Northampton’s Main Street overhaul makes more room for bikes, people


Staff Writer

Published: 04-27-2023 7:29 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A $19.1 million extensive redesign of Main Street downtown outlined this week calls for removing more than a third of on-street parking, adding bike lanes in both directions and planting new trees throughout the downtown area, all part of a project dubbed by the city as “Picture Main Street.”

The state Department of Transportation unveiled the new look for downtown during a virtual presentation Wednesday that drew hundreds of residents, who got the chance to check out the design phase at its 25% completion mark and to give feedback on the project that’s been in the works since 2020 and isn’t expected to begin construction until the fall of 2025, taking three years to complete.

The project stretches across a nearly half-mile length of Main Street, beginning west of the intersection of Elm and West streets next to Smith College to the intersection of Market and Hawley streets near the pedestrian bridge that spans over Main.

The plan calls for narrowing Main Street by eliminating 57 on-street parking spaces, expanding sidewalks and adding bike lanes on each side of the street. Bus loading zones also will be more clearly defined.

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra called the opportunity to redesign Main Street essential for improving traffic safety, revitalizing the city’s economy and preparing the city for coming changes in climate.

“This space and all of us who occupy it have an interwoven connection,” she said. “We cannot succeed as a community without the businesses that are part of this safe, shared community space, and the businesses cannot succeed without our residents and visitors bringing their interest and their energy.”

The project currently calls to turn the road into three 11-foot-wide vehicle travel lanes, with one of those lanes designated for turning. A 5½-foot bike lane will be built on each side of the road, separated from the road by a 3-foot buffer. Sidewalks will be expanded to be 5½ feet wide to 35 feet wide in places on both sides.

Angled parking will be eliminated on one side of the road and replaced with only parallel parking, while the other side will have a mixture of both angled and parallel parking.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Stephanie Upson, the MassDOT project manager for Picture Main Street, said the changes will help reduce the high number of pedestrian and cyclist accidents in the area. According to the state accident data, Northampton’s downtown had 35 bicycle-related and 30 pedestrian-related accidents from 2011 to 2020, making it one of the top 5% clusters of accidents in those categories across the state. Of those, five accidents resulted in either serious injury or fatality.

“Narrowing the roadway will help reduce crashes, calm traffic, and establish more consistent speeds,” Upson said. “If we can increase the space devoted to the sidewalk and the public realm as part of the roadway narrowing, we’ll also delineate those travel lanes to reduce driver confusion.”

Upson also said expanded sidewalks would be beneficial for downtown businesses, allowing for outdoor dining and enabling more pedestrian traffic.

“Our goal is to promote a vibrant and attractive downtown that’s accessible for all users,” she said.

The city is also taking the opportunity to update water and sewer utilities, as well as enhance lighting in the area, according to Carolyn Misch, director of planning and sustainability.

“There will be much-needed upgrades to the century-old water and sewer lines at various locations,” Misch said. “Stormwater drainage will be modified to match the changing curb line, and will include some new installation. We’ll also be replacing the lighting for improved visibility through Main Street, targeted particularly at intersections.”

In the three years since planning began, there have been numerous meetings and hearings to gather community input and discuss alternative planning strategies. Additional input is expected before the design is finished. The budget for the project is estimated at $19.1 million, with $15.3 million coming from federal sources and $3.8 million from state funds.

Parking space concerns

Following the presentation, members of the public asked questions of MassDOT officials and representatives of Toole Design Group, the consulting company hired to work on the project.

In response to questions about the elimination of the on-street parking spaces, Stephanie Weyer, a landscape architect at Toole Design, said there were many other spaces near Main Street that could be used instead.

“There are 400 additional on-street parking spaces within a five-minute walk of Main Street, and 1,000 additional off-street spaces in publicly available lots and garages,” Weyer said.

Jason DeGray, the office director of Toole, said that once construction starts, it would take approximately three years to finish — though traffic would not need to be rerouted during that entire time period — and that there would be no long-term detours of Main Street.

“It’s not all heavy construction,” he said. “Year one would be addressing the subsurface utilities, so localized work that would have some presence in the roadway but not deterring traffic from downtown. Year two would essentially be reconstructing one side of the street and shifting traffic to the opposite side ... year three will likely be the reconstruction of the opposite side.”

According to MassDOT’s timeline, the design plan will reach 75% completion by the end of this year, with a final design plan ready in 2024. Construction for the project is expected to break ground in the fall of 2025.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at