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After more than 25 years, it's time for an update; that's what Article 50 has already begun to do

When a real estate developer wants to build a large subdivision in town, they have to read Chapter 258  Article V: Design Standards. That's where, over a quarter of a century ago, the community put forth its goals and desires. “All subdivisions shall adhere to the principles of compatible land use, sound planning, and good engineering,” we wrote. Developers must concern themselves with, among other things, the proper design for streets.


That's where Article 50 comes in. It tells developers that Marblehead wants them to put pedestrians in the same (ahem) footing as motor vehicles. Before I can tell you more about what Article 50 does, I have to I need to tell everyone what Article 50 does not do. Article 50 has nothing whatsoever to do with building codes. Article 50 has absolutely nothing to do with zoning laws. Article 50 imposes no  burdens on town departments and will cost the town no money. As Town Planner Becky Curran explained to me, developers do all of this work; it is their money. Designs are sent out to be peer reviewed by consultants. After more than 25 years, it's time for an update; that's what Article 50 has already begun to do.


I grew up on Two Farm Drive in the Hilltop subdivision of what was then an outer ring automobile suburb of Washington, D.C. The builder offered two models in 1971. Ours was the square one. There were no sidewalks, but there wasn't much traffic. So we played four square and hockey in the middle of the road. “Car!” we kids would yell when a driver approached.


I wanted the same for my kids, which is why when we moved to Marblehead fifteen years ago, we bought into a subdivision from the same era. Our cul-de-sac of big, open plan Brady-Bunch houses epitomizes the American Dream in 1968, when its streets were laid out. The massive garages were built for cars like my 19-foot-long 1966 Buick convertible, and the split levels sprawl across wide lots.


Our kids have outgrown street games, but I notice the young kids in the neighborhood play anywhere even close to the streets, they are guarded by a phalanx of parents and those plastic neon “kid alert” safety guys, you know, the ones with the red caps holding the flags.


Young people are one side of the coin; we old people are the other. Nearly 20 percent of Americans have a disability; ambulatory, cognitive, and visual abilities decline with age. Marblehead's population demographic is aging rapidly.


The question is, does Marblehead want developers to design streets in the same way they did 1968, or 1971, or 26 years ago during our last visioning exercise? Article 50 says, no, we want streets that reflect our values. It updates Chapter 258, Article 5, Section 17: “Streets” by adding that we not only want developers to look at the AASHTO guide, “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets,” we also want them to read the AASHTO “Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities.” (AASHTO is the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.)


The latter is more up to date and supplements the former with design ideas and research findings. Neither guide contains requirements, only recommendations and guidance. Legislative requirements fall under such laws as the Americans with Disabilities Act; standards fall under such Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.


As I said, Article 50 has already begun to achieve its real purpose: begin an urgent conversation about street design goals for the new housing developments that state regulations – and financial imperatives – will encourage (or force) us to build. On April 11th, the Planning Board learned that Marblehead Staff Engineer Maggie Wheeler has “ordered a copy of the pedestrian guide.” At that same meeting, a board member expressed strong support for and interest in going further by updating our subdivision bylaws more fully and comprehensively.


Despite their support for updating our subdivision goals, the board members also felt that they hadn't had time to evaluate Article 50. They voted, therefore, to recommend what is called “indefinite postponement” at Town Meeting. That's not a terrible idea. It will give Maggie Wheeler time to read the “Pedestrian Guide” and time to dispel misplaced fears. If someone at Town Meeting makes a motion to indefinitely postpone, I plan to vote in favor of that motion.


Nevertheless, I myself will move the article forward, “to amend the Town bylaws Chapter 258, Article V, Section 17 by inserting, “and (AASHTO) publication“Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities (latest edition)” after “(AASHTO) publication, “A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets” (latest edition).”


Planning Committee Chairman Robert Schaffner, despite his reservations, firmly stated his support for letting the voters speak. We can indefinitely postpone Article 50 without harm. We cannot, however, indefinitely postpone the conversation about how we're going to make Marblehead safer and more accommodating to pedestrians of all ages and abilities.


Dan Albert

Leicester Road