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Rutherford H. Platt: ‘Humane micropolis’ of Northampton lacks vision on traffic, parking

The Main Street crosswalks are lengthy, crossing several lanes of moving and parked vehicles, with sight lines often obscured. Pleasant Street is narrower but its crosswalks are almost invisible. A few impatient drivers ignore both the double center line and crosswalks to race north on the southbound lane to reach the left-turn lane at Main Street.

It is extremely dangerous, especially in the dark.

In contrast to the Smith College section of Route 9, little effort has been devoted to traffic calming downtown. A serious landscaped pedestrian island is needed on Main Street from Crafts Avenue to the Pleasant/King intersection to give people a refuge from opposing flows of traffic. It would also encourage people to cross Main and visit shops on the other side. It would not necessarily occupy any more space in the center of Main Street than the alpine ice ridge left by snowplows.

Parking should be banned on Pleasant Street, especially when ice and snow narrow the street even further than usual. Its sidewalks should be widened with periodic cutouts for dropping off or picking up passengers or delivery trucks. Crosswalks should have upright Dayglo markers.

In a previous column on this page (Sept. 6-7, 2008), I described Northampton as “a humane micropolis.” This is still a work in progress. While downtown is hip and so 21st century in its wealth of shops, galleries and eateries, it remains a relic of the 1950s in its subservience to traffic and on-street parking.

Let’s make it the most pedestrian-friendly and humane downtown in the state.

Rutherford H. Platt of Northampton is the editor of “The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21st Century City” (University of Massachusetts Press, 2006).

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