Guest columnist Judy Herrell: The best of Northampton for all who visit

  • Judy Herrell, who owns Herrell’s Ice Cream, in front of Thornes Marketplace in 2018. Gazette file photo

Published: 6/23/2021 4:42:44 PM

There have been many letters and articles in the Gazette lately concerning the plan for the new design of Main Street. As a business owner in the downtown, I want to share some thoughts and make some clarifications.

Every person involved in helping the city with this design has their own vested interest. We all want what will help make Northampton more vibrant and attractive in order to bring more people to the downtown. However, while we try to seek common ground and understanding, there is some misinformation being passed which is not accurate!

Over 60 downtown businesses are zealously advocating to keep angular parking. We are also in favor of addressing bike path, pedestrian and safety issues. We give a voice not only for those who bike or walk into town, but for those who drive. This includes people from a nonbiking or walking distance to downtown, live in farther communities, the elderly who take time entering and exiting their vehicles and cannot walk long distances, the disabled who often have the same or more involved issues than the elderly, and families with children in tow who often use strollers.

Furthermore, these 60-plus businesses are in favor of more green areas in downtown; with more areas for people to be outside during fine weather and relax, drink coffee, eat food and ice cream while enjoying what Northampton has to offer. We also recognize that some Northampton residents feel that biking on Main Street can be made safer for those who wish to bike downtown and applaud all of the planning to include bike paths in the downtown. We can make the downtown safer for bikers, walkers and drivers.

We wish the city had acted on the results of the 2015 safety study for drivers and parking for downtown. The study recommended more curb cuts, more visible cross walks, better defined markings on the road, and explained that of those surveyed, the most important thing was having ample available parking on Main Street.

It is true that many people use the cities wonderful parking garage then walk to Main Street and other locations downtown. However, in some cases, the distance from the garage to Main Street is too far and difficult to manage for specific populations. Others just prefer to park on Main Street, which is not a crime.

Many drivers have a terrible time parallel parking and prefer angular parking. Of course there are positives and negatives for both types of parking, but from a perspective of safety, angular parking provides a safe buffer to traffic when someone is exiting the driver side door of their car.

Additionally, angular parking does not open a passenger door into a bike lane. Yes, people do back up and stop traffic with angular parking, but during the process of parallel parking, traffic is stopped as well. Recently my car was hit while parallel parked by a person who was trying to parallel park and was not savvy and practiced at doing so.

It has been argued that in 10 years or so, electric cars and trucks will be replacing fossil fuel running engines and therefore cities will require less parking areas. I hope that in less than 10 years electric cars and trucks are the norm, but must point out that electric vehicles will still be considered cars and trucks and will still require parking.

A June 18 guest column referred to a “small group of business owners.” Personally, I think 60-plus businesses in our downtown is not a small group, and may in fact be a majority. Additionally, the letter stated that 18 parking spaces would be removed in the current plan. This is not accurate. According to Option 3, the figure is 18%, which is a much large chunk of spaces for those who drive and park in the downtown using electric or fossil fuel vehicles. It will not be possible for the designers to assign new parking in different areas of downtown, to make up for this loss and the loss of parking which has already been removed.

Lastly, some wish to extend Option 3, and reduce parking even more than the 18% proposed, having only limited “targeted” parallel parking available for the few who show need (disabled, elderly, etc). This is, to my mind simply a bad idea, and may be discriminatory in nature. Not everyone with a disability has a placard and some do not want to be identified because of other discrimination they may endure. But they still need to park near their destination. Who chooses? Who makes these decisions?

Business owners in downtown are often nervous about speaking up, because of potential damage to their sales. Personally, I have been threatened with boycott for having an opinion which differs from other people who also feel strongly about the design of the downtown but are fighting for a different design.

Other individuals have stated a refusal to “agree to disagree” in some areas and will not work toward finding common ground and areas of agreement with which to move forward. It is my opinion that all residents and visitors who shop, eat and relax in our downtown, seriously look at both sides of this issue to help the city and ourselves come up with a solution which provides the best Northampton for all individuals visiting downtown Northampton: drivers, bikers and walkers.

Judy Herrell owns Herrell’s Ice Cream in downtown Northampton.


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