Peabody thinks safety

Transportation projects are rarely “one and done” endeavors with a repaved road, improved transit line or new bridge transforming the community served by the road, subway line or span.

The reality with transportation improvements is they are multi-phased projects costing millions of tax dollars and overlapping years, not weeks or months.

In Peabody, the ongoing effort to make the city’s center safer is entering a new chapter with the City Council reviewing Mayor Edward Bettencourt’s request to spend nearly $175,000 on Central Street safety improvements.

That public spending investment represents just the initial expense involved in an estimated $10 million safety improvement project. City money spent on the Central Street traffic safety design will make Peabody eligible to apply for the millions of state and federal dollars crucial to turning the Central Street project into reality.

As anyone who walks or drives through Peabody knows, making Central Street safer from Walnut Street to Wilson Square is a goal that fits into a much-broader traffic safety plan. Peabody Square is the city’s center and Main Street, a major city thoroughfare, is the beneficiary of safety improvements making the busy street easier to cross for pedestrians and more manageable for drivers.

Like a mechanic attaching spokes to an axle, Bettencourt and city councilors are moving on from Main Street to Central Street with their traffic safety improvement plans. Planning and creating new crosswalks and sidewalks and installing new street lights will mean disruption for drivers, merchants, residents and shoppers in the city’s congested city center.

But traffic safety improvements can be translated directly into economic benefits for an older city like Peabody. The city prospers because of Routes 1 and 114 with their commercial engines humming at high speeds and bringing consumers to the city. But the city core, with its residential neighborhoods grouped around Peabody Square, will grow stagnant and, eventually, become blighted if care is not taken to make Peabody’s center a vibrant and accessible area for Peabody residents and out-of-town visitors.

Updating and improving a century-old, densely-concentrated city center isn’t an endeavor undertaken and executed overnight. Massachusetts mill cities like Peabody bear little, if any, resemblance to Midwestern or Western cities with their grid layouts, spacious commercial zones and miles and miles of open land for easy expansion.

The urban planning die is cast in a city like Peabody and the only options for planners and visionaries intent on improving the city is to upgrade the existing structure. That is why it makes sense for city leaders to obtain public money to modernize Main Street and Peabody Square and that is why it makes perfect sense to extend that process to Central Street.

The Central Street work won’t happen overnight and it will be an inconvenience. But it will also be an investment in Peabody benefiting current residents and future generations.

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