“Route 6 is horrible,” says Art Autorino, chair of the Eastham Select Board, in a report in this issue by Cam Blair. We’ve probably all had that same thought, while late for an appointment and stuck behind someone going 35 mph in a 45-mph zone, or trying to make a left turn into the Outer Cape Health Pharmacy in Wellfleet, or driving past a ghost bike and remembering a tragic accident.
Autorino was talking about speeding and the difficulty of getting drivers not to do it on the Eastham section of the highway. People who live in towns farther out the sandspit have a tendency to think of Eastham as a stretch of roadway where the police are especially likely to pull you over for going too fast. But Cam’s story this week gave me a different perspective — and an appreciation of the challenge that the town faces with the road.
“We don’t have a left turn into a quaint little town like Wellfleet,” says Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe. I didn’t actually hear Jacqui utter this, so I don’t know exactly how much irony she layered on the word “quaint.” But Wellfleet’s Main Street has its undeniable charms, in spite of that one stubbornly derelict Newsdealer building smack in the center. The character of a town is, to a considerable degree, tied to its center, whatever that is. In Wellfleet, it’s town hall, the churches, Preservation Hall, the public library, and the harbor with its marina, Mayo Beach, restaurants, and vistas. In Provincetown, it’s the remarkable sweep of Commercial Street with its town hall, library, restaurants, shops, galleries, and views of the fabulous harbor, wharves, and fishing fleet, all presided over by the monument. Truro is less centered, but it, too, has its off-the-highway gathering places: Pamet Harbor, the town hall and First Parish Meetinghouse on the hill, North Truro center and Pond Village, Beach Point.
Eastham has many gorgeous hidden corners, but its extruded center is Route 6, which cuts the town in half. Town hall, churches, shops, restaurants, cemeteries, and the Seashore visitor center are stretched out along it. Unlike any of the other town centers, cars speed right through it. It is a drag strip more than a main drag. And that is what Eastham’s planners are trying to change.
It won’t be easy. Route 6 is a state highway, and the town must persuade the Dept. of Transportation to make any structural changes. But the fact that town officials are working on the problem and starting to put pressure on the state is an encouraging sign. Beebe says the goal is to make the traffic on the road “slower and smoother,” and presumably that means safer, too. This is an important development, not just for those who live and work in Eastham, but for all of us on the Outer Cape. We all have a stake in making Route 6 safer, in slowing down and noticing our surroundings, and in strengthening our town centers as hubs of community life.