Published in the April 1, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
Sometimes the solutions to our problems are so close we overlook them.
I am speaking of course of the new “Wakefield Walk” proposal that would make Main Street one-way heading north from the Melrose line to Lowell Street.
The northbound lane would remain open to vehicular traffic with no changes. The southbound lane would become a permanent pedestrian mall. Advocates insist that there would be little or no cost associated with the change.
Sure, there would be an adjustment period. But people are adaptable. They got used to Armory Street being one-way didn’t they?
Any minor inconvenience would be offset by a long list of benefits. Let’s take them one at a time.
Instant Rail Trail, minus the rail. No more endless, multi-million-dollar feasibility studies that serve only to enrich engineers and attorneys. No more NIMBY Lynnfield abutters going on and on about their “private property rights.” On day one we’ll have a 4-mile, paved, ready-made pedestrian and bike path running straight through the center of town.
Reducing the number of vehicles in town will also cut Wakefield’s carbon footprint.
Towns in the tonier, more progressive districts are creating bicycle lanes on all of their major streets to encourage more sustainable lifestyles and discourage use of fossil fuel-guzzling, climate-destroying automobiles. Wakefield’s Main Street is one of the widest in the state. There’s plenty of room for two-way bicycle traffic in the present southbound lane of Main Street while still leaving ample room for pedestrians.
In addition, as we build more and more mixed-use, residential-above-retail developments, our residents will have less and less need for carbon-belching, internal combustion-based modes of transportation.
Critics worry that banning vehicles from the south-bound side of Main Street would result in losing half of the parking in a downtown that already has a shortage of parking. But this is a red herring. If there were truly a parking problem in the downtown, would Wakefield residents have voted down a free parking garage in 2014?
We would be joining the list of forward-thinking communities that are already reducing the amount of parking or making it prohibitively expensive as a way to discourage the use of planet-killing motor vehicles. We will be single-handedly saving Mother Earth for our children and grandchildren.
How will people get from the downtown to Greenwood? Easy – walk, bike or take the train. If they absolutely must drive, people can always use the scenic Water Street to Farm Street to Old Nahant Road to Oak Street route. It’s a little out of the way but it’s a small price to pay for a greener town.
Would there be a negative economic impact to downtown businesses of banning vehicular traffic on one side of Main Street? Perhaps, but it would be offset by other advantages.
One thing stressed in the recently completed economic/marketing study of the downtown was the need to find a way to get some of the thousands of people who walk the Lake to come to the downtown business district. Making the southbound side of Main Street a pedestrian path provides a natural route for Lake-walkers to follow into the downtown.
The town could also make amends for its past persecution of vendors like Fred’s Franks by offering them permanent spots along the new Wakefield Walk.
Over time, the socially responsible businesses and ethical consumers would tend to gravitate to the pedestrian/bike-friendly west side of Main Street, while the east side would cater to the less enlightened who still feel the need to use automobiles.
Restaurants on the west side of Main Street would also have more space for sidewalk dining. Banks could offer al fresco banking and The Farmland could expand to include an outdoor farmers market in its present parking lot.
With the southbound lane of Main Street closed to vehicles, the summer would become one long Festival Italia and the Holiday Stroll could be a winter-long event.
Perhaps you’re thinking, if permanently closing one side of Main Street to vehicles is a good idea, why not close both sides and extend the Common all the way to the Melrose line – a sort of Wakefield version of the Rose Kennedy Greenway?
Now you’re being ridiculous. Only a fool would suggest an idea like that.