NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – An advocacy group presented an alternative design for downtown Northampton’s Main Street in a meeting Monday night.
The group, ‘Save Northampton Main Street’ wants to make some changes to the city’s original redesign plans. The original Picture Main Street covers nearly a half-mile of Main Street, from the intersection of Elm and West Streets near Smith College to the intersection of Market and Hawley Streets near the rail trail bridge.
The original project calls for three 11-foot-wide lanes, one of them a turning lane. Furthermore, there will be expanded sidewalks, fewer on-street parking spaces, bike lanes in both directions and trees planted throughout the downtown area. One side of the road would get parallel parking only, the other side would get angled and parallel parking mixed.
Amy Mager, licensed in acupuncture at the Wellness House in Northampton told 22News that local businesses will suffer from construction disruptions, damaging Northampton’s reputation as a vibrant destination. Limited on-street parking is another concern to her as well. “My concern is that some of my Medicaid patients have to pay more to park when they can’t walk to my office,” explained Mager. “I’m hoping that we can find some solutions to support folks who have a little less to maintain their dignity and be able to park and get the care that they receive from providers like myself because there are many providers downtown.”
Judy Herrell, owner of Herrell’s ice cream shop downtown, says the city has paid over $2.3 million to its Boston-based contractor, Toole Design, Inc. to help with the city’s original design plan. Herrell tells 22News the contractor compared downtown Northampton to Concord, New Hampshire for its design plans. However, Herrel says they are very different.
“Concord, New Hampshire is laid out like a grid. Northampton is not. And Concord if you want to bypass the downtown shopping district you take a road around it and it goes parallel to it, that doesn’t happen in Northampton, you have to know how to bypass downtown, and how is bypassing downtown going to be good for businesses,” said Herrel.
In August 2020, the city tried out traffic and parking changes proposed by state and city planners, but the mayor revoked them. Save Northampton Main Street claims that the city has now refused to conduct another trial that would include its bicycle lanes.
“Ideally a trial run would’ve been helpful because if there are things that aren’t working in the design the way they were intended, they could be tweaked before we’re spending that $20 million dollars. The city indicated that it’s not feasible,” said John DiBartolo, a lawyer who practices personal injury in downtown.
The design he and Save Northampton Main Street drafted, they want to call on the city to establish a bicycle loop that connects downtown. This comes after the city’s original proposal called also for dual bike lanes from West Street to Market Street. Residents and local businesses claim this original idea may pose a risk to pedestrians crossing Main Street. “If the proposed bike lane is behind where the cars are, it will not be safe for the doors to open into the lane, so we’re asking for “small changes that make a big difference,” according to Mager.
According to DiBartolo, the design will also look into turning rising crosswalks into speed bumps, putting curb bumps out, and adding lights for pedestrians.
As a Northampton Ward 4 City Councilor, Garrick M. Perry believes that a vibrant town and nightlife are key to reuniting the city. “I know every councilor is thinking a lot about how we view the future of Northampton and how we move forward. We want to see a renaissance in our downtown.”
He adds, “I think the current situation of Northampton is untenable, I think we’re having a very dangerous situation where walk paths are very wide, which is an increased risk to all pedestrians, families wanting to shop, and those wanting to pull out. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can come up with to give safety to everyone.”
Save Northampton hopes to meet with the city council on Thursday, November 16th to present these changes. This is where they will vote on a resolution to support the work that’s been done. The ultimate goal of the redesign project is to make downtown safer for pedestrians, cyclists, cars, and buses.