I don't open Facebook too too often, but seeing yet another post decrying roundabouts, this time about the traffic circle going in at the McCracken/Greenwood intersection, made me want to open that can of worms once more. Plus, if you watched the Planning Board meeting earlier this week, you heard a lot of chatter about a "patio" going in near the municipal lot between Elm and Grove, and I think I get it now.
Local government is hard. This new media project has me paying even closer attention than what I did before, and having watched a majority of the meetings over the last month, well, there's a lot going on.
But what isn't going on? Explanations.
This isn't universal. Ron Stead, for example, will often expound on the "why" the Conservation Commission (disclosure: I'm a member) does what they do, or ask questions as if he himself were watching from home. More often than not, however, a lot of the activity is done with a speed and urgency that doesn't lend itself to that sort of explanation and likely leaves people disappointed.
Take the bumpouts in the center as part of the revitalization project. If you solely went on social media, you'd think they're the worst thing to happen to our roads in decades. In reality? They provide a large number of benefits, ranging from slowing down traffic to providing more pedestrian visibility. But you wouldn't know that from our town officials without some sort of background in engineering or a lucky Google; the fact that I found a two-page explainer on our town website was a fluke rather than intentional.
Why aren't we getting more explanations about the choices made? I understand that there's a certain level of stubbornness when it comes to processing new information (it's not your fault, it's how we're wired), but is that a reason to not make an effort?
So let's talk roundabouts. They're objectively better. They keep traffic moving while also slowing down the cars. They reduce the number of accidents and traffic fatalities. They're very simple, with only two rules in place that anyone should be able to understand. I'm actually somewhat shocked that we didn't turn the town center into one.
Now that information is out there. It's not hard to find. And yet people still think they cause more accidents and are worse for traffic. People would apparently still want to sit in traffic on Elmwood Street every school day as opposed to spend 10 seconds in the traffic circles. Makes no sense.
So imagine my frustration with hearing person after person at the Planning Board talk about this "patio" going in behind Whitney Insurance. Let's put aside, for the moment, the concerns about having to walk a little further to the laundromat. Let's also put aside the misunderstanding of what private-public partnerships entail. Instead, let's stick to the basics.
1) Walkability is a major feature of most revitalization efforts. The goal of making a "walkable" town center where people can live, work, and engage in recreational activities is the new normal.
2) Stormwater mitigation and runoff, along with the benefits of natural filtration, is not only good for the environment, but is required of these projects. Put more directly, if the revitalization doesn't improve the situation, it's not happening.
3) Green spaces are good for us. I don't mean it as a health issue, although that's true. I don't mean it as an environmental one, either, although that's also true. I do mean it, however, as a "good for everyone" opportunity. A town with lots of open space and free places to congregate is a place people want to live.
(And yes, I know many of you don't want people to move here. That's a different problem for a different day.)
In short? We can't opt out of those things, and having a concrete divider large enough to perhaps eat lunch at is a net benefit for all parties involved. But you'd never know it unless you dug really deep into the topic, and that's just not feasable for a lot of us.
What's the solution? Maybe our meetings need to be a little longer to get these explainers out. Maybe the town needs to do more to get the word out about the science and engineering behind many of the choices. Maybe we have to call a spade a spade and not be afraid to tell people, when they put ideas out there like a roundabout being unsafe or that we should halt an in-progress project, that they're wrong.
There are plenty of options out there if we start asking for them. At the very least, it might make us stop going around in circles.