Northampton council to support Main Street redesign; resolution urges public to get behind idea

The upper end of Main Street in Northampton. The City Council on Thursday night introduced a resolution in support of Picture Main Street, a controversial project that calls for a complete overhaul of Main.

The upper end of Main Street in Northampton. The City Council on Thursday night introduced a resolution in support of Picture Main Street, a controversial project that calls for a complete overhaul of Main. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 10-20-2023 5:21 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The City Council on Thursday unveiled a resolution in support of the city’s Picture Main Street redesign, aiming to assure residents of the benefits the project will bring to the city despite anxieties over the three-year, $21 million project.

The resolution was introduced by council President Jim Nash, along with fellow councilors Marianne LaBarge of Ward 6, Karen Foster of Ward 2 and Alex Jarrett of Ward 5. The measure wholeheartedly endorses the project, which will extend the sidewalks and add a bike path along a 0.4-mile stretch of downtown Main Street, while narrowing the roadway and removing several parking spaces. The city has partnered with engineering consultancy Toole Design Group to help design and plan the project.

“The Northampton City Council recognizes and stands by the more than twenty years of planning by our elected and appointed officials that will lead to a safer, greener, and more vibrant downtown, with their thorough planning reflected in Picture Main Street,” the resolution states. “It is time for us as a community to come together around Picture Main Street, to begin working with our downtown business community to thrive and survive the coming construction, and to actualize our shared goal of a more walkable, cyclable, accessible Downtown.”

At Thursday’s council meeting, Nash said it was time to move forward with the project, and that the design would ultimately be good for businesses downtown.

“I don’t think I’ve been excited about a piece of legislation in possibly my whole time on the council,” said Nash, who was first elected in 2016 and is not seeking reelection this fall. “So much of the work we do has to do with building policy and plans. This particular project is the culmination of over two decades of having those discussions.”

The origins of the Picture Main Street project can be traced to 2005, when the city’s Transportation and Parking Commission, Board of Public Works, Planning Board and City Council all endorsed a municipal transportation plan that stated the city’s Main Street should provide multiple transportation options. In that same year, the city also introduced a “Streetscape Improvement Plan” which called for a new downtown with wider sidewalks, shorter crosswalks and bike lanes.

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LaBarge, the only remaining city councilor from that era, said that after nearly two decades of research, strategic plans, public outreach and community forums over redesigning Main Street, it was time to finally take action.

“I’m just honored that this is happening with me here,” said LaBarge, who was first elected in 1997. “Because I am one of the last who have worked very tirelessly with every mayor right through this whole process.”

At-large councilor Jamila Gore expressed her support for the project and said she hoped the city could work with downtown businesses during the construction period to provide support.

“It’s going to be a big change,” Gore said. “I’m glad that it’s open for discussion among us, because there’s been so much back and forth through the community in the past few months.”

Opposition to the project has come from several local residents and downtown businesses, concerned about potential loss of revenue to businesses still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and potential traffic issues caused by the narrowing of the road to add the bike lane.

Those opposed to the project have coalesced around a group known as Save Northampton, which garnered almost 2,000 signatures on a change.org petition in opposition to the city’s current design for remaking Main Street.

In a letter to the council in response to the resolution, written by attorney John DiBartolo, the group agreed that changes were needed for the city’s downtown, but that alternative plans needed to be looked at.

“Everyone wants a pedestrian friendly downtown with café seating on wider sidewalks, high-visibility crosswalks, art crosswalks, more trees, and greater accessibility for all,” the letter stated. “We do not want to thwart the efforts of the city and Toole Design; we want to make the most of their efforts.”

The group also stated in the letter that it had reached out to 100 businesses located in the downtown to survey their views on the project, and that a majority of them were opposed to the city project.

“There are some other modifications that we suggest to improve safety,” the letter stated. “These include raised crosswalks on Main Street, curb extenders at the crosswalks, flashing lights and/or signage at crosswalks and painting the travel lanes with well-marked bike lanes.”

The council is expected to vote on the resolution next month.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.