Select Board No Fan Of Proposal For Two-Way Traffic On Leonard This Summer

Photo: One or two-way traffic will be coming to Leonard Street this summer

If there has been one town-led change to the Belmont landscape over the past two years that has received overwhelming approval, it’s been the nearly six months that Leonard Street becomes a one-way avenue through Belmont Center.

Devised by the town and Select Board in the spring of 2020 to allow the center’s eateries enough room to install outdoor dining when the Covid-19 pandemic closed down indoor service at restaurants, the opening of Leonard Street with a single traffic lane from Alexander Avenue to Channing Road created a pedestrian-friendly area that attracted strollers, shoppers and diners to the business district. In 2021, additional parking was created along the street as well as flower pots and new railing as the length of the closure was increased from early May to late October.

”People love it,” said Chair Adam Dash. “The only complaint I heard was why can’t you close both lanes. Get rid of the cars.”

So when the Select Board heard a proposal from the Belmont Center Business Association to temporarily close Leonard Street to one lane from May to October, the board was eager to move forward. That was until they heard from the town on what the business group was proposing. Rather than one lane, the association members was seeking two, narrow lanes with a more limited area along the curb given over to restaurants for al fresco dining.

Since no one from the BCBA attended the meeting, it was up to Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to tell the board that earlier in the day town officials had “some additional conversations” with the association and while it wanted the board to approve the dates for closing the street from May 2 through Oct. 25, the association’s “alternatives”was specifically having two-way traffic along Leonard. So far, said Garvin, the town had not even started any preliminary work such as creating a traffic pattern map or even knowing “how that will work.”

“Roy [Epstein, board member] and Glenn Clancy [town engineer] spent a lot of time on moving spaces around … and that worked pretty well,” said Dash, who said he had not heard about the association’s proposal when he met earlier in the day with the BCBA president Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods.

“I’ve never heard anyone say they want two-way traffic,” said Dash.

“One way layout worked fine, but a two way?” pondered Epstein.

Clancy said the alternative would squeeze two-way traffic lane which would include sharing the lanes with bikes, dining, adding more parking spaces, with less pedestrian areas all in the same program package.

”They see an opportunity with two lanes to be able to provide for more parking for some of the businesses that don’t fully support closing even one lane of traffic,” said Clancy, pointing to office owners and retailers who are demanding “better parking facilities.”

It became immediately apparent the three-member select board saw the BCBA proposal as going over like a lead zeppelin. The three members said they would not vote on anything until they saw some details of any likely alternative.

”We need a plan to vote on,” said Mark Paolillo, who even floated the idea of following other towns which shut off traffic to business centers for certain days of the week such as from Thursday to Sunday.

“I don’t know what I’m voting on so I’m not voting on [the dates],” said Dash.

“The one lane worked. It has robust attendance. Cars seem to be moving slow particularly at night,” said Paolillo.

The board deferred the vote until Monday, March 14.

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Comments

  1. Ellen Sugarman says

    If the BCBA’s concern is parking, perhaps this is an opportunity — given the large parking lot just behind and the several empty store fronts — to get a walkway created between stores that connects Leonard Street with the parking lot.

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