The 2015 Westford Special Town Meeting took just under two hours, and more than half of that time was dedicated to the topic of sidewalks on Main Street. The final result? “No.”
Although it was not unanimous, Town Meeting voters decided not to approve a petitioned warrant article that would instruct the Selectmen toward five foot wide asphalt sidewalks on Main Street.
The petition was championed by Jennifer Williams, an activist for handicapped accessibility. She was the first of nine residents speaking in favor of the petition, with other supporters primarily discussing the need for a more walkable community and safety.
A recent survey completed by the Pedestrian Safety Committee indicated that Main Street was the third highest priority when it came to a new sidewalk.
Marian McCurley was the last of those nine residents and she shared the story of how she lost her daughter to a car crash while she was walking near the Jack Walsh Field.
The Pedestrian Safety Committee was created soon afterward, but she told Town Meeting that not enough has yet been done to address the issue of safety, particularly when it comes to sidewalks.
“What I see once again is this town failing to take the safety of their children into account,” she said.
McCurley told Town Meeting that a sidewalk needed to be built, if only to create momentum. However, Bruce Doran of Leland Road challenged this assertion, citing that 25 of 27 abutters to the proposed sidewalk project opposed the concept of sidewalks.
Dorn also wondered why greater efforts couldn’t be made to place sidewalks near schools, such as the Robinson School sidewalk proposal that was defeated earlier this year.
“I don’t understand the thinking of ‘as long as we can get some sidewalks anywhere, that’s progress,” he said. “Why don’t we just take this money and put (a sidewalk) where people want it and need it?”
Doran did support a sidewalk along Leland Road, a street near the project with less traffic that was designated as a scenic road by the town in 2006.
Several other opponents also supported a sidewalk along Leland Road and several other opponents also questioned if this money could not be better spent elsewhere in town.
A total of 12 residents spoke in opposition, joining the Selectmen’s 3-1-0 vote not to recommend the petition.
Opponents also cited the slope of the street, environmental concerns, and the geographic dispersal of the sidewalk supporters in other parts of town where they would not be impacted by the sidewalks.
Additionally there were also concerns about the methodology of the survey, which was rated as a low priority among sidewalks in earlier master plans and strategic planning session.
An amendment to pursue other options for sidewalks failed, although Town Engineer Paul Starratt indicated that no decision had yet been given by the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board over two variances that could allow the Selectmen to pursue sidewalks with less invasive materials such as turf or crushed rock.
Without a decision from that board, sidewalks along the street appear unlikely in the near future, as well as the foreseeable future, as Starratt told Town Meeting that sidewalks would cost considerably more if not done in conjunction with scheduled water main and road repairs coming in 2016.
The current deadline to move forward with a finalized plan for that construction project is Tuesday.
CORRECTION: Those opposing sidewalks on Main Street did not explicitly endorse sidewalks on Leland Road but did endorse that Leland Road was better suited for pedestrian use than Main Street.
Also, Bruce Doran and Paul Starratt’s names were incorrectly spelled initially.