The Yankee Doodle Bike Path is part of the city’s common design

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BILLERICA – A reinvented joint city project that includes a long-awaited extension of the Yankee Doodle Bike Pathadopted unanimously on Monday evening Select the board meeting (pages 11 to 30). The conceptual design physically connects the island-like green space to the landscape on the southwest side of the city. The proposed campus-like open space will include the Municipal Public Library Buildings, Masonic Building and Senior Center.

The Town Common currently sits between O’Connor Square on the northeast side and the town’s municipal buildings on the southwest side, and is bounded on all four sides by heavily trafficked roads. The whole space is called the city center.

Conversations around the project have been delayed for the past two years due to the pandemic, City Manager John Curran said, but the project was put on Monday’s agenda at the request of Council Chairman Andrew Deslaurier.

“Just before COVID started,” Curran said, “we got a technical assistance grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development, which allowed us to hire the engineering company Stantec, to do a peer review of our original 2012 plan. We were going to present this at the March 2020 meeting, which was canceled due to the pandemic. It was put aside while we tried to manage this.

This delay may have been frustrating, but also proved fortuitous as Curran said business owners who were initially undecided about the 2019 design were won over by recent changes to the plan by Stantec and BETA Group, an engineering consulting firm based in Norwood.

He said merchants were also reassured by the city’s ability to complete large-scale projects such as the Howe School renovations and the ongoing construction of the Peggy Hannon-Rizza Recreation Complex.

“O’Connor Plaza merchants like Liberty Bell and Mangia Mangia have been impressed with the city’s handling of the Billerica Mall project,” Curran said. “Roads have never been closed and we have worked closely with every trader to ensure their public services are never closed. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that we are protecting the welfare of businesses.

Jason Schreiber, Certified Planner and Senior Director of Stantec Urban Placeswho prepared the revised scheme with the BETA group, presented to the board of directors the main objectives of the joint city project as being the improvement of the visibility and accessibility of businesses, the safety of pedestrians and cyclists and increasing open spaces.

An additional 40 feet of green space will be added to the city’s open space footprint, achieved through the closure of Concord Road, which runs past the public library. Boston Road would become a two-way flow of traffic compared to the one-way loop around the common in place now.

“The existing conditions are very problematic, the most notable thing being the accident rate,” Schreiber said. “It’s not something that should be happening in a downtown area. Traffic is inefficient. There are five signalized intersections that have big delays, especially the intersection of Boston and Andover roads with Extremely long queues at all peak hours This plan would eliminate the confusion that exists today.

More importantly, Schreiber said pedestrian and cyclist safety is severely compromised by the existing road design. In 2014, when driver error was the leading cause of a downtown pedestrian crash that injured two 15-year-old girls, the victims were rammed into a lane that was reportedly removed in a plan of 2014, according to the investigation of the gendarmerie.

At the time, current Select Board member Kim Conway called the crossing in the city center “like this ‘Frogger’ game.”

Curran still agrees with this statement, saying that “You take your life into your own hands to get to the Common or the Center”

Resident George Simolaris spoke at the open microphone portion of the meeting and expressed his continued opposition to the downtown changes. He was instrumental in calling a special election in 2012, which rejected the plan which had previously been approved by the regular town assembly to improve the township alongside the improvements to the centre. He held up a homemade sign at the televised meeting that read: ‘Save the center again’, saying he hoped people would come out and fight against this plan.

In contrast, another resident explained how his driving-age son is intimidated by the ad hoc roundabout design of one-way streets with multiple turning lanes, confusing signage and short exits and entrances.

“I’m for the new project,” he said. “Teaching my son how to drive, he’s scared of that area.”

Darshan Jhaveri, BETA Group Engineer and Billerica Resident, said listening to all sides of the project would help make it a better plan, with the main goal of increasing connectivity without compromising safety and efficiency, while making the whole project more accessible to everyone. who use the area around the common town.

“The Yankee Doodle bike path that comes from high school is going to connect to Good Street,” Jhaveri said. “It will take cyclists off the road into a buffer zone that will bring them to the center.”

Deslaurier supported this goal, saying that “pedestrians are not safe at these crosswalks because they are not natural stops for traffic. This plan departs from that. This is to increase the practicability of the Common compared to the driving ability of the Common. He voted for the concept plan.

Board member Michael Riley agrees with Deslaurier. “We have to give people a reason to come to the city center and in common. Give them a reason to cycle and walk, and reduce some of the car congestion.

Curran said the vote allows the city to begin the process of presenting the concept plan to the public for comment. The city’s ability to manage and communicate the large-scale Town Common project will be important as it moves from concept to design.

“We’re going to have an open and completely transparent engagement process,” Curran said. “The city will post all of this on the website so people are properly informed of exactly what is going on.”

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