Now that are completed and senior center construction , Needham officials are looking to focus on the next big town project—a downtown “streetscaping” plan that will make Needham Center more vibrant and accessible.
At the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, May 22, Department of Public Works Director Richard Merson announced the “beginning of another exciting project,” saying he and others in town are ready to get to work on development of the downtown area based on a series of studies the town has conducted over the past several years.
The project will involve developing “complete streets” that incorporate different modes of travel such as motor vehicles, bicycles and more—all within the town’s current building layout, Merson said.
“We have a lot of things we’d like to get done within these layouts, to find the best balance of how it all fits in there," he said.
A study conducted by the town in 1997 got the ball rolling on the plans for “unlocking the potential” of Needham’s downtown, Merson said, and now officials are ready to make those plans a reality. Possible improvements may include wider sidewalks, new crosswalks, developed plaza areas, angled parking, street trees and street furniture and other elements.
Merson said the project will “bring a lot of people to the table” and will follow five basic stages.
First, town officials working with interested parties such as downtown businesses and residents will determine what are the “desired streetscaping elements” and possible locations for those elements. Second, the town’s engineering team will present conceptual ideas leading to a final concept. Next, they will develop preliminary designs for the project, followed by a final design. The last stage of the process will involve advertising the project and receiving contractor bids.
Merson said the project will be divided up so that the entire downtown area is not under construction at the same time.
He showed selectmen a map (view in the gallery above) with the various zones that will be included in the downtown streetscaping project, including:
- Highland Avenue from the Great Plain Avenue intersection north past May Street to Oakland Avenue;
- The northern section of Chapel Street from the parking lot of to the May Street/Highland Avenue intersection (the lower part of Chapel has already been renovated);
- Great Plain Avenue from the Chapel/Chestnut street intersection west to Washburn Avenue;
- Great Plain Avenue from the Dedham Avenue intersection east to Warren Street, including a small portion of Dedham Avenue;
- Great Plain Avenue along the ;
- And Chestnut Street from the Great Plain Avenue intersection south to Oak Street.
Materials used in the renovation of these areas will be similar to the ones used in the recent Chapel Street renovation, such as granite curbing, certain street lights and banners, planters and brick walkways.
Efforts to help with traffic movement through the busy Needham Center will also be part of the project.
Town Engineer Tony Del Gaizo said the current downtown design lacks below-street sensors to control the traffic signals at Dedham Avenue and Chapel/Chestnut streets, so an update of those signals could help alleviate some of the traffic flow issues.
In addition, Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick said she is already working with the MBTA to solve at least one traffic problem related to the nearby railroad tracks. Currently, when a train passes May Street, it triggers the Great Plain Avenue gate, causing traffic to be blocked unnecessarily while the train waits for passengers at .
Selectman John Bulian said he was glad to hear that efforts were being made to fix that problem, saying drivers sometimes had to wait as long as 10 minutes during certain times of the day when the train was passing through.
Merson said though none of the zones has been prioritized for improvements, work on the traffic signals will likely be the first area of focus.
Though the work may help ease some of the downtown’s traffic woes, officials said it probably will not solve the entire problem.
“We have tremendous use of the downtown, traffic-wise, and we’re not going to completely wipe out delays. There’s just no way,” Selectman Jerry Wasserman said.
Funding for the streetscaping project is expected to come through the town’s Chapter 90 money from the state.
Fitzpatrick said there will be many opportunities for public input throughout the planning process.