Some Peabody City Council members left a regular meeting disappointed on Thursday night after a majority voted 7 to 4 not to reconsider reducing the size of the controversial pedestrian bumpout on Main Street.
The bumpout, which is located in front of Pat's Discount store and Peabody Vacuum, was part of the long-planned Main Street Corridor Realignment Project approved in 2011. It extends the length of the sidewalk to decrease traffic lanes from four to two, slowing traffic and making it easier for pedestrians to cross.
The $1.5 million state-funded Main Street project entailed removing two parking spaces to make room for the bumpout, revamping sidewalks and crosswalks and making the roads more pedestrian friendly with new medians.
"Eliminating two parking spots was discussed and hashed over in the design phase over multiple years," said Councilor at Large Dave Gravel, who proposed the reconsideration at Thursday's meeting. "It was no surprise that we were going to lose some parking spaces in the interest of safety and many of the business owners downtown have been impacted by lost spaces, but they gave them up for the better of the hull with the idea that it would be safer."
Prior to the Main Street project's 2011 approval, traffic and safety consultant firm, Green International Affiliates, Inc. of Westford, conducted a three-year study to make recommendations for Main Street improvements.
After the 56-foot bumpout was installed several weeks ago, business owners on Main Street complained to Mayor Edward Bettencourt about losing revenue because of the lack of parking available for patrons.
Bettencourt then submitted a letter to the City Council to amend the city's Design and Traffic Control Agreement, which would restore the two parking spaces. In order to do so, the mayor would need to request the change with the Department of Transportation.
The mayor was unavailable for comment.
At an April 25 City Council meeting, members voted 6 to 4 in favor of restoring the spots, but on Thursday night, Gravel presented a motion to reconsider Bettencourt's request.
"We may have put the cart before the horse on this one," said Councilor at Large Anne Manning-Martin. "It was all according to plan, which the state approved and it came with state funding. I'm disappointed that [City Council] members didn't feel that the subject was worthy of consideration to discuss the merit, but that's their vote and they're entitled to it."
Manning-Martin said a woman was struck and killed on Main Street the very day that the project was approved in 2011. The city councilor was also in a car accident in the same location, leaving the front of her car with extensive damage.
Although the bumpout was meant to improve pedestrian safety, it has infuriated businesses in the area.
Vince Michaels, owner of Pat's Discount, said that he has lost quite a bit of money because there is insufficient parking for his patrons.
Michaels added he has a petition with over 200 signatures to get rid of the bumpout and restore the parking spots.
"In today's society retail has been in a recession since 2008," Michaels said. "I'm hanging on by a shoestring right now. If they take away the parking from us the shoestring with blow away. It's a very disadvantageous situation for small businesses. I need these two spaces. Everyone on this block needs these two spaces."
Chris Chmiel, owner of Peabody Vacuum Center, said that he has elderly customers who can't carry a vacuum for a quarter of a mile from the nearest parking lot to get to his store.
"I've witnessed some customers pull out front and double park to come into the store to either purchase an item or drop a machine off," Chmiel said. "By doing that you're parking in the middle of the street and blocking traffic which now becomes a safety hazard."
Despite frustration with the issue, Chmiel said he's pleased with the possibility of getting two parking spots back.
The city must now wait and see whether the Department of Transportation approves Bettencourt's request to reduce the size of the bumpout.
"What will be will be i just hope they get it approved by the state as soon as possible," Gravel said. "Let's just finish the project and get it done the best way we can."