Planning Board, Town Planner want Complete Streets

Dec 5, 2017

Public streets are for everyone. It should be just as easy for a child to ride a bike, a pedestrian to cross a road, or a person in a wheelchair to use a sidewalk as it is for a car to drive down a street.

This is what officials in Marion believe, and now they're trying to make that happen on town roads.

Town Planner Gil Hilario and the Transportation and Circulation Task Force, a subcommittee to study traffic issues in town, is working on an application for the Complete Streets program – a state program that provides technical assistance and project funding to make sure local streets are safe and accessible for everyone.

The newly adopted Master Plan specifically addresses Complete Streets, and lists it as a way to remedy issues pertaining to signage, parking, streetscaping and pedestrian/cyclist use in the Transportation and Circulation section.

Since Town Meeting voters approved the Master Plan, in October, boards in town, especially the Planning Board have been eager to find ways to implement it. Covering a 10-year period, Master Plans address a community's goals for land use, housing, climate change, economic development, services and facilities, transportation, open space and recreation, and natural and cultural resources. Towns need a Master Plan in order to be eligible for various state grants.

Getting funding through the Complete Streets program would both make town roads safer, as well as support the vision adopted in the Master Plan. To show support for improving local roads, as required by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation which awards funds, the Planning Board had Kathy Downey, the town’s public health nurse, in to speak about health benefits to having safer streets.

“Health considerations include opportunities for exercise and stress reduction and access to food, medication and medical care,” she said. “We need to make the needs of our most vulnerable our priority. In Marion, our most vulnerable are our elders and our youths, who lack reliable transportation.”

Downey said that many neighborhoods are cul-de-sacs located off of Route 6, and that proximity to the highway limits health opportunities such as biking, walking and jogging.. One of her suggestions for Complete Street funds would be putting in walking paths or bike paths to connect cul-de-sacs and neighborhoods away from Route 6.

Other suggestions Downey had for improving health is widening sidewalks and adding bicycle lanes.

“Communities with wider sidewalks and bike lanes see an increase in walking, biking and jogging,” she said. “…We know we need to get people out there exercising, but we need to do it in a safe manner. Having kids, having adults, exercising on Route 6 isn’t safe.”

Planning Board members agreed with Downey, particularly about pedestrians and cyclists on Route 6.

“My kids grew up in a little cul-de-sac and survived several harrowing rides on Route 6,” board member Chris Collings said.

Chair Eileen Marum agreed it was dangerous.

“Route 6 is very hazardous. Even if you’re walking on the sidewalk, cars are flying by at 50 miles per hour and they’re only three or four feet from you,” she said. “All it takes is a lapse of memory or focus.”

Planning Board member Jennifer Francis, speaking as a member of the Transportation and Circulation Task Force, pointed out that the Complete Streets funds was more for use on local roads, not state roads like Route 6. However, the options for the funds are still plentiful.

“We can do work around town, including painting lines on roads to indicate it’s a multi-use roadway…we can designate a bike path if there’s enough room,” she said. “We can do new crosswalks, new sidewalks, new bike racks.”

Francis said that the first step was to develop a Complete Streets policy guide. Then, it comes time to decide what projects exactly the town wants to tackle.

“We have to have 15 projects on our application, and they can range from small things to big things, but only on local roads and sidewalks,” she said. “That’s the next thing we’re really focusing on.”

The Complete Streets policy guide will come back before the Planning Board when it is fully finished, and will then need to be approved by the selectmen. Municipalities can submit policy guides at any time. The next step has two available due dates, April 1 for round one or Sept. 1 for round two.

“It has to be approved by the Board of Selectmen, but we want the Planning Board to take initiative and approve it too,” Hilario said. “We want to collaborate across the government.”