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Thoughts on the Nobscot Plaza Proposed Development

I am unable to attend the Oct. 30 public hearing on the Centercorp Major Site Plan review for the Nobscot plaza development, but sent this written comment to the Framingham Planning Board:

We have a once-in-a-generation chance to re-shape the entire character of a key neighborhood business district and how it fits in with the surrounding community. I’m sure many others will discuss critical points surrounding vehicular traffic. However, I’d like to focus on another, related issue: the possibility to craft a Nobscot streetscape that encourages people to walk and bicycle.

Ideally, this development will draw people on foot (and two wheels) from nearby houses and apartments. It will entice library patrons to stroll to those stores – and vice versa. So, even if people drive and park, they will want to walk around the area.

However, this will only happen if we follow best practices in making walking and cycling not merely theoretically possible, but compelling.

  • Sidewalks must be wide enough. National Association of City Transportation Officials guidelines say that the walking through-way zone – excluding street furniture, areas immediately adjacent to the buildings, and landscaping and other buffers – should be 8 to 12 feet wide in “downtown or commercial areas.” This is a problem in Saxonville, where narrow sidewalks can make walking through the business district difficult or unappealing. We should learn from that.

    If possible, sidewalks should be wide enough for at least minimal outdoor seating of a couple of chairs and tables for a coffee or ice cream shop.

  • There must be an adequate buffer between the sidewalk and traffic. Buffers are particularly important in a commercial or retail setting when there is not on-street parking, because most pedestrians are not comfortable walking too close to cars driving by at 30 or 40 mph. This is also a problem on Concord Street in Saxonville.

    “Where a sidewalk is directly adjacent to moving traffic, the desired minimum is 8 feet, providing a minimum 2-foot buffer for street furniture and utilities,” according to the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide for sidewalks.

    “Sidewalk design should go beyond the bare minimums in both width and amenities. Pedestrians and businesses thrive where sidewalks have been designed at an appropriate scale, with sufficient lighting, shade, and street-level activity. These considerations are especially important for streets with higher traffic speeds and volumes, where pedestrians may otherwise feel unsafe and avoid walking.”

    From the Centercorp Retail Properties project application on the Framingham Planning Board website

  • The artist’s rendition for the project on the Planning Board website (above) shows benches at the edge of the sidewalk facing the street. That’s puzzling. The only reason to have people sitting with their backs to the stores and pedestrians, looking at passing traffic, is at a bus stop or other pick-up and drop-off point. Otherwise, benches should be facing the sidewalk, so those who are walking and those who are seated are part of the same vibrant sidewalk activity.

  • Care must be taken how the driveway in and out of rear parking areas affects pedestrians walking on the sidewalk. Design must make it clear that vehicles are sharing space with pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Water Street bicycle lanes should continue until the beginning of the project retail area. Ending the separate bicycle lanes and expecting bicycles to share the same physical space as car and truck traffic will discourage all but the most experienced and dedicated cyclists.

  • Bicycle-lane planning must be considered in any traffic-flow updates on Edgell Road and Edmands Road.

  • Bicycle parking must be considered along with parking for motorized vehicles. Bike racks or other secure parking for cyclists is essential.

  • When considering traffic flow and space for delivery vehicles, we need to think about package delivery to residents of the apartments (or condos) during daytime hours, not only retail deliveries that can be scheduled off peak. Package deliveries from online shopping are soaring, and this is having a major impact in areas with limited parking. You can see more about the chaos that consumer package delivery is bringing to limited parking areas in the recent NY Times story, The Internet Brings Chaos to N.Y. Streets. The issue affects many other areas with dense populations and limited street parking.

  • I know there is a limit to how much influence the city has over what types of tenants will fill the ground floor. However, I’d encourage officials to do whatever you can to encourage a coherent streetscape strategy for the two retail sections. Is one section meant for strolling and window shopping – perhaps the Water Street side next to the library to encourage foot traffic between the library and businesses? Then it would be best to have businesses that appeal to people who are strolling and window-shopping in that section, such as retail stores and cafes as opposed to insurance offices and medical labs, which perhaps could be a separate concentration on the Edgell Road side.