Guest columnists Keep Main Street Accessible for All: A Main Street that is ‘truly for everyone’

  • A view of Main Street in downtown Northampton last summer. Gazette file photo

Published: 6/20/2021 11:01:28 AM

We are a group of “mom and pop” shops, restaurants, cafes, galleries, jewelers, tattoo artists, stylists, aestheticians, artists, designers, architects, project managers, analysts and more — all with a collective stake in the future of downtown Northampton. And we believe that a great part of what makes Northampton vibrant and attractive is our small businesses.

We would love to have more bike lanes, improved pedestrian and biking safety, better accessibility, more tree cover and greenery, and to encourage environmentally-friendly choices by all. We want a safe and vibrant downtown for everyone, not only those who can walk or bike to Main Street.

We are concerned that Option 3, a redesign that includes a major narrowing of Main Street, which city planners have decided to pursue, makes downtown less accessible to the majority of our community — those who need to drive into town and seek safe and convenient parking. We want everyone to be aware of what Option 3 entails and how the plan can be improved.

Option 3 has many appealing aspects, including more bike lanes, wider sidewalks, green space and other pedestrian-friendly features. In addition, a great detail in its current form is that it retains much of the angled parking, which is preferable to parallel parking in several important ways:

■Angled parking allows individuals with physical issues (or children in tow) to easily exit the vehicle, without exiting into oncoming traffic.

■Parallel parking creates traffic bottlenecks, made worse by the difficulties many drivers have executing parallel parking easily, especially with the stress of traffic behind them. (Two recent surveys show that about 50% of people have a fear of parallel parking and will keep driving to avoid it.)

■Angled parking retains accessibility by allowing for more convenient parking spots where they are wanted most. (As is, Option 3 already reduces Main Street parking by almost 20%.)

Not everyone can bike or walk to town. Our community includes many who can’t easily walk far — those who have young children, are elderly, or are disabled — many of whom don’t have handicapped parking accessibility. We serve all of these people, as well as residents from the farther points of Northampton, Florence, Easthampton, Hatfield, the Hilltowns, Greenfield, Hadley, Amherst, Holyoke, etc., not to mention many from the rest of the Northeast.

The vast majority of our community will continue to drive into town and seek safe and convenient parking — especially during our long winter season, which brings freezing rain, snow and ice. In order for downtown’s small businesses to survive, we need what our community needs. We need Main Street to be accessible for everyone.

We are concerned that Option 3 will create traffic and safety problems by primarily decreasing the road to only one lane each way. Each time someone pulls out of a parking spot, traffic will halt (or alternatively, they won’t be able to pull out), hundreds of times a day.

Furthermore, Option 3 doesn’t address snow removal. If snow continues to be piled up in the middle of the thoroughfare, with fewer lanes to put it in, the street will be further congested. Most worrisome, traffic congestion could cause difficulties for emergency vehicles, which already have trouble at times getting through.

Last August the city did a test run of a two-lane (one-lane in each direction) Main Street, and it did not go well. We immediately heard from our constituents that it was too difficult to deal with a narrowed downtown. This prompted more than 60 businesses to request that the city revert to a four-lane Main Street. While we might wish Option 3 retained four lanes in some parts, we are relieved that the plan at least maintains a third lane of traffic in places.

We understand that the current setup of four lanes without any lane markings, without sufficient crosswalk visibility or signage, and with long crosswalks, decreases pedestrian and biker safety. This concerns us, too.

Readers may not be aware, but there have been two studies commissioned by the city of Northampton regarding safety. Most of the (affordable) safety measures recommended have not been implemented: improvements like curb cut-outs to make the crosswalks shorter (like we have on Elm Street near Smith College), clearly demarcated lanes, improved crosswalk visibility and better signage.

As planning around Option 3 progresses, we ask the City to make these safety improvements now rather than waiting the four-plus years the new plan will require to roll out, and rather than pushing through a redesign that reduces accessibility. Additionally, we ask that a snow removal plan be made, for assurances that emergency vehicles can easily function, that traffic flow is prioritized, and that angled parking be retained.

We want a Main Street that is truly for everyone — not only the fortunate minority that live near downtown and are physically able to walk or bike.

The column was written by Keep Main Street Accessible For All, and signed by downtown business owners: Katie Renney, 25 Central; Mark Rosenzweig, Acme Surplus; Ananda Khalsa, Ananda Khalsa Jewelry; Maya MacLachlan, Beryl; Brian Megliola, Coldwell Banker Community Realtors; Steve Weber, Deals & Steals; Konstantinos Sierros, Filos Greek Taverna; Rich Madowitz, Hampshire Property Mgt Group; Cynthia Kernicki, Hannoush; Judy Herrell and Stephan Wurmbrand, Herrell’s; Andrew Brow, Highbrow; James Winston, James B. Winston Law Office; Jesse Adams, Jesse Adams Law; Eliza Jane Bradley, Kestrel; Cathie Walz, Little Blue; Tristram Metcalfe, Metcalfe Associates Architecture; Linda Daniels, Northampton Wools; Fernando Teixeira, Pascucci, Teixeira & Co., PC; Ronnie Hazel, Penny Lane; Jena Sujat, Pinch; Ronnie Hazel, Shop Therapy; Anna Bowen, Strada; Gary Tateosian and Mike Tateosian, Synergy; Cathie Walz, The Blue Marble; Ronnie Hazel, The Vault; Jenny Wu, Uya; Will Baczek, William Baczek Fine Arts; Vicky Sheikh, Zephyr Rugs; and more

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