The Falmouth Select Board on Monday, June 1, voted to close a portion of Main Street, giving restaurants additional space for outdoor dining when they are allowed to reopen.
The day for reopening is this Monday, June 8.
“We have a lot of moving parts, but we are trying to get some relief out to all of these businesses, who are such an important part of our community,” chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said.
The select board voted unanimously to close Main Street to vehicular traffic between Shore Street and Walker Street. Though some details need to be worked out, the board’s intention is to have the road closed when restaurants are allowed to reopen during phase 2 of Governor Charles D. Baker Jr.’s reopening plan.
While phase 2 of the plan allows restaurants to reopen, businesses will initially be limited to outdoor dining.
“If you look at many of our restaurants in town, the availability for outdoor dining is limited,” Ms. English Braga said, and closing a portion of Main Street gives a number of restaurants the opportunity to provide outdoor seating in a socially distant fashion.
“There is no perfect solution,” she said. “Every business sort of has a different focus, a different pressure point, but what we talked about at length is whether or not there is any way that the town can support restaurants in particular that have these restrictions in particular as we go forward.”
The board on Monday night discussed three potential options: closing a portion of Academy and Library lanes, closing the south side of Main Street between Library Lane and the Shore Street extension, and fully closing a portion of Main Street.
“I think, being a town where people come and spend dollars, whether it is folks like us who live here and want to go out to dinner, or if it is visitors for the day or the week, our Main Street is definitely a big draw,” Ms. English Braga said. “My personal feeling is we could do something really bold and exciting, and if it only lasts a month, it gets maybe that excitement for trying to eke something out of this very challenging summer.”
Falmouth Chamber of Commerce president Michael Kasparian said outdoor space will be necessary to do that.
“I think the situation is dire, I really do,” Mr. Kasparian said. “I think both our retail businesses as well as our restaurants are in incredibly difficult situations. The restaurants, we had been awaiting word from the governor, and now we found out it is just going to be relegated to outdoor seating. That really complicates things. We have to find as much room as possible for our restaurants to make the most out of this season.”
He said several options could work, including making a portion of Main Street one-way. Fire Chief Michael F. Small said it would present challenges from a public safety standpoint. In addition to creating a lane shift that introduces traffic conflicts, it would impede the ability of the fire department to respond in case of emergency.
Chief Small recommended a full closure, with the caveat that a 16-feet-wide unobstructed lane be left open in the middle of Main Street for emergency vehicles.
“We would avoid Main Street anyway, but if we need to get down Main Street for an emergency, we would be able to do so,” he said.
Though he was not in attendance, Ms. English Braga said Police Chief Edward A. Dunne agreed with fully closing a portion of Main Street rather than closing a single lane.
“He said he views lane shifts as inherently problematic, because you have people with wayfinding and things that haven’t been updated, visitors who are trying to turn down ways they shouldn’t be turning or trying to back up in one lane,” she said. “He felt that lane shifts were a recipe for some difficulties, and from the view of the police department, a bigger-chunked closure, like what [Chief Small] was just describing, would be preferable in his point of view for public safety.”
Noting that June is typically slower than July and August, Selectman Douglas H. Jones said now is the time to try a full road closure to see if it works. He recommended the board close Main Street between Shore Street and Elm Arch Way, while maintaining vehicle access to Library Lane.
Chief Small said this presents a public safety issue, as hard barriers are needed to close Main Street.
“You couldn’t have a Jersey barrier and a chain blocking off Main Street at Library Lane, because a chain is easily defeatable,” he said.
While a hard barrier would prevent access by car to the closed portion of Main Street, Chief Small said, it also blocks emergency vehicles. By extending the road closure to Walker Street, emergency vehicles could access Main Street via Library Lane. Access to Main Street via Library Lane would be closed with a soft barrier, such as a chain.
Mr. Kasparian said that while a full road closure greatly benefits the restaurants between Walker Street and Shore Street, it leaves out restaurants like The Quarterdeck, the Pickle Jar Kitchen, the Bean & Cod and Anéjo Mexican Bistro. He asked if a second road closure, between Post Office Road and Town Hall Square, was possible.
Chief Small described a second road closure as possible but problematic, as it would create an area with two lanes of traffic between two closed portions of the street.
“To have that middle area be free-flowing would be very challenging from a traffic standpoint,” he said.
However, the town can look at alternatives for restaurants in that area, including outdoor dining on the sidewalks. In addition, Ms. English Braga said, the Reverend Will Mebane has offered use of the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church parking lot as an extension of municipal parking if Main Street is closed in any way. With alternative parking available elsewhere, Ms. English Braga said, this could allow restaurants with parking lots to offer outdoor dining in those lots.
“Some of the places we have are so specific, we’ll have to problem-solve for those places specifically,” she said.
This problem-solving includes figuring out restaurant deliveries, Selectman Samuel H. Patterson said.
“I don’t think you can neglect the deliveries required to bring those materials,” Mr. Patterson said.
Town Manager Julian M. Suso said deliveries would still be possible. Delivery trucks could access Library Lane and bring deliveries across Main Street using a hand truck. He said deliveries have been made to Main Street restaurants in this fashion before, so closing Main Street between Walker Street and Shore Street does not prevent deliveries from continuing.
“It would have to be one more adaptation made in order for our restaurants to be benefited,” Mr. Suso said.
Another area that requires problem-solving is Cahoon Court. Mr. Kasparian said there are several houses on that dead-end road that would be cut off if Main Street is fully closed. Chief Small said Cahoon Court is accessible via the ShoreWay Acres Inn & Cape Cod Lodging. The town and chamber will work to see if Cahoon Court residents can reach the street via the inn’s parking lot during the temporary road closure.
“I think we can make it work,” Mr. Kasparian said.
In addition, there is the matter of disabled-access parking spaces. Any such spaces lost due to the road closure will be replicated elsewhere, Ms. English Braga said.
Town officials are also looking at the option of installing picnic tables in public spaces along Main Street, including the library lawn and Peg Noonan Park. These picnic tables would not be tied to any particular restaurant, but would serve as a public space where customers can eat take-out.
“In fact, as many of us have noted, for the past couple of nice weather weekends, you’ve seen folks spreading out blankets or sitting at benches in some of the other areas of Peg Noonan Park to do that very thing,” Mr. Suso said. “It would be an expansion of that same concept by placing picnic tables there, which are currently not available.”
Selectman Douglas C. Brown said he is in favor of using the picnic tables.
“I think it would create a nice atmosphere out there, and we’re going to have trouble accommodating enough seats to make it really viable for the restaurants,” Mr. Brown said. “I think take-out is still going to be an important element in a restaurant’s business plan. I think this just gives another option for people who don’t want to sit in a crowded area on the streetscape.”
Ms. English Braga noted that the two proposals aren’t mutually exclusive. The only proposal voted on Monday night was the closure of Main Street, between Walker Street and Shore Street.
“We’re highly thankful to public works, both of our chiefs, town staff, and the chamber, all of whom tried to problem-solve this,” Ms. English Braga said. “We hope to move forward with this on [June 8].”