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.”