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Town update on next steps: Pilot to share streets among plans discussed

UPDATED, May 16: An estimated 100 people joined Arlington officials as they provide an update to the town’s Covid-19 public-health response, efforts to support local businesses and how reopening might look.

The host for the forum was Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine. It provided an opportunity for participants to ask questions and share concerns.

More than 100 people attended a virtual forum Thursday, May 14, in which town officials updated residents struggling to emerge from the pandemic. These key points emerged among many in an hour and a half of comments:

  • A one-week pilot closing some streets to traffic and opening them to pedestrians and cyclists will be outlined in more detail May 18 to the Select Board.
  • May 19 is now a key date, as Gov. Baker aims to announce how reopening will occur statewide, signaling how Arlington may proceed. Slow going, even halting, progress is expected.
  • Local steps discussed informally could include closing Medford Street or Broadway Plaza to accommodate restaurants or other businesses.
  • Officials have weighed closing the Minuteman Bikeway because of crowded conditions, but are keeping it open for now.-- Parking meters, which have been free during the crisis, are expected to resume taking payments June 1, as officials look into a pay-by-phone option.
  • Efforts to address small-business blues include relaxing sign regulations, establishing standard restaurant seating at safe distances 
  • Of the 268 cases of Covid-19 in town, 100 have been at Sunrise, Park Ave. and Brightview, with testing having occurred for all there, as AFC Urgent Care is offering tests to town residents

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine introduced the forum as an attempt to describe "how we see the next few weeks," as the town's 44,000-or-so residents shift from staying at home to concerns about getting out. He acknowledged that "all have stress" amid widespread economic hardship.

Town Hall seal

Baker is to announce the first of four phases Monday, naming kinds of business that may reopen with restrictions. Progress to the next phase depends on the next three to four weeks of health data.Covid-19 image

Christine Bongiorno, town health director, made clear, as always, that the number of cases in town, which includes 33 deaths as of May 14, is believed to be higher, because of a lack of initial testing.

Jenny Raitt, town planning director, and Alison Carter, economic-development director, described steps aimed at aiding economic recovery. That includes the shared-streets pilot. A slide accompanying the presentation shows Brooks and Herbert in East Arlington.

Raitt made clear the test is fully adaptable and even reversible if it is not working. Town police will be enforcing.

Carter noted business listings, a shop-local bingo effort, and the speeding of permits to allow restaurants to sell groceries

For the last hour of the forum, officials responded to questions. Here is a sample:

When will restaurants open?

Chapdelaine: We are waiting to hear from Baker. "We're in New England .... We have to make the most of time outdoors."

Raitt: We already allow outdoor seating. Looking at other ways to expand that, including more curbside.

Rep. Dave Rogers: Given crowding on the Minuteman, should added measures be taken?

Chapdelaine: "We have been talking about whether to close bikeway ... [but] decided to keep it open" in the light of its use for commuting. As to signs, he said there are "pretty significant signage there now."

Are masks mandatory on the bikeway?

Bongiorno: Baker's order does require them. It's a valid concern, and the town will consider this request.

Should contractors wear masks?

Bongiorno: Baker order calls for them. We have received complaints, and we are working with police.

Can small businesses ask customers to wear masks?

Bongiorno: We follow Baker's order. "I think the majority of public will comply."

Chapdelaine: "It's really hard. We're doing best to protect health of all."

Raitt: Owners can let customers know: "We want you to shop here safely."

When were postcards to request an election ballot mailed?

Chapdelaine: Supposed to be late Wednesday, May 13, or Thursday, May 14. [This actualy occurred May 15.]

Will in-person voters and observers of the voting be required to wear masks?

Chapdelaine: “... Christine, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we are going to strongly urge voters and observers to wear masks, but I’m not sure that we are fully able to require them ....”

Bongiorno: “I believe, under the governor’s order, we will be able to require that.”

How do we report businesses whose employees are not wearing masks?

Bongiorno: Email or call the Board of Health

Could open houses for showing properties reopen?

Bongiorno: We are reevaluating this. Expect a decision "soon."

Is there a plan for testing the Arlington Housing Authority (AHA) residents?

Bongiorno: We have made sure masks are provided and that common areas are sanitized. There is no formal plan yet to test 750 AHA residents.

Is there a timetable to reopen the libraries to check out books?

Chapdelaine: The library and I continue to talk.

Where will cars displaced by a share street be parked?

Raitt: Existing parking will continue. If plan does not work, we will reverse it.

Chapdelaine: We will look at a different street; it's a one-week pilot.

How many businesses in town have serious issues?

Carter: Almost all. People "having a rough time."

Has the pandemic delayed renovation of the senior center, Arlington High School?

Chapdelaine: Both, following stringent construction guidelines from the governor, have slowed some.

Have construction costs been affected?

Chapdelaine: For the senior center, construction bids are in hand and are firm. At AHS, project uses a construction manager at risk. "We are slightly under budget."

Will coronavirus spread slow as days warm?

Bongiorno: "We are not expecting that .... We expect more cases."

Can Broadway Plaza be opened, and the road closed?

Chapdelaine: "This would take careful consideration."

Raitt: Also looking at Medford Street and all business districts.

How is the town's Covid-19 relief fund doing?

Chapdelaine: More than $75,000 contributed to date.

How are town finances faring?

Chapdelaine: In the current fiscal year (2020), we're doing OK. We lost some hotel- and meal-tax revenue. Not expecting state-aid cuts.

Fiscal 2021 will be much different. The state is expecting a $4 billion to $6 billion shortfall, or 25 percent of revenue. There are " a lot of unknowns."

ACMi, May 14 forum >> 
May 14, 2020: Walsh hints at a street makeover for Boston — by taking away space from cars

This news announcement was published Friday, May 8, 2020, and expanded to a news summary Friday, May 15, and updated May 16, to clarify item about masks on Election Day.

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