Natick’s New Sidewalks Look Suspiciously Like A Road Widening

School Street in Natick, showing a car parked on the town's new asphalt sidewalk.
Look closely: can you spot the sidewalks in this photo? Hint: the car is parked on top of one. Courtesy of Helen Schussler.

A repaving project that affected several narrow residential streets in downtown Natick is causing some headaches for residents, because motor vehicle owners are mistaking the project’s new asphalt sidewalks as new on-street parking areas.

“People are parking right in the sidewalk literally at the foot of my front steps, and we can’t get out (of our house),” says Helen Schussler, a resident of Church Street, one of the streets that was repaved. “I’ve been able to talk with people when it happens, and they’re always very apologetic and they move, but I can’t continually stand guard.”

The paving project affected several residential streets in the blocks south and east of Natick’s town common, a neighborhood that’s within walking distance of Natick Center’s Main Street, the regional rail station, a hospital, and several schools.

Before the project, many of the sidewalks on the affected streets were in poor condition, and some blocks were missing sidewalks altogether.

A 2013 Google Street View photo from 2013 shows the previous concrete sidewalk and curbs on Church Street. Courtesy of Google.
A 2013 Google Street View photo shows the previous concrete sidewalk and curbs on Church Street. Courtesy of Google.

But now that both the streets and sidewalks have been re-paved in the same asphalt materials, with a a very subtle asphalt curb dividing the two, it’s difficult to see where the sidewalks are anymore. Here’s the new look for the same block that’s pictured above:

A photograph of Church Street in Natick after a recent repaving project. Both the sidewalks and the street were resurfaced in asphalt, making it extremely difficult to distinguish where the sidewalk is.
Church Street in Natick, shown after a repaving project buried the sidewalks under a fresh layer of asphalt. Courtesy of Helen Schussler.

“Fortunately, no existing sidewalks were removed by the project. In fact, additional public sidewalks were added as part of the project,” explained Jeremy Marsette, Natick’s Director of Public Works, in an email to StreetsblogMASS. “The existing condition for the neighborhood had roadways and sidewalks of varying width and of varying materials. The project helped make roadway widths and sidewalk widths consistent and compliant. The sidewalks were reconstructed using bituminous asphalt, separated from the roadway by asphalt berms.”

A photograph of Garfield Street in Natick after a recent repaving project. Both the sidewalks and the street were resurfaced in asphalt, making it extremely difficult to distinguish where the sidewalk is.
Garfield Street in Natick after a recent repaving project. Both the sidewalks and the street were resurfaced in asphalt, making it extremely difficult to distinguish where the sidewalk is. Courtesy of Helen Schussler.

But according to Schussler, many drivers are just assuming that the asphalt sidewalks are new place for them to park their cars.

“We’re pretty central; we’re close to the commuter rail, the farmers market, and Main Street,” says Schussler. “So lots of people want to park here. We just have to navigate around the parked cars and walk in the middle of the street. A wheelchair would not be able to use these sidewalks. We have a neighbor who uses a wheelchair and he just goes right down the middle of the street.”

According to Natick’s traffic ordinances, on-street parking is allowed only on the east side of Church Street on its southern block, and is prohibited altogether on the block adjacent to the Town Hall. But the streets in the neighborhood have few signs that explain those regulations.

Schussler says that, in the absence of parking enforcement, some residents are doing what they can to take matters into their own hands.

“People don’t want cars parking on their sidewalk, so a few of my neighbors are putting out orange traffic cones to keep people from blocking their front doors,” said Schussler. “You’ll see them throughout the area.”

 

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