Rutherford Platt and Barbara Kirchner: ‘Magical thinking’ in downtown Northampton

Main Street in downtown Northampton.

Main Street in downtown Northampton. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Published: 05-16-2024 8:11 PM

Regarding the article, “Music key to downtown revival,” [Gazette, May 1], returning from a few days away recently we left I-91 at the Route 5 exit, passing piles of highway construction material and heavy machinery which welcome the traveler at the city’s southern point of entry — a preview of downtown Northampton if “Picture Main Street” actually happens. On Pleasant Street we thread between the new curbs where the street was narrowed to install fragments of bike lanes that no one uses — a design blunder that in no way promotes the reuse of empty storefronts like the former (and much beloved) Sylvester’s Restaurant.

Pausing for pedestrians to use the walk light at Main and Pleasant, few people are crossing, not exactly “vibrant” for a Friday evening in May. On King Street, just past the empty Calvin, more disused bike lane fragments run parallel to the much safer rail trail, thanks to highway planners in Boston who still believe: “if you build it they will come.”

Concerning “vibrancy,” the city risks losing popular events that currently draw a wide public to downtown Northampton like First Night, the Pride Parade, the Arts Festival, Backporch Festival, Arts Night Out, Taste of Northampton, Sidewalk Sales, and other activities that may be curtailed or even abandoned during several years of Main Street reconstruction. At least during Covid, traffic flow and parking remained unaffected (except for the disastrous trial run of lane narrowing in August, 2020).

So it is ironic indeed to read that live music will somehow rescue downtown Northampton from the malaise which Picture Main Street will make much worse. Magical thinking seems to prevail in City Hall. But years of chaos loom, for the merchants still recovering from Covid, for those of us who live here, and for the wider regional public that uses Main Street as a vital link between Routes 5, 10, 9, 66, and I-91.

Rutherford Platt and Barbara Kirchner