Hot Topic: Opinions are still rolling in on Main Street
The Concord City Council will meet tonight to vote on the proposed Main Street project. If the $10.95 million plan is approved, the city will redesign and rebuild nine blocks of the downtown.
But the votes haven’t been cast yet, and “Monitor” readers still have some last-minute lobbying to do. Spoiler alert: Not everybody is crazy about the colored lights.
It’s all about access
Main Street exists because of the businesses there. Without them, there is no point for its existence. Without access, they will not continue to thrive. This Main Street makeover fails on access, especially in the winter. This past winter showed that the main culprit is snow.
For several weeks in February, we got a foretaste of the proposed reduced traffic lanes when there was one travel lane in each direction because the right lane had become the parking spaces and the parking spaces had become snow piles both from the road and the sidewalks. Yes, I remember the years of plowing the snow into the center of Main Street. Which was better? Hmmm?
The new configuration provides for a turning lane?! For two to three streets? And the elimination of many parking spaces? Remember, “access.” People are often lazy and don’t want to walk far from a parking space. Personally, I rarely park on Main Street, preferring to park on State or Green and walk down. I also plan to not turn left onto School, Park or Depot streets. There are other ways to go.
If the planners were serious about access to businesses and reduction of snow interference, why, when they were considering heated sidewalks, did they not consider heated streets?
Also, changing the pitch of the streets when installing heating pipes under the roadway could have gently pitched the street downward from the new Gibson’s through the length of Main Street to Centre, where the roadway would be grated so that the melted snow could be channeled to an effluent pipe to the river or the water treatment plant. There appears to be a 2- to 3-foot grade change. Assuming that the use of salt and calcium chloride on the streets and sidewalks was eliminated and prohibited, the polluted runoff would be minimized.
Changing the pitch might also make it easier for some businesses to accomplish handicapped access by eliminating the two steps to sidewalk and the one-step entrance. Heat could have eliminated the need for the steps to keep out the snow and weather. Just need a good broom, none of those noisy polluting gas-powered blowers.
Since many no longer view Concord Steam as a viable business solution, perhaps it is time to make Concord Steam a city industry to benefit the city. Wasn’t it once a city entity?
And don’t get me started on Loudon Road.
Souring on the plan
Mayor Jim Bouley and Councilors: I am a resident of Ward 4 who has paid little attention to the downtown revitalization plan. Change can be good, and if the merchants were happy and federal funds were paying a substantial amount of the cost, why should I meddle?
Then I took some time to attend an InTown Concord presentation at the Holiday Inn. My big concern was for the loss of crosswalks, since I prefer to either walk to downtown or to park off-street. I decided to attend the public hearing to voice my concern.
At the hearing, as I listened to the comments of others, I found myself growing more and more opposed to the plan.
Here’s why: It will destroy too much parking; it will create a two-lane, two-way street better suited to a much smaller community; it will do nothing to restore the brave array of flags we once could expect to see lining the historic portion of Main Street; it will seriously inhibit business on Main Street during construction; it doesn’t do a darn thing for South Main Street; it uses only a banner here and there to draw people from the highway into town, and makes no change in the dull array of warehouse-like backs of Storrs Street buildings, which provide the traveler with his first impression of our city.
The widened sidewalks provide no more space for pedestrians or for shop patios but instead are filled with expensive, high-maintenance “furniture.” Our present trees are satisfactory but their gratings are in need of service. The funding balance has shifted dramatically from federal to local property.
Is the plan totally wrong? No. I really like the repositioned handicapped spaces with immediate access to a sidewalk ramp. I suggest you add flag brackets to every one of those lovely brick buildings along North Main. They could hold the city-owned flags for national holidays, and color-coordinated banners for the seasons and for special community events – Race Days, perhaps. And the signage leading to our parking garages needs to be improved.
For South Main Street, with its much greater variety of building styles and setbacks, I suggest finding a way to reposition the overhead power lines and poles. For flags and banners, pole holders could be attached to the Water Street bridge. I leave it to those more clever to work out a way to put flags and pennants symmetrically north to Pleasant Street.
One last thing: Do light the street trees but with the tiny white lights that can be left up all year, then connected seasonally.
Not enough bang for the buck
With the cost for the consulting, engineering and professional fees to design, plan and prepare for bid – then plan and redesign again to prepare for rebid – the Main Street project is near $1 million already.
The city has received 60 percent reimbursement of this from the federal government under the T.I.G.E.R. grant application. If the city votes down the project, it risks getting a bill to repay that reimbursement. I think it is best to proceed with the project.
But the latest project proposal doesn’t make the downtown main street the “destination” that was originally envisioned.
To the city’s credit, the latest proposal is an attempt to compromise. But some things don’t lend themselves to compromise. I see this as one of those things.
I remember when the project was called “the Complete Streets Project.” I hope the city will fulfill this. Getting the piping for snow/ice melting under both the street and sidewalks is critical. The lines should be buried before the paving is done.
And if the council does not want to go the distance with a surface parking lot, lighting, etc., at least the stage will be well set to do so in the future with the paving done ,and piping and lines buried already. The project needs to be more worthy of the risk to the downtown business owners and complementary for property owners.
The current proposal has too many bucks and not enough bang. I hope the project results in the “destination” we need. I hope the next phase of development is connecting downtown to the river within the next 10 years. Planning done well only increases the probability of a desired outcome but doesn’t guarantee it.
Though “complete” satisfaction cannot be expected with any design, I think achieving the “destination” envisioned will provide the highest level in the future.
Color me confused
My wife and I are among the many who believe downtown Concord will be enhanced by the Main Street plan.
The lovely trees and plantings and widened sidewalks alone will provide a new ambience with the potential to draw growing crowds for shopping, dining and entertainment.
Concord could become, in time, a tourist magnet with its charming sidewalk cafes and music, elegant shops and galleries, and fine theater and concerts. Like a European sidewalk scene.
But colored lighting? Where did that come from, out of the blue, at the last minute?! Who approved it? We certainly don’t. White evening highlighting of our new trees could be lovely. But not colored lights!