Picturing Main Street: City to hold forum on its future

  • Colby Nugent, who works for Champion Tree and Lawn Care in Granby, shovels snow and ice that accumulated outside businesses on Main Street in Northampton, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. The family-owned business clears snow for Hampshire Property Group, which owns buildings on Main Street. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2020 5:41:32 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A public forum on Monday is the next step in a process to determine what Main Street could look like in the future, although the final outcome might not be seen for a decade.

Speaking with the Gazette, Wayne Feiden, the city’s director of planning and sustainability, cut to the question at the heart of the forum: “What do we want Main Street to be?”

To help answer that question, an event called “Picture Main Street — creating a safer place to live, work, and play” will be held on the second floor of City Hall beginning at 5:30 p.m. Monday. It’s being put on by Toole Design Group, the company hired by the city to do redesign work on Main Street. Street Plans, a company working with Toole, will also be part of the event, which is open to all. 

In describing Toole, Jason DeGray, the company’s Boston office director and northeast engineering director, said that they are a “mission-based” company that specializes in designing with pedestrians, cyclists and safety in mind.

“We are leaders in multi-modal design,” he said.

An advisory group was created for the process last month by the city and includes, among others, City Councilors At-Large William Dwight and Gina Louise-Sciarra and Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vince Jackson, as well as representation from downtown residents, property owners and social services. Toole will meet with the advisory group and other city committees, in addition to hosting a business roundtable.

Asked about including the homeless community in these discussions, Feiden said that the pastor of Cathedral in the Night, Rev. Steph Smith, has been invited to the forum, and future outreach efforts will be made as well. Cathedral in the Night is an outdoor Christian community that provides aid and resources to the homeless in the city.

Safety is a key concern of the project. Feiden said that Main Street is part one of the worst traffic clusters in the state, and Main Street is the site of most of those crashes.

“We’re getting people hit by cars,” said Feiden.

More street trees, wider sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes are some features that could come from the process, Feiden said. He also said that the idea of narrowing the street down to one lane each way was brought forward as a possibility by Alta Planning + Design, as part of its Walk/Bike Northampton plan, completed in 2017.

Toole, which was hired by the city for around $800,000 in state money, began working on the project last year. Part of its efforts involved doing a road safety audit alongside the city and the state’s Department of Transportation. Toole also did a field survey of Main Street that examined the street and its underlying infrastructure.

Gray said the next step for Toole will be incorporating the feedback they get into designing a demonstration project, which will be rolled out in August and September.

“We can actually test various changes,” said DeGray.

DeGray said that public input will help determine the content of the demonstration project and that enhancing the experience of bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as minimizing wide crosswalks, are some suggestions that are being considered.

DeGray added that they welcome a robust turnout at the forum. He also said that getting the redesign funded by the State Transportation Improvement Program is a major goal.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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