Natick Public Works employees install the first phase of a traffic calming trial in the town center on Sept. 25 after receiving a $25,000 Shared Streets grant. (Photo courtesy Joshua Ostroff)

Cities and towns across the Commonwealth are continuing to benefit from grants awarded through the Baker-Polito administration’s Shared Streets and Spaces emergency grant program.

The program, which was launched on June 10 and is administered through the Department of Transportation, provides technical and funding assistance to help Massachusetts cities and towns conceive, design and implement changes to curbs, streets, on-street parking spaces, and off-street parking lots in support of public health, safe mobility and renewed commerce. The grants have played a role in local efforts to help local businesses expand outdoor spaces and weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Oct. 6, MassDOT announced the final round of funding for the program, in the amount of $1.2 million. With the final awards, the program totalled $10.2 million in grants to fund 124 projects in 103 municipalities across the Commonwealth, of which 60% are designated Environmental Justice communities.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack visited Essex Street in Salem, one of the award recipients, to announce the final round of funding.

Their visit highlighted two projects the city completed with funding it received in earlier rounds of the program: expanded sidewalks and safety measures on Essex Street, and a shared streets and safe routes to school project including new protected bicycle lanes and signage.

Pollack said the program has had “an overwhelming response” from cities and towns, “and has really stretched our thinking about how all of us can work together to make our streets, sidewalks and parking areas serve as many diverse purposes as possible for as many different kinds of needs as possible.”

Putting it to work
The city of Gardner received $48,000 to create outdoor dining spaces and waiting areas for downtown restaurants, barbers and salons, which have diminished service capacity under the COVID-19 state of emergency.

In a prepared statement, Community Development Director Trevor Beauregard said, “Our hope is the additional outdoor seating will assist the restaurants and other businesses in our downtown with expanding their capacity this fall and throughout next year.”

Mayor Michael Nicholson emphasized the economic development potential of Shared Streets grants.

“This funding will not only help us in the immediate future as we deal with the current pandemic, but can also help us start to grow our outdoor opportunities in our downtown area and allow us to see how we can expand on programs like this in the future to bring people into our downtown.”

The town of Billerica received two Shared Streets grants. The first was for $7,000 to purchase tents for use by local restaurants, free of charge, to expand outdoor seating. After the outdoor dining season concludes, the tents will be used by the Recreation Department and Council on Aging.

Billerica’s other grant, for $20,000, is being used to upgrade signage and crosswalks around Billerica schools.

“Working collaboratively, the School Department and Highway Department identified areas where repainting existing crosswalks and purchasing new signs would make it easier for children to get to school,” said Billerica Community Development Director Rob Anderson.

Natick’s $25,000 Shared Streets grant is being used to conduct a traffic calming trial in Natick Center. Feedback and results from the trial will help inform future designs for Natick Center streets.

The benefits envisioned by the test include shorter crossing distances, improved sight lines, and safer vehicle movements, according to former Natick Select Board Member and former MMA President Josh Ostroff.

Applications for the Shared Streets and Spaces program were accepted on a rolling basis from June 10 through Sept. 22, with projects to be mostly or completely implemented by Oct. 9.

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