Pleasant Street walking tour offers Northampton residents opportunity to sound off on possible improvements



Last modified: Wednesday, June 10, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission will host a walking tour of Pleasant Street on Wednesday, offering an opportunity for Northampton residents to discuss its impact on their health and daily lives and offer suggestions for improvements.

The tour, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. beginning at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at 23 Service Center Road, is part of a Pioneer Valley Planning Commission evaluation of the potential impacts that improvements to Pleasant Street could have on residents’ health. The commission is working with the City of Northampton, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council on the health impact assessment.

“The city of Northampton has proposed changes that involve restoring curbs, closing curb cuts, putting in curb extensions, and putting in a bike path separated from traffic,” said Dillon Sussman, project manager and senior planner at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Other possible improvements include crosswalk upgrades, new trees and more on-street parking.

“We want to create a more pleasant gateway into the city from Exit 18” of Interstate 91, said Carolyn Misch, senior land use planner with the city’s Office of Planning and Sustainability. “Pedestrian and bicycle safety issues are paramount. We want (people) to use Pleasant Street in a way that makes them feel safe.”

Misch, who is serving on an advisory committee put in place to help steer the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s work, said improvements to the street can also expand the economic development opportunities on Main Street to Pleasant Street. The advisory committee includes officials from the city’s Planning Department, a city engineer, representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and local nonprofits that focus on planning and development, and local residents.

The assessment is expected to be complete by August, and is intended to help officials prioritize possible improvements — many of which are based on concerns raised by residents at earlier public meetings that discussed how people feel about Pleasant Street, the safety concerns and the potential development opportunities.

“We want to use the (health impact assessment) as a mechanism to help us focus and target our efforts in such a way that would help the community as a whole,” Misch said, adding that some of the main concerns residents voiced during initial meetings included pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Misch said residents offered suggestions to make the area “a more pleasant place.”

Findings from the health impact assessment will guide more specific suggestions to improve the streetscape.

The city is applying to the state-funded infrastructure grant program MassWorks to fund any improvements. The money would be contingent on a more detailed plan regarding the improvements. That plan, which would require further assessment and public input, is not yet complete.

“We haven’t really gotten into details yet,” Misch said. “We know what people generally want to see.”

Health impacts

Sussman explained that people might be more likely to walk and bike along the street if improvements addressed some of the existing safety concerns. And that could have an impact on residents’ health, he said.

“We know that physical activity levels have significant health impacts,” Sussman said.

“We’re also looking at other things like adding more trees which would cool the sidewalks and provide shade as well as absorb stormwater,” Sussman said. Part of the assessment will even look at data on crime to determine whether perceptions about crime rates are based in reality, he added.

Sussman stressed that public input is an important part of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s evaluation.

“Public input is important. If people feel unsafe, we don’t know unless they tell us,” Sussman said. “We take into account people’s input in shaping what we study, what to invest in, what the community feels is most important.”

He added, “Everyone’s experience and knowledge matters. I learned that sometimes the sidewalk at the bus stop in front of Northampton Lodging can get quite crowded. I talked to someone else who is moving from the neighborhood to Easthampton because they can no longer afford the rent. I would not know these things unless people tell me.”

In addition to the walking tour, residents can offer suggestions by contacting Sussman at dsussman@pvpc.org or 413-781-6045, or by emailing the health impact assessment team at PleasantStreetHIA@gmail.com.

Residents are also encouraged to share input via photos and videos posted to the “Pleasant Street HIA” page, or through Twitter using the hashtag #PleasantStreetHIA.

“The walk audit should be fun,” Sussman said. “It’s a chance to meet and talk with other people about an interesting topic.”


 


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