Guest columnist Karen Bierwert: Main Street redesign could use some trial runs

By KAREN BIERWERT

Published: 08-09-2023 2:31 PM

I am a resident of Northampton, born here and have lived here for close to 70 years. I care about our community. My mother’s family had a Main Street business four generations, going back to my great-grandfather. However, I am very concerned about the Main Street redesign, or Picture Main Street, and the impact it would have on the city, its residents, and downtown businesses. It seems as if key issues include: clarity of travel lanes, safety and visibility of pedestrians and cyclists, and speed of travel. $19.2 million for this project is a huge sum. Have simpler actions been considered to address the problematic issues? Clarity of travel: Is Main Street one lane or two? As has been suggested elsewhere, has anyone considered painting lines on Main Street to clearly demarcate the lanes thereby eliminating the confusion as to whether it is one lane or two lanes of travel?

Before reconstructing Main Street, again, as has been suggested, could there be a trial period of having one lane of travel? Put up barricades to delineate one lane; use barricades like the ones placed adjacent to Child’s Park opposite Northampton High School or on South Street. Or perhaps something else can be designed to temporarily test one lane travel. (Barricades would hinder parking during this trial period, so that would need to be addressed, also.) 

This trial period of having a one lane Main Street could also test out any impact on traffic entering or leaving Northampton. Safety and visibility of pedestrians crossing the street: Has adding neons signs with flashing lights been considered? These are found in several places in town, for example, on State Street, by Northampton High School, on Bridge Road. Has narrowing the crosswalks, as has been done in Florence center, been considered? For safety and visibility of pedestrians and for the slowing of traffic, have raised crosswalks been considered? (Route 9 in Amherst has raised crosswalks adjacent to Amherst College, examples of a town and state highway having raised crosswalks.)

The cost of raised walkways would be greater than neon signs, but less than the proposed cost of redesigning Main Street. Also mentioned in earlier issues of the Gazette are ideas about cycling. Already there are bike paths/rail trails to and from the city. Has it been considered to create bicycle “parking lots” where one could ride to town, park one’s bike, and walk to one’s destination in town? That is what I have done during all the years I cycled. I encourage cycling. However, if I am going to Northampton from a distance, I am not going to cycle. If I am going out to dinner in Northampton, I am not going to cycle. If I am going to do a lot of shopping, I am not going to have enough room in my panniers. I am not going to cycle.

Downtown businesses: I am fearful that the redesign and reconstruction of Main Street would have a major impact on the business owners downtown. How long will this disruption last? Have the concerns of the downtown business owners been considered and addressed? I am fearful that some businesses would be forced to close due to disruption of Main Street. The loss of businesses seems to be the antithesis of a healthy downtown; the city would lose part of its vibrancy and character. Also, business tax revenue would be lost. Does that mean increased taxes or another fee for the residents and taxpayers of Northampton?

Finally, self responsibility is critical for our community. Simply put: stay off your phone when driving, when cycling, when crossing the street. Be vigilant. Pay attention to your surroundings. It is stated in the Picture Main Street data that 40% of crashes on Main Street between 2016-2018 were due to distraction and inattention. We are all part of a community. We need to be aware of and respect others. Our behaviors affect others. Do I have all the data? No. Are some of these suggestions simple? Perhaps. Are they worth trying first before a huge project is undertaken? Perhaps trying some simpler solutions would make sense. I agree that one person injured or killed is one too many. Clarity, safety, visibility, speed reduction all are imperative. What are the best means to achieve these ends so that Northampton can remain a vibrant, positive community?

Karen Bierwert lives in Florence. 

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