Guest columnist Richard T. Chu: One-lane traffic downtown is a bad idea

  • Downtown Northampton Gazette file photo

Published: 12/7/2021 2:32:08 PM
Modified: 12/7/2021 2:31:41 PM

I would like to echo a concern expressed in a Monday guest column by Dr. James M. Ault Jr. about the Main Street redesign. (“Concerns about police reform, downtown redesign,” Dec. 5)

In particular, I am perplexed at the proposal to make Main Street one lane on each side. I have lived in downtown Northampton for the past 17 years, and commute to work or travel along Main Street almost everyday, at various times of the day.

During office hours, traffic is often backed up in the intersection of State/New South streets and Main Street, as well as Pleasant/King streets and Main Street. Even though I am not an engineer or urban planner, I know that making Main Street one-way on each side will make commuting downtown very inconvenient, if not hellish, not only for visitors, but also for residents, delivery vans, ambulances, etc.

Before I moved to Northampton, I was informed by my colleagues at UMass that the commute from Northampton to Amherst (where I work) wouldn’t be as bad anymore because they had doubled the lanes on Coolidge Bridge. They said that it used to take people 45 minutes to travel that distance, and that some had to use Interstate 91 to find an alternative route to head toward Amherst. Now it takes me 20 minutes.

I think the same principle applies to Main Street: single-lanes will hold up traffic and make travel in and through downtown downright unpleasant. If one of the goals of those who are invested in redesigning Main Street is to draw people back to downtown, then this plan on making Main Street single lanes on each side is going to deter people instead.

When I asked one member of the steering committee of Main Street for Everyone redesign group how Toole Design Group, a company that the city commissioned to come up with the design of Main Street, aims to continue traffic flowing, he said that the company assured him and his group that the traffic lights at Pleasant/King, and at the Academy of Music will determine the flow of traffic. I must admit that this is secondhand information, but if this is the assurance given by Toole Design, then I am not convinced.

Furthermore, as Dr. Ault points out, unless “we can guarantee that steady growth in the number of cars per capita in the Valley, and the steadily growing traffic congestion they’ve been creating, reverses itself and goes into decline,” then the plan to reduce the number of lanes along Main Street is ill-conceived, however well-intentioned.

I know that there are many of those advocating for this plan are hoping that people will be forced or convinced into taking their bikes or public transportation into downtown Northampton, thus reducing the carbon footprint we leave on earth, but I believe people will continue to use cars 10 or 20 years down the road (no pun intended, and hopefully, in more fuel-efficient models). Moreover, creating traffic leads to idling, which in turn produces more pollution.

I support Dr. Ault’s view that it is best to keep the two lanes on each side of Main Street along with bike lanes, but not increase the space on the sidewalk in order to accommodate such redesign.

Richard T. Chu is a Northampton resident.

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