News

Bedford’s ersatz town center gets a new store

Friday, January 10, 2014

By JEFF RAPSIS

Special to the Journal

Bedford may not have much mass transit. But we now have a Subway!

Yes, the space in the Route 101 Plaza that until recently sported the pink and brown of Dunkin Donuts now boasts the green and yellow of Subway, the nation’s largest sandwich franchise.

It happened fast, too – in about the same amount of time it takes to make a foot-long.

Well, let’s all wish them good luck, although the traffic counts are so high in that plaza that almost any kind of business could succeed in there, I think. An all-night midget clothing store would probably do just fine.

Even with its limited number of storefronts, I’ve always thought of the Route 101 Plaza as Bedford’s erstaz town center. By some odd quirk of free enterprise, it has only the basics: a grocery store, a pharmacy, a hardware store and a dry cleaner. Really, what else do you need in life?

OK, a furniture store, a bank and a barbershop would be nice. But they’re right across the road, so they’re close at hand. Same thing with the bra boutique.

Back at 101 Plaza, the Dunkin Donuts always seemed to round out the limited line-up of stores as the one non-practical “fun” business – kind of like dessert after a hearty meal. And I kind of miss it, as the new Dunkin Donuts location (out by the Bedford Village Inn) has been subject to incredible traffic jams that make it tough to get to. Subway is fine, but they don’t carry jelly sticks.

Traffic, however, has always been the main factor in guiding Bedford’s development, at least in the modern times. For instance: Few people realize it now, but Bedford Center Road (the small road leading from Route 101 plaza up to the library and old Town Hall) once served as the main road from Milford to Manchester.

That changed in the 1950s when the state built the Route 101 bypass from the intersection of Wallace Road out to the Bedford Village Inn. This routed traffic away from the town center, alleviating a growing bottleneck. The same thing was done out in Amherst, Milford and Wilton, too.

Can you imagine if the bypass hadn’t been built? Think about all the Route 101 traffic trying to make it through Bedford Center today.

But then, if the bypass hadn’t come in the 1950s, then perhaps a larger, limited access highway might have been built through town in maybe the late 1960s – say, just before the Clean Water Act and other federal legislation made such plans a lot more difficult to carry out. It might have followed the alignment of New Boston Road from Route 114 out to somewhere in Amherst.

If such a thing had happened, we might not have the bottlenecks on the existing Route 101 that we have today, which now must be addressed by somehow widening the 1950s bypass, a project that’s been stalled longer than westbound Bedford commuters on a rainy Friday evening.

But then if Bedford did get a big limited access highway in the 1960s to carry through traffic, then the Route 101 Plaza might never have been built. And that means I wouldn’t be able to get light bulbs at Aubuchon Hardware when I need them.

See how traffic affects our quality of life?

Speaking of traffic bottlenecks, here’s another update on tollbooth etiquette.

When approaching the “cash only” coin baskets at the Exit 12 tollbooths, what’s the proper behavior when the intake mechanism is clogged, no attendant is present and the basket is filling with coins?

I’ve encountered this twice in recent weeks when trying to head south on the Everett Turnpike. The first time, I was in back of a line of several cars taking a loooong time to get through. But then I noticed every vehicle was setting off the alarm, so figured something was wrong.

Sure enough, the basket was full almost to overflowing with what looked like a slot machine jackpot – quarters and dimes and who-knows-what. I threw in mine, and off I went, setting off the alarm like everyone else.

The next time, I found someone had taken the time to scrawl “BROKEN” on a torn scrap of white paper and jam it behind the basket for all to see. But there was no line this time, and so the sign really made a difference.

So that’s the proper behavior when encountering a broken toll booth. Be prepared to leave a note, and you’ll reduce the effect of at least one local bottleneck.

And the time you save? It can be used to wait in traffic to get into the relocated Dunkin Donuts.

Jeff Rapsis is a newspaper publisher, educator, silent film accompanist and care-taker of multiple dogs who lives in Bedford. He can be reached at
jeffrapsis@gmail.com.

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