The City of Northampton is rebooting its Picture Main Street planning process to focus on increased public outreach after facing allegations that the city hasn’t been transparent enough in its efforts to redesign the city’s central public space.
Northampton plans to reconstruct its Main Street in 2025, and the project presents an opportunity to redesign the wide Main Street corridor from the intersections of Elm and West Streets, at the edge of the Smith College campus, to Market and Hawley Streets, near the railroad viaduct.
With funding pooled from the city, state, and federal governments, the redesign would likely reallocate much of the roughly 90 feet of public right-of-way that is currently dedicated to four travel lanes (two lanes in each direction) and angled on-street parking to include protected bike lanes, ADA-accessible sidewalks, and improved pedestrian crossings.
Main Street averages one crash per week, and of those crashes, 11 percent involve people who are walking or biking. With stated goals to provide safety and access for all, promote a vibrant downtown, and create a sustainable streetscape, Picture Main Street has the potential to dramatically decrease the number of crashes.
In August, the City installed temporary bike lanes, expanded sidewalks, outdoor seating areas, and public art with a Shared Streets and Spaces grant from MassDOT.
But the city dismantled the pilot project ahead of schedule after a handful of outspoken business owners raised concerns that the reconfigured street was increasing congestion and reducing access to parking.
In November, the City hosted a public meeting where consultants from Toole Design presented several concepts that would have dramatically changed Main Street.
A majority of the designs presented reduced the number of travel lanes in both directions, maintained the angled on-street parking, added bike lanes, and enhanced pedestrian safety.
Many public comments from the November meeting focused on a perceived lack of transparency in the planning process, leading the City and Toole Design to take a step back.
Instead of presenting updated designs at last week’s public meeting, the City launched a new interactive website.
The website, which currently shows no concept designs, walks through the history of Main Street and the Picture Main Street project, displays crash data, and shares feedback collected from the community thus far. The site encourages visitors to share feedback through prompts displayed throughout the website.
The next public meeting is set to take place later this spring; the project aims to submit a 25% design concept to MassDOT by December 2021.
Streetsblog contributor Elena Huisman lives, works, and bikes in Northampton. She is passionate about and advocates for safe streets.