Dedham residents start to think Square
By Edward B. Colby/Dedham Transcript
Posted Feb 04, 2010 @ 07:00 AM
Last update Feb 04, 2010 @ 01:30 PM
Dedhamites were given a glimpse of the future of Dedham Square this week: a $5 million makeover of downtown’s streets and sidewalks that features shorter, safer brick crosswalks, ornamental lighting, and no more “dummy signal” in the center of it all.
Randy Collins, a landscape architect with the BETA Group, said his firm’s design process would probably last another 9 to 10 months. Once funding is sorted out, the project could happen as soon as next year. The town has a $1.2 million Public Works Economic Development Program grant proposal before the state that would help pay for streetscape and traffic improvements in Dedham Square.
The town and Dedham Square Circle collaborated on that grant application, filed last March; the Dedham Square improvement project has its roots in the nonprofit group’s Engineering the Future campaign, which began in 2007.
Last Tuesday night, Sarah MacDonald – who worked for Dedham Square Circle before she became a selectman – said the civic merchants’ group started the process “with just the idea that it’s not safe to cross the street in Dedham Square. We had a couple of near-misses and one accident that sort of raised the red flag, and after much discussion and collaboration and planning, we got to where we’re at today” – the 25 percent design hearing.
MacDonald said “the Board of Selectmen has been committed to giving Dedham Square the attention and tools it needs to make sure that it remains a commercial heart of our town,” and that the project at hand is about striking a balance between drivers, pedestrians, business owners and other interests to improve the safety and efficiency of the Square. “We understand there are going to be some trade-offs.”
After coming up with a conceptual design a few years ago, Collins said, his team has done detailed surveys, obtained traffic counts, and looked at accident date to get a good nuts-and-bolts understanding of what happens in the Square.
The current design plan calls for bricks or similar materials in the crosswalks, and brick banding at the edge of sidewalks to make “pedestrian zones” more identifiable to drivers, Collins said.
At the two major intersections there will be “neck downs,” or rounded corners that inch into the roadway. That will help shorten the distance of the crosswalk between Mocha Java and the Keystone Lot from 75 feet to 48 feet. The High Street-Eastern Avenue intersection will also get traffic lights. To accommodate new lane configurations, the wall of the Keystone Lot will be pushed back so two eastbound lanes can continue through the intersection along High Street, before merging into one lane, Collins said.
Planners want to do away with the confusing “dummy signal” structure in the center of the Square at High and Washington streets. It would be replaced with ornamental traffic poles, with arms with traffic signals on them. LED lighting would become the new norm.
Left-hand turns off High Street at that intersection would also be prohibited, to alleviate backed-up traffic, said traffic engineer John Mirabito. Instead, cars going eastbound on High Street would need to continue on to Harris Street before winding back to Washington Street to keep heading north, he said. Cars going westbound that today would take a left from High onto Washington would instead be urged to go left from Eastern Avenue onto Bryant Street to get to Washington.
Collins said Washington Street will be pulled a bit toward the police station, so the lanes south of the intersection align better with those north of it.
The long crosswalk between Cafe Fresh Bagel and the police station would be shortened from 77 to 56 feet, and the crossing from the station to the High Street Cafe would go from 63 feet to 51 feet. Angled parking would be maintained on the east side of Washington Street by Dedham House of Pizza, and angled parking would be restored in front of the police station on High Street. But the total number of parking spaces in the Square would be reduced from 108 to 100.
In all, the project extends from Ames Street east to the Keystone Lot on High Street, and from Harris Street south to School Street on Washington Street. It also includes the block of Eastern Avenue between Bryant and High streets.
Tuesday night, residents and business owners asked questions about everything from parking meters (which might be replaced with kiosk pay stations) to whether some trees could be planted in the parking lot (which is under consideration).
“We have a farmers market there in the summertime. It looks real good with trees, or it would,” said Steve MacAusland.
The town-owned Keystone has long been the site of free parking, but is seen as a prime spot to build. It is “a choice piece of property” with priority development zone status that is the missing end to the Square, said Selectman Paul Reynolds.
Dedham developer Giorgio Petruzziello asked why the town would spend a lot of money on the Keystone corner and its retaining wall if it’s “a future development site.”
“Two years down the line we’re doing this (improvement) project, six months to a year later we start the future development, we’re going to rip up all the money we just spend on the Keystone Lot?” he said.
Economic Development Director Karen O’Connell noted that a private developer would be required to restore the site to its previous condition after finishing construction.
Collins said that if there were a developer with a plan for the Keystone, then the improvement work and the new development could easily be coordinated – but no one has stepped forward yet.
O’Connell asked if Petruzziello would like to be that person. “Go for it, Giorgio,” she said. “Are you interested in that site, Giorgio?” Town Administrator William Keegan added, to much laughter.
Dedham Transcript staff writer Edward B. Colby can be reached at 781-433-8336 or email@example.com.