Leonard Street Again One-Way As Center Welcomes Return To A More Normal (Photos)

Photo: Placing jersey barriers along Leonard Street as Belmont Center’s main roadway becomes one-way ’til Halloween.

The Flett Company’s trucks and excavator were rolling down Leonard Street Monday morning, May 3, as workers under the management of Department of Public Works Director Jay Marcotte placed 35 jersey barriers and 100s of metal barricades along Belmont Center’s busiest road. From today to the end of October, the town’s main business thoroughfare will be a one-way avenue, running southward from Alexandra Avenue to Moore Street as the area becomes a pedestrian and dining friendly spot.

With residents returning to those pre-pandemic “normal” activities as vaccinations become the norm rather than an exception, “we want to welcome them back and enjoy the Center,” said Heidi Sawyer of the Belmont Garden Club.

The single lane road – 10 mph, please – is a return from 2020 when Leonard Street was narrowed to allow restaurants to expand their al fresco dining during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While created to assist the struggling eateries, residents and visitors found the added space to be a new found pleasure which allowed for strolling and people watching during a time when most residents were stuck at home.

There are some improvements from last year as the barriers have a fresh coat of silver paint, bright yellow tables, chairs and umbrellas are scattered along the sidewalks and the inclusion of play spaces with table tennis and other fun activates.

But the most recognizable upgrade from last year are the dozens for planters filled with flowering scrubs and bushes placed on and in-between the jersey barriers, thanks to a collaboration of the Belmont Center Business Association and the Belmont Garden Club which was supported by a $25,000 gift from a local couple which will go to making the summer a return to a more normal.

One-Way Leonard Street Returns For Spring, Summer and The Fall

Photo: A return to one-way traffic through Belmont Center

The second “summer” of a pedestrian-friendly one-way Leonard Street – with several refinements included for this year – is being extended from mid-spring to Halloween as the Select Board OK’d the town’s blueprint at its meeting Monday, March 29.

The one-way season will begin Monday, May 3 and last to Sunday, Oct. 31.

Considered a huge success by the public – more than 300 emails were sent to the Select Board in favor of its return – many businesses, and town officials, it wasn’t a surprise the Select Board would enthusiastically approve the return to outdoor seating for restaurants while creating a haven for strollers and shoppers.

“This new proposal strikes a somewhat better balance recognizing the very different constituencies in terms of accommodates the non-restaurant businesses better,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein.

Glenn Clancy, head of the Office of Community Development, said the town had two guiding principals viewing the project; build on what was seen as a success of the previous year and be responsive to feedback from several sets of stakeholders.

“We should always strive to make it better than it was,” said Clancy.

As a result, there are five changes to the previous year’s plan:

  • Moore Street will be made a one way from Leonard to Pleasant streets;
  • The former MBTA bus stop at the former Belmont Savings Bank will become a loading zone for businesses in the center;
  • The four parking spaces on Leonard Street entering Belmont Center will be short-term parking with a 15-minute limit;
  • Parking will be allowed on the northside of Leonard from Alexander Avenue and CVS with accessible spaces at both ends of the roadway; and
  • The parking spaces on the southside of Leonard at Alexander will become a public space where community seating, park benches, and other amenities will create “a place where if you are wandering around Belmont Center and you feel like you just want to sit and relax for a minute, there’s a place for you,” said Clancy.

The Select Board’s Adam Dash questioned the need for parking on the north side from CVS to Alexander Avenue after residents and visitors did not want any parking along Leonard Street. Clancy said last year business owners and office spaces would continually open and close the temporary metal gates to allow customers to park in front of the businesses. The new arrangement would allow a less cumbersome parking arrangement.

Epstein said his one concern would be the “unintended consequences” when traffic returns to pre-COVID levels which resulted in long-lines of vehicles attempting to navigate the Center.

“We need to be prepared to react,” he said.

But Dash took a counter view saying it’s not all that bad “if we can put up a little roadblock” in the Center, forcing commuters who cut through the town to reconsider that route. He noted that popular travel apps used by commuters to cut their time traveling home will likely send users to other towns than Belmont.

Glenn Clancy, Director, Office of Community Development

One Way Leonard: Town Seeks Comments On A Return To One Lane Traffic

Photo: Leonard Street down to one lane last summer

The Select Board will hold a public meeting to discuss a proposal to restrict Leonard Street to one lane of traffic between Moore Street and Alexander Avenue from April through October. The virtual meeting will take place on Monday, March 8 at 7 p.m.

“The town is eager to hear comments and get feedback to determine the level of interest of this proposal,” according to the announcement sent by the Town Clerk’s Office.

Last year, the Select Board instituted the one way traffic plan to allow restaurants to expand their al fresco dining area onto Leonard Street to assist those business owners impacted by COVID-19 restrictions on indoor operations. While many enjoyed the increased pedestrian opportunities created by the measure, retail shops said the loss of parking spaces on Belmont’s main commercial center hampered their businesses.

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Belmont Center Reopens For Two-Way Traffic: Will There Be A Repeat Next Summer?

Photo: Back to normal on Leonard Street

There are two ways to view the return of two-way traffic on Leonard Street through Belmont Center on Monday, Oct. 27: a return to normality for commuters after 137 days of detours and alternative routes or an end to a new way to view and use Belmont’s business and restaurant hub.

According to the head of the group that advocates for Belmont Center’s businesses, there is a good chance the merchants and restauranteurs will ask the town to return to the more pedestrian-friendly arrangement for next summer.

With the concrete New Jersey barriers and steel gates removed just after the morning rush hour, Leonard Street returned to the two way traffic after the town’s Select Board voted in early June to close down Belmont Center until Labor Day as a way of supporting the prominent restaurant trade during the COVID-19 pandemic which forced them to halt indoor dining.

With traffic restricted through the center, restaurants and retail stores were able to expand their operations onto the sidewalk for al fresco dining.

After first voting to halt all but emergency vehicles and MBTA buses, the Select Board moved to limit travel on Leonard Street from Alexander Avenue to Moore Street in the direction to the commuter rail tunnel after hearing from several merchants protest the elimination of all off-street parking.

The restrictions were extended from Labor Day to the end of October to assist eateries as state continued to limit the number of diners in establishments.

Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods and president of the Belmont Center Business Association said the more than four months of the new traffic configuration resulted in “an excellent summer” as “a lot of people loved it, just to get outside during these tough times.”

“It was very successful for the majority of merchants,” said Dickhaut.

With the recent experience under its belt, Dickhaut said the business association is eager for a return to a more pedestrian-friendly center for 2021.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it next year after [Belmont] Town Day (which takes place in mid-June), and make this an annual thing,” he said.

With permission from the select board and town officials, Dickhaut would like to see the one-way traffic configuration for the calendar summer from June to September.

“It was well worthwhile maybe we should add some music next year, make it a festival,” he envisions. “We heard that some of the merchants said, ‘it’s great to have it for the summer but a little longer is maybe hurtful for some of the business.’ There were a couple of businesses that didn’t like it, but the majority of the business did like it.”

One More Month: Leonard Street To Remain One Lane ‘Til Oct. 25; And Free Lot Parking!

Photo: Traffic flowing on Leonard Street

Belmont residents will have four additional weeks of al fresco dining and one way traffic along Leonard Street as the Belmont Select Board voted 2-1 to extend the closure of the main thoroughfare in the town’s business center until Sunday, Oct. 25.

The board majority – Adam Dash and Tom Caputo – felt the extra time will continue to benefit eateries in the Center and across town which have been particularly hit hard due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I heard a lot of support from the [Belmont] community for continuing it that is addition to what the business community in Belmont Center,” said Caputo.

The sole dissent came from Roy Epstein, the board’s chair, who said he was keeping a promise made to the business community that includes retail operations that the roadway would be opened on Sept. 28 which will free up dozens of on-street parking.

“Maybe it’s going well for the restaurants but I think the harm to the other businesses is actually invisible to us,” said Dash.

“I think we should give them the best shot,” said Dash.

Along with the continuation of one-way traffic on Leonard Street, free parking will continue for residents and visitors in the Claflin Street municipal lot located off Channing Road in Belmont Center.

Leonard Street Altered To One Way Traffic At Behest Of Belmont Center Businesses

Photo: Traffic and parking has returned to Belmont Center.

One week after Leonard Street in Belmont Center was shut down for the summer, drivers today – Thursday, June 18 – discovered the street now allows one-way traffic through Belmont’s business hub after town officials implemented a traffic plan from business owners that they hope will help retail shops as well as restaurants that have been closed for the past three months due to COVID-19.

The change comes four days after businesses expressed their concerns to the Select Board on Monday, June 15.

Starting today, traffic from Pleasant Street can travel through the center to the commuter rail tunnel. Vehicles can also use the parking spaces along Leonard Street. Jersey barriers are used to create bump-outs into the street to allow outside dining and seating for three eateries – rancatore’s ice cream & yogurt, il Casale and El Centro – along the western side of the street.

Vehicles traveling from the tunnel towards the Center will need to detour at Moore Street as the street to Alexander Avenue is closed to accommodate outdoor dining and retail space.

Town officials said the change to the street is an effort to follow through with the concerns of the town’s business leaders.

“The Town was eager to be responsive to the merchants in Belmont Center,” said Patrice Garvin, town administrator.

“We hoped the first plan would be received well, but we quickly realized we needed to give the merchants and patrons more flexibility. We implemented the current plan and will be monitoring its progress,” said Garvin.

Retailers said they were happy that the town took quick action on what they felt was a workable compromise that will assist all businesses in the center.

“I expected that they would move quickly because there were so many people that weren’t happy,” said Lisa Castagno, owner of Revolve who helped generate a response to the initial plan.

Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods and president of the Belmont Center Business Association, said the group used a portion of the $4,600 raised from businesses and landlords to rent the jersey barriers along the street to create a safety border between vehicles and customers and employees. It will use the remaining funds to beautify the barricades and bring in live music to the newly pedestrian street.

“I’ve got to tell you the Select Board, [Garvin], Glenn Clancy [town engineer] and Mike Santoro [director of the DPW’s Highway Department] all have been so helpful to get this going. It took just a week from when we approach them for the compromise to be in place. We all worked together and got it done.”

The Summer Of Al Fresco: Belmont Closes Leonard Street To Help Eateries Recover [VIDEO]

Photo: Work closing Leonard Street in Belmont Center

When the Belmont Select Board voted to allow the closure of Leonard Street for the summer at its Monday, June 8 meeting, most people were expecting the actual shutdown of the roadway through Belmont’s largest business center to take place sometime during the summer.

But only two and a half days later on Thursday morning, jersey barriers were in place, a long-line of rusting crowd-control steel barricades were coming being set up by Belmont Department of Public Works crews and town officials had completed the task they said they would do be done.

And while some business owners were caught unawares and the stray parked SUV was suddenly fenced in, the operation was completed without that much of a snag and Belmont Center will be vehicle free until the day after Labor Day, Tuesday, Sept. 8.

And if the change to a walkable center is a success, it could continue into the late fall.

The closing of the street – from Alexander and Moore streets – is an attempt to help restaurants and eateries during the Phase 2 reopening of the state economy during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. During this stage, restaurants are allowed to serve al fresco with outdoor dining.

Belmont town officials decided to help out the eatery owners by providing added space to the limited sidewalk area they could use by expanding in the street.

And despite some hiccups, by Saturday, the first tables and chairs were out in the warm spring night with customers waiting to finally eat out by eating outside.

Belmont Center’s Leonard Street Closing On Thursday at 10 AM ’til Labor Day

Photo: The map of the changes coming to Belmont Center with the closure of Leonard Street.

Just two days after the Select Board approved a plan to increase outdoor dining in Belmont Center to help restaurants and retail hurt by the COVID-19 shutdown, the Community Development Office announced Wednesday, June 10 that Leonard Street will be closed as soon as 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 11 and continuing until the day after Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 8.

“Pending available DPW crews, we will be closing the road a soon as tomorrow,” said Glenn Clancy, director of Community Development.

The street through Belmont Center will be shut down from Alexander Avenue to Moore Street with no parking allowed during that time. The roadway will have a 15-foot center lane that will allow for accessed by emergency vehicles, deliveries and MBTA buses only.

The closure could be extended into the fall depending on how successful it is assisting eateries weather the COVID-19 storm.

Vehicles traveling northbound will turn right onto Moore Street to Pleasant Street. Southbound traffic will travel on Alexander Avenue to Cross Street.

With the loss of parking along Leonard Street, parking in the Claflin Street Parking Lot will be free until July 6. Time restricted parking spaces in the Belmont Center area will be enforced starting July 6.

As Projects Near Finish, Belmont Center Parking Plan Returns (As Does Free 2-Hr Parking in June)

Photo: Leonard Street’s newest structure.

While the daily encounters with construction equipment and traffic delays along Leonard Street may feel like an eternal visit to Purgatory, the reconstruction of Belmont’s commercial hub’s roadways is just months from completion. 

And with the finale of one task, the town has begun the next big chore, implementing the long-talked about parking plan for Belmont Center.

According to Belmont’s Town Administrator David Kale at Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, as the major work in Belmont Center comes to an end – the roadway and sidewalk component will be finished by the end of July or early August and the former Macy’s/Foodies Urban Market is now scheduled to open before Thanksgiving – now is the time for the town to begin presenting a comprehensive parking program for Leonard Street, the surrounding side streets and the Claflin municipal parking lot to residents.

“Let’s gear up and make contengency plans with businesses and others so when [Foodies] is open,” the town will be ready for a critical mass of parking coming to the 199-space Claflin lot, said Kale.

The most immediate announcement on parking is that the town, in association with Belmont Savings Bank, will provide two-hour free parking in the Claflin lot for June. 

Using as its guide the parking plan created by Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associate in March 2012, there are several operating principles that will lead the process. The most significant of the principles, said Kale, is finding ways to increase parking spaces in the Claflin lot and on town streets.

“That become more important with retail spaces coming online,” said Kale, noting the introduction of Foodies Urban Market, the independent supermarket which caters to selling prepared foods and fresh produce. 

That need for upping the number of spaces, or just as important, freeing up spaces on a regular basis will necessitate the establishment of metered parking along Leonard Street as well as changing the current two-hour free parking in the first two rows of the Claflin lot. 

“We are looking to increase quick stops” to augment the number of total customers who can shop in the Center. One aspect of that goal will be increased enforcement of parking regulations on Leonard and Claflin, including patroling the lots and streets into the evening. 

Other areas that will need to be changed is revisiting the designated commuter parking areas – since the program began last year, only six commuter parking stickers have been sold by the town – and the location of parking for owners and employees of Center businesses.

“We may want them to be situation somewhere other than” the municipal lot,” said Kale.

Kale also said the town will work with businesses in an attempt to steamline delivery times to merchants to prevent the current backup of traffic along Leonard Street. 

“We have started a conversation with the Belmont Center Business Association” and we’ll have public meetings” to discuss the town’s plans in the next few months, said Kale.