3-lane Main Street 'viable'
Engineering studies show that reducing Concord's Main Street to three lanes is a 'viable alternative' to the current four-lane street and would increase safety without causing traffic congestion, according to City Engineer Ed Roberge.
Roberge presented traffic studies last night to the advisory committee tasked with developing a plan for Concord's Main Street redesign project. The 17-member committee did not make a decision about traffic lanes on Main Street last night. Chairman and Concord developer Steve Duprey said the committee will discuss the topic at several meetings before its Nov. 16 deadline to provide a recommendation to the city council.
Roberge's presentation included each of the traffic options considered as part of the 'Re-Thinking Main Street' report completed last year by two nonprofit organizations. The report proposed narrowing traffic to three lanes, keeping angled parking on both sides of the street and widening sidewalks to improve safety and accessibility while stimulating economic growth. That report became the basis for the city's successful $4.71 million federal grant application to redesign 12 blocks of Main Street.
Last night, Roberge showed the committee computer simulations based on traffic volume studies, suggesting that traffic would not slow with a three-lane Main Street.
'We're not seeing anything that would be alarming,' Roberge said. 'In fact, I would argue that single-file traffic . . . is a considerable safety improvement with respect to pedestrians and bike safety.'
Plenty of ideas
Among the ideas Roberge mentioned last night: Parallel parking on each side of the street to allow for even wider sidewalks and traffic lanes; parallel parking on only one side of a three-lane street; parallel parking on both sides of the street with a planted median down the middle; and a three-lane street with some raised middle areas to increase safety and prevent motorists from passing each other in the middle lane.
Roberge did not include the idea of a one-way Main Street in last night's presentation; he told the committee last week that it would not work in Concord's linear downtown.
A three-lane Main Street meets the requirements of the federal grant application that calls for integrating all forms of transportation - pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists - and increasing Concord's 'livability,' Roberge said.
Currently, Roberge said it is dangerous to cross Main Street because cars in the center two lanes do not see pedestrians. Because current angled parking spaces are too short, passing cars already must slow or change lanes to avoid hitting parked cars, he said.
Some committee members questioned whether the three-lane plan would slow traffic more than anticipated because Roberge's computer simulation did not account for slowdowns as cars pulling into and backing out of parking spaces. With only one lane in each direction, traffic must stop for parking.
Roberge called the pedestrian and parking issues that slow traffic in the four-lane street 'conflict points,' and said they increase exponentially with additional lanes. He said a three-lane Main Street would force cars to stop for parking, but would also eliminate the other conflict points that slow traffic. He said he believes his computer simulation - which showed traffic moving smoothly in both four-lane and three-lane streets - is accurate.
'That's some people's worst fear that, when you convert Main Street from four lanes to three, there will be gridlock,' said committee member Dick Lemieux, who is also chairman of the city's Transportation Policy Advisory Committee. 'This is evidence that that won't happen.'
For every option presented, the committee also raised concerns about parking. The city's grant application lists a net loss of 20 parking spaces, but Mayor Jim Bouley has pledged that the project will not decrease downtown parking.
'People who want parking are all for making it beautiful and safe' said committee member Mike Cohen, who owns Pitchfork Records. 'But for the merchants I'd say it's a huge concern.'
Committee member Mark Ciborowski, whose family owns buildings downtown, questioned whether a loss of parking would only result from traffic lane reduction.
Roberge said the city's parking spaces and crosswalks are not currently compliant with government safety and accessibility regulations. The project must add space between parked cars and crosswalks, he said.
'I think even the 'do-nothing,' we just simply pave and re-stripe and maintain the four-lane section, I think realistically we're going to have some parking impact,' Roberge said. 'We'll be compelled to make everything compliant.'
But while the project would reduce parking in some areas - an estimated 34 spaces between Pleasant Street and Centre Street - Roberge said parking spaces can be created in other areas. South Main Street has sections of parallel parking that he said could be turned into angled parking, for example.
'Not everyone on this panel is asking for more parking,' said committee member Matt Elliott. 'It's one concern. . . . I know it's a large one.'
'The outer limit'
Committee member Jay Surdukowski suggested the committee learn 'the outer limit' of the loss or gain of parking spaces before it discusses the issue again.
'For better or for worse, Concord is a city of convenience,' Surdukowski said. 'I just have a hunch that we're going to hear some strong opinions of parking.'
The committee will also consider parking options such as back-in angle parking, which Roberge said has been safe and popular in other cities.
Other residents and business owners also spoke to the committee about parking during last night's meeting. Allan Herschlag questioned whether the committee should spend any time considering plans that would eliminate parking spaces, given the mayor's promise that the project would not impact the number of parking spaces.
Pam Peterson, who owns Gondwana & Divine Clothing Co., said she supports the three-lane plan but would like to see 20-minute parking spaces along Main Street. She said that option, combined with encouraging long-term visitors to park in garages, could alleviate parking concerns.
'What we really need in downtown Concord is turnover of spaces,' Peterson said.
The committee was left last night with a number of questions for its next discussion about lane configuration and parking: How would the city add a bike lane? What should be expected as a realistic impact on parking? How has traffic flow been affected in other streetscape projects, such as Manchester's reduction of Elm Street from four lanes to three lanes?
The group, formally called the Downtown Complete Streets Improvement Project Advisory Committee, will meet every Tuesday and Thursday evening until its recommendation to city councilors is due in mid-November.
At its next meeting, tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., the group plans to discuss how to fund 20 percent of the project's overall cost that must come from the private sector. The federal grant will cover 60 percent of the $7.85 million project, and the city will cover the remaining 20 percent.
(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)