It’s a puzzling paradox: Reading’s citizenry loves its bagels, but yet the community can’t stand the traffic gridlock created on Main Street while obtaining such delightful treats.
Since 1998, Salem resident Maria Kantorosinkski and kin have been rolling out their special family dough recipe and dishing out thousands of bagels and breakfast sandwiches from their 4,000 square foot Bagel World shop off of Route 28.
One of three Bagel World locations on the North Shore, the Reading storefront, situated on Main Street by community’s downtown area, attracts loyal customers far and wide on a regular basis.
But that success, particularly during Saturday mornings, has also been problematic for town officials and the Reading police force, which has for years now struggled to keep long customer and drive-through queues from backing up and snarling traffic along Main Street.
After drawing the ire last spring of Reading’s Select Board, when members vented their frustrations about the traffic while discussing a planned “road diet” or lane reduction along Route 28, Bagel World’s owners privately agreed to consider some changes.
In a parking lot rearrangement first pitched in late November and revised based upon town officials’ commentary, representatives from Salem’s Jones Architecture and Danvers-based Bobrek Engineering and Construction last month suggested cars could be pulled off of Route 28 by doubling up the number of drive-through lanes.
According to civil engineer John Bobrek, whose Danvers firm helped craft the plan with Jones Architecture project manager Bill Jacob, the fix would entail designating the site’s southernmost entrance for entering drive-through traffic only.
In order to create a second 12-foot wide drive-through lane, which would wrap around the existing queues and include a separate ordering board, about 15 of the site’s existing 43-parking spaces would be removed.
Most of those spaces would be stripped from the rear of the site, situated furthest away from Main Street. However, that configuration would also allow for the creation of a third bypass lane, which project proponents say will allow walk-in customers to avoid the drive-through queues while departing the business and exiting a second entrance.
“Everybody knows this site backs up onto Main Street and one of the biggest culprits we have is people having to take a right turn out of [the southern entrance] and backing up [all incoming cars],” Jacob, explaining the genesis of the exclusive drive-through entrance, told members of Readings Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) last month.
Aimed also at limiting parking lot conflicts between in-store and drive-through customers, the new layout also allows for the separation of a front of parking area from the southern drive-through lane.
Specifically, customers entering the drive-through would be prohibited from accessing the head-on parking spaces along the Main Street side of the building. Meanwhile, those who access and exit the spaces — which would include disabled customers who use handicapped parking spaces — would be encouraged to exit the site through the second exit situated further northbound off of Route 28.
To date, the proposed Bagel World changes are generally being well-received by CPDC members, who are being asked by the petitioner to sanction parking area changes and okay related interior building modifications.
However, while the town officials have little doubt an extra drive-through lane will bolster on-site capacity, some are weary of whether the new configuration will prove too confusing.
Those reviewing the plans are also not convinced that the renovations will be enough to eliminate gridlock during the weekends, when customers are often waiting in lines on Main Street that extend well beyond the property line.
“Without even getting into the layout, you have to look at what’s happening to traffic on Saturday morning. The fact that traffic spills out even on a Tuesday just goes to show how difficult it can get,” CPDC Chairman John Weston advised the petitioner’s engineering and design team.
CPDC member Nicholas Safina, who like Weston questions whether the proposal will be sufficient to pull Saturday backups off Main Street, also challenged Bagel World to consider operational changes to address waiting times for food orders.
“[This plan is all about] stacking more cars into the drive-through lane. It’s like ramps off the highway, and we’re not really trying to reduce traffic,” said Safina. “You’re going to have two order windows, but only one pickup window…Are you accounting for operations inside and how that impacts movement?”
Responding to Safina and others worried that the proposal will increase on-site capacity but do nothing to idling queues of traffic on Route 28, officials from Bobrek Engineering and Construction say that Bagel World employees have already been experimenting with the configuration in real-time.
Specifically, late last spring, just when the COVID-19 crisis began resulting in the closure of many area businesses, Bagel World managers realized the pandemic was putting a big hurt on its walk-in customer base.
Meanwhile it’s drive-through business continued to flourish, and according to some town officials at the time, the traffic situation appeared to be getting worse. Complicating the situation, the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT) late last spring embarked upon a “road diet” trial along Route 28 that reduced the four-lane Route 28 into a two-lane undivided highway with wide shoulders and a new middle turning lane configuration.
Though MassDOT eventually modified the layout by transforming the shoulder by the eatery into queuing lane, thereby allowing pass-through motorists to bypass idling cars, the Kantorosinkski clan realized the combined effects of the pandemic and road diet necessitated action on their part.
According to Bobrek, thus began the reimposition of a years-long experiment by which family matriarch Maria Kantorosinkski would personally stand out in the parking lot and divide drive-through traffic into two separate lanes.
At the same time, the management team also began exploring the purchase of a new point-of-sale system that would utilize technology to help with order management. Part of the current plan includes interior building modifications that will expand upon that concept by reconfiguring the kitchen area to make room for an extra drive-through prep station.
“Bagel World has had extensive onsite research where they manually stacked the site with two lanes. They take orders and shuffle [customers] towards the drive-through window…Bagel World feels this is absolutely the best option for this site,” the engineer told town officials during a virtual meeting last month.
“We’re in the process of working out a conceptual prep-station layout. So we see this as a two-step process,” Jacob later remarked. “You’re [cutting back on the wait] by adding a second station. So the idea would be that changes are taking place inside as well.”
Bagel World is next scheduled to appear before the CPDC in late January, when the consulting team is expected to forecast how the new layout will effect weekend traffic patterns along Route 28. The petitioner is also being asked to finalize landscaping and signage plans for the site.