Critics of Northampton’s Picture Main Street redesign pitch alternative

John DiBartolo, an attorney with offices in Easthampton and Northampton, discusses an alternative design put forth by critics of the planned Picture Main Street project in Northampton.

John DiBartolo, an attorney with offices in Easthampton and Northampton, discusses an alternative design put forth by critics of the planned Picture Main Street project in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 11-14-2023 6:08 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Opponents of the current redesign plan for the Picture Main Street project have unveiled an alternative vision for what Northampton’s Main Street should look like, in hopes the city changes its mind before construction officially takes place.

The group, known as Save Northampton Main Street, led in part by John DiBartolo, an attorney with offices in Northampton and Easthampton, is basing its alternative plan on one of several redesigns originally put forth by Toole Design Group, the engineering consultant firm the city has placed in charge of the project.

“The design that we’re putting forward is their design, but with modifications that should [allow the project to] get federal funding,” DiBartolo told about 25 people at a Monday meeting at Hotel Northampton. “The design is largely the same, but it’s going to better address some of the underlying issues which many people have concerns about.”

The group hopes to make a similar presentation to the City Council at its Thursday meeting, at which councilors are expected to take up a resolution in support of the current design.

That plan calls for creating three 11-foot-wide vehicle travel lanes, with one of those lanes designated for turning. Plans also call for expanded sidewalks, removal of more than a third of on-street parking, and the addition of bike lanes in both directions, separated from the main road by a buffer.

By comparison, the design brought forth at Monday’s meeting retains two lanes in both directions and eliminates the buffer between the bike lanes. Furthermore, it calls for the construction of a bike path “loop” that would connect the bike lanes on Main Street to the existing bike trail that runs through the city. The alternative plan also calls for adding signal lights and speed humps at several downtown crosswalks.

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“We simply want to offer an alternative plan, which includes much of the city’s design, but has some alternative features,” said Judy Herrell, the owner of Herrell’s Ice Cream and member of Save Northampton Main Street.

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, a staunch supporter of the current redesign plan, said in a statement that the city has already had years of public meetings and community involvement in the process of choosing the project’s current design.

“At this stage, our focus is on the future,” she said. “We value the continued passion and involvement of all community members, and it’s crucial we unite in our efforts to ensure the safety, accessibility, prosperity, vibrancy and resilience of downtown.”

Save Northampton Main Street has expressed concern over the idea of narrowing Main Street to one vehicle lane on each side, worried about possible traffic buildup.

In other cities that have done similar redesigns, such as in Concord, New Hampshire, results have shown that the narrowing of streets did not lead to higher traffic, since cars not planning to stop on Main Street simply rerouted to other streets, a position the city has argued would apply to Northampton.

In his presentation, DiBartolo pushed back against that idea, saying that such traffic diversions are not feasible for Northampton.

“There’s no reason to believe that will work here in Northampton, because we don’t have a bypass route,” he said. “We don’t have lots of ways around our Main Street.”

Even if the current redesign didn’t result in traffic issues, DiBartolo said, it still contains unresolved safety issues, saying pedestrians were at risk of collision with cyclists and there was nothing to slow down the pace of cars, whereas in the alternative design features raised speed bumps.

“Our design keeps the traffic slowed, keeps it calmed,” he said. “In our design, the positioning of bike lanes keeps pedestrians safe from cyclists.”

The council plans to vote on a resolution in support of Picture Main Street on Thursday. DiBartolo said he had reached out to request that the council allow the alternative plan to be presented at the meeting, and noted that the resolution does not specifically state what the final design of Picture Main Street will look like.

“I need 15 minutes. I can do it quickly, I can do it without going through all the studies,” he said. “I can just go through the plan.”

Council President Jim Nash said he would entertain a motion to allow the presentation to be shown, but it would be up to the council to decide whether to include it as part of discussion.

“That’s traditionally how we’ve done it when members of the public want to make a presentation,” Nash said. “I expect there will be a discussion, and then we’ll see if the council lets them have the floor.”