Northampton Main Street redesign a ‘once in a generation’ chance

  • A rendering of how downtown Northampton could be redesigned. TOOLE DESIGN

  • The city has a website at tinyurl.com/picturemainstreet with information about the redesign project. SCREENSHOT/CITY OF NORTHAMPTON

Staff Writer
Published: 4/16/2021 5:52:03 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The city continued its talks on a long-term redesign of Main Street this week, drawing more than 100 people to a virtual public forum where residents and business owners discussed everything from parking, bicycle safety and traffic to accessibility, trees and climate change.

Mayor David Narkewicz described the project as a “once in a generation opportunity,” and said by the end of the year, the city hopes to finalize a plan for the project, which is expected to see more than $16 million in state and federal funding in fiscal 2025.

“We’d like to say we’re building consensus,” Wayne Feiden, director of the city’s department Planning and Sustainability said at Wednesday’s forum. “I don’t think it’s ever possible to get consensus among 28,000 citizens, but we’re trying to get as close as consensus as we can in the process.”

Jason DeGray of Toole Design, the consulting company hired to work on the project, said construction could start as early as October 2024. He presented several possible plans for Main Street at the forum and participants were able to comment and ask questions.

The first option includes four lanes of traffic, angled parking, some bike lanes, and more narrow sidewalks. He also presented a variation on the first design, or option “1B,” which would eliminate the bike lane to create wider sidewalks.

Option two has four lanes for traffic, parallel parking, expanded sidewalks and some bike lanes.

The third option has angled parking, expands the sidewalks, creates continuous separated bike lanes, and has three lanes for car travel — one lane in each direction with a third lane for left turns.

All the options would reduce on-street parking — the first by 26%, the second by 37% and the third by 18%, according to DeGray’s estimates.

DeGray emphasized the project’s goals: making downtown safe and accessible for everyone, making it vibrant, and creating a “functional, enduring and sustainable streetscape.”

Using a rating system and a number of qualities tied to those goals, the consultants decided the third option is best, DeGray said. But, he said, “there is no winner selected at this point … what ultimately gets selected to advance is still before us.”

Public weighs in

Narkewicz noted that the meeting was the fourth public forum on the project and the proposed Main Street redesign continued to draw wide interest from the public.

Jena Sujat, owner of the Main Street business Pinch, said she was excited about bike lanes, outdoor dining space and trees. But, she worried about option three.

“People are going to be trying to leave their parking spots and every time they do, it’s going to stop traffic,” she said. “And I see the traffic, it’s often continual. I could see people not being able to even leave their spot and getting really frustrated and taking a risk and doing some aggressive driving by leaving their spot when there’s really not time and causing an accident.”

Bud Neiswender, an owner of Inspirit Crystals on Main Street, noted that with option one, parts of the sidewalk would be 4½ feet wide. “That doesn’t even strike me as being possibly legal since a wheelchair is 26 inches and if you have two people — maybe a baby carriage and someone with a walker — that’s an incredibly tight space,” Neiswender said.

The narrow sidewalk would be a tradeoff for four lanes of traffic, DeGray said. “They would present accessibility concern in terms of meeting the letter of ADA. They would likely be rendered compliant with some additional care and design, but that does not mean by any means that is an inviting or accessible overall design.”

Bicycle safety also was a priority for many, including Julia Riseman, who noted there have been fatal bicycle accidents downtown.

“I feel like part of our redesign, our commitment to the future, is to make sure that there are no more ghost bicycles, there are no more deaths, there’s no more young people hit by cars in our downtown,” she said. Ghost bikes are white bike roadside memorials for cyclists who have been killed or injured.

In 2012, 18-year-old bicyclist Harry Delmolino died in a collision with a car on Main Street. There is an average of one crash downtown each week, and though bikers and walkers are involved in 11% of crashes, they make up nearly 60% of all injuries, according to the city.

Jes Slavin lives near downtown and said biking on Main Street isn’t easy.

“I can barely bike down there, even though I’m someone kind of comfortable in traffic, I will only bike on Main Street if I’m with another bicyclist ... It just feels very stressful right now,” Slavin said.

Not everyone bikes downtown. Mimi Odgers said she lives in Ward 6 and doesn’t ride her bike to downtown. “There are people who live in further out areas of the city that don’t have the ability to ride downtown,” she said.

She expressed concern about losing parking spaces. “If we’re going to start removing parking spaces, we have to think about where we replace parking spaces,” she said.

James Winston, who has a law office on Main Street, expressed concern about option two and losing about 37% of parking spaces.

“I would really implore you not to have parallel parking on that part of Main Street,” said Winston said, who expressed support for option 1B, which is four lanes of traffic and no bike lane.

With safer walking and biking spaces, more people will walk and bike downtown, said Elena Huisman.

“That’s just going to free up even more parking spaces,” said Huisman, adding that it’s also a climate change issue.

“If we continue to build our infrastructure to perpetuate automobile travel, it’s just going to increase our CO2 emissions, which you know leads to greater climate change,” Huisman said.

A number of other people spoke about climate change. “It’s impossible to exaggerate the degree of that emergency,” said John Cohen. “This is an opportunity to change a part of the pattern of our life so that we don’t continue to spew out greenhouse gases.“I suggest that we ban private vehicular traffic on Main Street from Smith down to Hawley (Street) at least.” Without cars, downtown would be “a paradise.”

Feiden said he hopes the city will have more detailed plans to share in June. More information about the project, including a survey, can be found at tinyurl.com/picturemainstreet.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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