 2015 at 4:51 PM

I don’t think widening Flagg Road is a good idea, for many of your reasons. In fact, to slow drivers down may require narrowing it, and that would have to be done strategically and very carefully.

Deerfoot between Main St. and Flagg should probably be narrowed. I still think that curbs don’t really make pedestrians safer. They just make walkers feel safer. If you were to narrow Deerfoot and plant small ornamental trees between the curb and the walk (in the style of Main St. in front of the professional building just west of School St.), you might be able to create real safety and walkability with no takings.

The most dangerous section of Deerfoot-Flagg is the bend where most traffic stays on Flagg rather than turning with Deerfoot. Sightlines are terrible suddenly, drivers still have their speed from wide-open Deerfoot, and the road narrows.

I like the idea of weaving a paved path behind the existing trees on Flagg. I’ve seen that sort of path in Sudbury, too.

Al, I took a look at the GPS maps on line (as you suggested to the other Kelly) before visiting, and I think you’re right about the town-owned right-of-way in this location. No doubt there would be problems to solve in this scenario.

31 beth September 11, 2015 at 4:57 PM

I believe Al was trying to respond to Louise Barron’s comment above KTP’s

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