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Pleasant Street walking tour participants consider issues from traffic safety to affordable housing



Monday, July 20, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — Residents who participated in a recent walking tour of Pleasant Street suggested a range of improvements to the corridor, including better crosswalks and a designated lane to separate bicyclists from motor vehicle traffic.

The June 10 tour, attended by about 20 people, was part of a “Health Impact Assessment” led by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in collaboration with the city of Northampton, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

The assessment is designed to help officials prioritize possible improvements to Pleasant Street, and to consider their potential health impacts. The tour took place at a time when major plans are in the works for one of the city’s major gateways, including two affordable housing complexes that would add a combined 127 new units and a major overhaul of the intersection at Pleasant and Conz streets by the state Department of Transportation into a roundabout. The latter project is currently out to bid.

“Overall, the people who came were in favor of improvements to make Pleasant Street more pedestrian- and biker-friendly,” said Dillon Sussman, senior planner and project manager at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. “Crosswalks were a major concern. This wasn’t new information, but it was good to get that confirmation.”

Sussman said some of the big questions raised were related to a proposed bicycle lane on the southern end of Pleasant Street, which would be a protected, dedicated lane running along the sidewalk. “People like being separated from traffic,” he said.

On the Friday following the walking tour, an advisory committee in place to oversee the project met to review information gathered during the tour and identify the residents’ high-priority concerns. Sussman explained that, toward the end of the walking tour, participants were given a list of 13 topics — including categories such as crime, water and air quality, and housing displacement — and were asked to prioritize them.

Some of the most important concerns raised included “active” transportation such as walking and cycling, affordable housing, and pedestrian and traffic safety. In terms of traffic safety, the assessment will review how potential improvements could reduce accident rates.

The assessment will also consider how potential improvements could increase the use of Pleasant Street as a walking and bicycling corridor. According to Sussman, current bicycle lanes are already highly valued by the public, as they connect residents to all parts of the city.

Sussman also said affordable housing is a “big-picture background issue,” explaining that the long-term availability of affordable housing was something the assessment will investigate. For example, he said, the assessment will consider whether rents will increase if improvements are made to Pleasant Street, and what impacts might follow the redevelopment of two sites close to each other into affordable housing.

Springfield-based HAPHousing plans to tear down Northampton Lodging and construct a new, 72-unit apartment complex, while the Valley Community Development Corp. intends to develop a four-story, 55-unit building at the former Northampton Lumber site at the corner of Pleasant and Holyoke streets.

The assessment is expected to be complete by the end of August. Then, members of the assessment team will make recommendations to help the city steer its investment.

“We’re moving things as quickly as we can,” Sussman said.

Sussman said the walking tour served as a “reminder that people are really passionate about their neighborhood, love it, and care about it.” He said participants were passionate about what they want to see improved.

“I really appreciated their input,” he said.