A close encounter with bikes, a truck and poison ivy

The other day, while running along Concord Street, I met with a trifecta of trouble—multiple cars and two bicyclists heading toward me, a truck coming from the other direction and a thick bed of poison ivy on the side of the road. There was nowhere to go. Fortunately, the riders were skilled and able to dodge in between the cars as I tucked into the ivy, hoping that no one would get hurt and that I would not have to contend with a nasty itchy rash.

This type of hazardous encounter is a fairly common occurrence when running or walking on the part of Concord Street, and all the main roads in town, that do not have sidewalks. It is downright dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists and ultimately drivers as well.

Both the Pathways Committee and the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC) have been working hard to address this safety issue. The goal of the Pathways Committee is to build a pedestrian network of walkways on the main roads in town. The TSAC is focused on improving roads and intersections to optimize safety for all users. Members of the TSAC include Town Administrator, Superintendent of Public Works, Police Chief, Fire Chief, and former resident Deb Belanger, who is also a member of the Pathways Committee. 

During a recent conversation, Melynda Gambino, Chair of the Pathways Committee, said, “The town needs more pathways to give children and all residents opportunities to connect. Children have limited independence—they can’t walk to the library or Clark Farm and walk home.” She pointed out that the town has a lot of recreation trails so that residents can be active but, she said, “we have to drive to them.”

While it is not possible to build pathways on all the main roads all at once, members of both committees are tackling this monumental undertaking one step at a time. Most immediately, TSAC is applying for a grant from the state’s Complete Streets initiative to improve safety in the town center. Specifically, they have applied for $400,000 from Complete Streets to make improvements to the rotary so vehicles have to slow down to enter and go around, as well as to make improvements to the center crosswalks and to complete the pathway from East Street to the library crosswalk on Bedford Road. See “Selectmen approve traffic safety roadmap,” July 25 for more information on potential projects.

If awarded, the grant would fund construction but not design and engineering costs. Consequently, during the upcoming Special Town Meeting on October 2, residents will be asked to approve $85,000 for design and engineering. If the town does not get the grant, the $85,000 will not be spent. It certainly seems like a win-win . . . the town spends $85,000 and gets $400,000 worth of pedestrian and traffic safety improvements.