Editorial: One Northampton street’s long wait for repair

Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2014
Potholes are not a traffic-calming measure. The reaction by some Hinckley Street residents in Northampton to what should be happy news — after 20 years, their pothole-ridden street is on the list for repair — is puzzling to say the least.

The city is planning for a $1.5 million reconstruction of the street in the Bay State section. It was last repaved in 1979.

Really, need we say more?

The project will replace underground water, sewer and storm drain lines along a half-mile stretch between Riverside Drive and South Main Street. It will also repave the street, rebuild sidewalks and construct a new 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side.

At a public hearing held Feb. 18, 40 residents of the neighborhood turned out to comment on the project. Several said they like the potholes, noting that they slow drivers down. Others said they don’t want the sidewalks to eat into the yards on the east side of the street.

Nobody wants their street to become a speedway. But education campaigns and true traffic-calming measures — not neglecting potholes — is the way to avoid that.

In addition, it makes no sense to rebuild a street in a city and not include sidewalks. They are essential to vibrant neighborhoods. When road work is done, adding new, taller curbs, the need for sidewalks is even greater because it becomes more difficult to walk safely without a shoulder on the road.

As City Councilor David Murphy rightly noted, sidewalks are important because they serve the most vulnerable — and people use them, plain and simple.

In 2012, the city launched a project similar in scope and size on North Street, another city thoroughfare that had long been plagued with potholes, making travel both dangerous and inconvenient. That $1.8 million project also created sidewalks were there were none and replaced underground utility lines.

Some neighbors were not happy to lose parts of their lawns to the sidewalk effort, and some were worried that a smoother road surface would increase vehicle speeds. But more than a year later, speeding is not an excessive problem for North Street. The new sidewalks actually narrowed the road, which helps keep speeding down.

And those sidewalks are being used by many who walk in the neighborhood today under safer and more enjoyable conditions.

Massive road projects like the North Street one and the coming Hinckley Street work are not easy on residents. They have to put up with noise and dust and traffic tie-ups — and adjust to changes to a streetscape.

But the change is necessary, and worth the disruption and adjustments required.

City officials are not mincing words about the level of disruption — at Tuesday’s public hearing, one city leader said the project would be “a nightmare.”

But they also promise this: “When it’s done, you’re going to love it.”

City officials told Hinckley Street residents that the project is not set in stone. It’s great that the city wants to hear from neighbors and be open to their feelings about a given project.

But we hope it doesn’t stop the city from moving ahead with a sound, necessary and long-overdue road project.