The one thing everyone appeared to agree on Monday night is that the current configuration of Peabody Square doesn’t work. That’s why the city is looking at ways to redesign it.
City planners held a public outreach meeting Monday to present conceptual plans for the square and get input from the public. All told, about 50 people gathered at the , including downtown residents, business owners, property owners, past and present city councilors and other city officials.
“It’s terrible. I don’t know who bothers trying to cross there,” Ward 2 Councilor Arthur Athas told Peabody Patch after the meeting.
Athas was referring to the current layout of crosswalks in the square. Three sides of the intersection have uninterrupted crosswalks, but on the fourth side – heading toward Central Street – pedestrians have to cross three times in order to get from Main Street to and vice versa.
He said it’s a “dangerous” intersection now for pedestrians, but he liked what he saw for the new designs, believes it will be safer and encourage residents to patronize the downtown.
A square with four legs
The new layout would look more like a conventional four-legged intersection.
Two main features are removing the “slip ramps” onto Central Street (from Main Street) and Lowell Street (from Central Street) and moving the monument from the middle of the square to in front of the courthouse. New plazas on either side would replace the curved turning lanes and could be used for arts and cultural events.
Dedicated right-hand turning lanes would then be striped for Central Street and Main Street.
Erik Atkins of Green International (the firm designing the changes) said the slip ramps create “multiple conflict points” both for cars and pedestrians, as opposed to a single crosswalk across that side. He said nearby businesses, when asked, said the slip ramps are dangerous and just encourage motorists to zoom around them.
Five or six parking spaces will be lost on the Main and Central Street side with the removal of the slip ramp.
Atkins also noted the traffic signals are old and outdated – they take a long time to cycle through (more than two minutes) and don’t communicate with signals at Walnut Street and Washington Street to coordinate traffic flow. There’s also scant space for bicyclists in the intersection.
“We want to enhance the square from what it is today while not impacting traffic,” said Atkins.
New push-button signals for pedestrians would also display a digital countdown.
As for the Civil War Monument, it would be placed on a new plaza in front of the courthouse, complete with its own lighting for nighttime viewing. The intent is to showcase the tribute to Peabody’s soldiers in a more fitting and accessible location for the public. The flagpole would also be moved to the plaza and planters, benches and other seating would be added.
Another plaza in front of would include outdoor seating, planters and perhaps a sculpture. There would be plenty of room if a restaurant were to move in and opt for outdoor dining, according to city officials.
As for further aesthetic touches, there would be more trees, new concrete sidewalks and uniform lighting.
Heartened at the evident interest in the future of the square, Community Development Director Karen Sawyer explained that with the intersection eventually being torn up to install new culverts for the flood mitigation project – particularly needing to move the monument – and a major redesign slated for Main Street, it makes sense to re-envision the square now.
“We thought it would be a missed opportunity not to look at potential redesign of the square,” Sawyer said.
The goals are to increase safety for pedestrians and motorists, maintain or improve traffic flow, create some new public space and allow for better access to the monument.
And according to traffic engineers, the new layout of the square won’t adversely affect traffic patterns.
Green International observed the present-day patterns and predicted traffic growth 20 years out for the corridor, creating traffic simulations with that data.
Currently there are more than 2,000 trips passing through the square at the peak hour of traffic and about 20,000 trips per day, but by 2032 that traffic load is only expected to increase by 10 percent. In fact, traffic growth has been stagnant in recent years.
A traffic simulation run Monday night showed the proposed changes make little or no change to the flow of traffic, while making significant improvements to the square.
Two distinct lanes will also be striped from the square, heading north on Central Street, which is also hoped to discourage the third lane that often forms at the light to turn right onto Walnut Street. The traffic signals there would be tweaked and the entry/exit to would also be signalized.
Several residents and property owners suggested working on other areas as well, including cleaning up around brooks that converge in the downtown, adding more crosswalks on Central Street and trying to slow traffic down on Lowell Street as it goes from two lanes to one. They also talked about which types of trees to plant and kept asking about the flood mitigation project.
Atkins and Sawyer said most of the suggestions exceeded the scope of the project at hand. Sawyer said Constitution Park, which is next to the Foster Street parking lot, will be torn up to install the new culverts, but a new and improved design will be forthcoming.
Atkins said putting crosswalks where there are no signals would not be a safe option for pedestrians.
The tentative project schedule is to complete preliminary design in May, finish a final design this summer and then begin construction in the fall of 2013, coinciding with the flood mitigation project.
Green International also and is looking at traffic for the first phase of the flood work. Construction on Main Street will begin in May and wrap up by this fall.
Hand-in-hand with Phase 1
The mayor, police, fire and public services departments, among others, have already reviewed the plan presented Monday. The new design essentially shifts existing elements around and is not anticipated to cost anymore than it would to restore the square post-Phase 1 construction.
The design is between 25 and 50 percent complete and is being paired up with Phase 1. Assuming the City Council does , the square project will be part of that and construction will occur simultaneously.
The City Council will receive an informational briefing on the Peabody Square designs Thursday.