EASTHAM — The redevelopment of Town Center Plaza offers an exciting opportunity to create a new destination and a more pedestrian-friendly community, but pedestrian access to Eastham’s commercial district needs improvement now, not later.
The disconnected strip malls along Eastham’s Route 6 business corridor create serious dangers for pedestrians and cyclists, who often dash across four lanes of traffic. For some, the result is tragic — like the man from upstate New York who died in 2015. Route 6 has a sidewalk only along its western side, and the Rail Trail doesn’t link up with all the shopping plazas along the east side. Try getting from Emerald Grove to Basco Grill without a car, and you might end up as roadkill.
The safest place to cross Route 6 is at traffic lights — which Eastham’s business district is short on. But even if the crossings themselves are safe, getting to the light needs to be safer. Brackett Road has a sidewalk, but pedestrians and cyclists who approach Route 6 on Old County Road are forced into the street. The same is true for Nauset Road. Meanwhile, the narrow sidewalk along the west side of Route 6 is overgrown with tick-filled weeds and low-hanging tree branches in many spots.
These problems are just as evident at the Flex Bus station next to Cumberland Farms. Without a sidewalk on Route 6 eastbound, bus riders have no way of getting to the bus stop without walking through parking lots where cars frequently make quick turns on or off the highway. Surely, bus riders could benefit from a sidewalk extending from the traffic signal.
These access problems are exacerbated by the hodgepodge of privately controlled parking lots. ACE Hardware probably benefited from the added space created when the parking lot connecting to the Fairway bakery was closed last year. But now, those who need to buy both doughnuts and weed killer have to get in their cars, adding to the traffic congestion that puts pedestrians at risk.
There are some things Eastham can do now, even before redeveloping the commercial district. First, make sure the existing infrastructure is functional. Keep the sidewalk clear of overgrown brambles. Paint a crosswalk at Oak Street and other major intersections where pedestrians intersect traffic.
Second, provide better access to the existing safe crossings. For instance, Old County Road needs space for pedestrians to get to the traffic light, and so do other arteries like Massasoit and Old Orchard roads. Not all roads need curb-separated sidewalks, but pedestrians do need space on the shared road. Both in season and out of season, cars travel too fast on many of these roads.
Third, improvements to the state highway are needed, and changes to a state road will take time for approval. Adding a median to the center of the roadway in the densest area of the business district would create a safe zone for pedestrians who don’t have the benefit of a traffic light. We can say that people shouldn’t cross the highway midblock, but the reality is that people will. Additionally, a physical barrier would prevent cars from making dangerous left turns that frequently lead to rear-end accidents in the most congested stretch of roadway. Adding additional signals with crosswalks would improve pedestrian safety, too, and, synchronized with existing lights, the effect on traffic would be minimal.
Redeveloping Eastham’s commercial district to be more pedestrian-friendly is a great idea, especially as the effects of climate change grow increasingly, glaringly obvious. Making the community safer for pedestrians and bicyclists is one great way to encourage people to get out of their cars. The added safety doesn’t need to wait for a new downtown, either.
Ian MacAllen is a writer and book critic who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Eastham.