The state Department of Transportation has awarded more than $6 million in new grants to support local transportation projects aimed at improving safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit riders in 18 communities.
In Medford, where city leaders secured a $400,000 grant to improve the intersection in Haines Square, city engineer Tim McGivern said officials are focused on road projects that serve pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as vehicles.
“I think people are realizing ... that their public spaces could be created better,” McGivern said. “Folks are choosing their feet more often, especially if they are doing local trips closer to home.”
With the rise of remote work due to the pandemic, the “Complete Streets” grants come as local leaders design better ways for people walking, biking, or taking transit to get around their communities.
Norwell is working to position itself as more of its residents work remotely — and take advantage of local businesses and amenities, according to Peter Morin, the town administrator.
The town secured a nearly $200,000 grant to help add sidewalks and other improvements to a stretch of Route 123, which is part of a larger effort to improve pedestrian access along the town’s Main Street, he said.
“Now that folks are working from home, they’re going to recreate closer to home, as well,” Morin said. “On Main Street, there are more pedestrians than there were several years ago, and there is more activity through the course of the day. You see the revival coming.”
In its statement announcing the grants last month, MassDOT said a “complete street” is a roadway that enables safe, convenient, and comfortable travel for all users regardless of their mode of transportation. The grants administered by the state have distributed more than $61 million to cities and towns since 2016.
“People who want to travel around cities or towns need safe transportation infrastructure and adding a crosswalk, widening a sidewalk or installing a bicycle lane, are some of the ways that communities can make it safer and more efficient for people,” Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said in the statement.
In Medford, the work in Haines Square is expected to include new curb extensions, sidewalks, crosswalks, and other improvements at the intersection where Salem and Spring streets meet, McGivern said, and address residents’ concerns over the area’s current layout.
Haines Square is a large intersection with a long crosswalk across Spring Street, and crossings across Salem Street that begin in the road’s parking lane, McGivern said.
The layout can be unclear for drivers, particularly when they approach from Spring Street. Officials also hope to address concerns regarding a parking lot at the corner of Spring and Salem streets, where it can be confusing whether a vehicle is in the lot or in the roadway.
“It will make it more attractive to someone who lives in that neighborhood, and wants to choose between their car, their bike, or walk,” McGivern said. “This project will help them make the decision to walk or ride their bike.”
In Norwell, the grant will go toward the installation of about 1,900 feet of sidewalk along the north side of Route 123 between Paradise Drive and Lincoln Street, along with new crosswalks in that area, the state said.
Route 123 passes through the town’s core and past public open space, businesses, near schools, and recreation areas, Morin said. The roadway was built decades ago without sidewalks, and the recent grant is part of a years-long effort to improve access along several miles of the street, according to Morin.
The project also acts as a catalyst to allow people to safely walk to the town center and use those businesses, including restaurants, a general store, and a coffee shop, he said. There is also publicly owned open space available in the area — and the project will make accessing it easier and safer, he said.
“It’s a pedestrian safety measure, it’s going to provide an economic boost, and it will also link up to other recreational opportunities, as well,” Morin said. “This is a huge win.”
Natick received about $336,000 to implement pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements near the town’s high school along the roadway known as both West Street and Campus Drive, according to the state.
Jamie Errickson, Natick’s acting town administrator, said the community has worked for years to improve pedestrian and bicycle access throughout town. The schools are priority locations for these upgrades along with the town center, MBTA Commuter Rail stations, major roadways, and shopping areas, he said.
The northern end of the West Street-Campus Drive roadway connects with Pond Street, which was restriped for new bicycle lanes a few years ago. To the south, West Street-Campus Drive connects with South Main Street, where the town is installing new bicycle and pedestrian access from Natick Center to the Sherborn line.
“We are filling in the gap between Pond Street and South Main Street, but in a very heavily utilized corridor when it comes to pedestrians and cyclists,” Errickson said.
Natick has been working to improve access to parks and open space, he said, citing West Street-Campus Drive as an example. It connects to some of the town’s playing fields, as well as a beach on a pond near the high school, according to Errickson.
“People who are home more during the day ... because they are doing a hybrid schedule are looking more for those amenities,” Errickson said. “The more that we can accommodate access from multiple transportation modes, the better off the community is, in my opinion.”
East Bridgewater received about $372,000 for the installation of new sidewalks, bicycle racks, flashing beacons, tactile warning panels for the visually impaired, and speed feedback signs at various locations in the town, according to the state.
John Haines, East Bridgewater’s director of public works, said part of that grant will help an ongoing upgrade project along Route 106, which stretches more than a mile between the town common and a local YMCA. It’s a significant project because it connects several community features such as local businesses and public buildings, he said.
“From a walkability standpoint, this completes it along that corridor,” he said.
Officials in East Bridgewater have been discussing how future projects could be built to make it easier for more residents to connect with town restaurants and amenities, particularly if more people work from home.
“Before, you worked in the city, and you went out at lunch [in] the city. Now, you’re working at home,” Haines said. “You’ll utilize the opportunities in your own community.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.