Main Street could meld past, safety
Panel views streetscape options
Concord’s Main Street redesign project can create a unified streetscape to highlight the city’s history while making it attractive, accessible and safe, City Planner Gloria McPherson told the Main Street advisory committee last night.
A streetscape is all space from “building face to building face,” McPherson said. Last night, she showed the committee examples and options for several elements of a streetscape: sidewalk width, parking, corners, crosswalks, bike racks, paving, landscaping, lighting, street furnishings and public art.
“So really each element that you see contributes to the streetscape, it’s all integral and nothing is really the icing on the cake,” McPherson said.
But the committee did not make any decisions last night; Steve Duprey, the committee’s chairman, said the group will leave specific choices to the designers and architects the city hires to complete the work.
“I see – at most – this committee weighing in on some of the goals we want to achieve and the elements,” Duprey said.
The city received a $4.71 million federal grant in June to redesign 12 blocks of Main Street. The 17-member advisory committee made up of property owners, business owners, residents and city officials has until mid-November to present recommendations to the Concord City Council.
A 2011 “Re-Thinking Main Street” report developed by two local nonprofit groups envisioned a Main Street dotted with trees and uniform benches, streetlights and newspaper boxes. That report, by Main Street Concord and the former Concord 2020, became the basis for the city’s grant application. (Main Street Concord is now called Intown Concord, and the Monitor is one of its corporate sponsors.)
A discussion last night about streetscape elements included the impact of parking, which the committee has discussed in previous meetings. The group will choose between front-angle parking, back-in angle parking, parallel parking or a combination of options.
Parallel parking allows for the widest sidewalks, McPherson said. City Engineer Ed Roberge told the committee that parallel parking along Main Street would result in a loss of about 100 parking spaces.
McPherson suggested the city consider a “parking management plan” if parking is lost along Main Street, such as a tiered parking payment structure. Some cities charge more money to park on Main Street, or offer one hour of free parking in a garage, she said.
The committee previously asked whether angled parking could be added on Storrs Street; Roberge said last night that only some parallel spaces can be added on Storrs Street.
“That’s unfortunate,” said committee member Mike Cohen, who owns Pitchfork Records.
McPherson said city staff members are currently counting all parking spaces in downtown – including streets surrounding Main Street – to consider where parking could be added.
The committee also learned that cost may be a limiting factor in streetscape design.
“Is that really expensive?” asked committee member Jay Surdukowski, while looking at a photo of one crosswalk that he said he liked. “I’m just curious.”
McPherson said yes, the design Surdukowski liked is expensive, but still encouraged the committee to think creatively.
“It’s those little things that can really make a place special, like the edge detail on that curbing,” McPherson said, while presenting a photo of a historic street in England.
McPherson also encouraged the committee to think about pedestrian-level lighting and trees or landscaping. Lighting and banners along Main Street are currently for meant for cars, she said.
“I think people overestimate the amount of street lighting needed for safety,” McPherson said. “Cars have headlights.”
Some streetscape elements, such as allowing stores to display sandwich boards and special lighting, may not fit with current zoning ordinances, McPherson said. But she said those elements would make the street more inviting and encourage people to visit Main Street, boosting business and economic developing.
“There’s definitely going to have to be changes to the zoning ordinance,” she said.
Common spaces, such as the State House plaza on North Main Street, can also be highlighted through the project, McPherson said. While the “Re-Thinking Main Street” plan suggested planting many trees on the city-owned space in front of the State House, McPherson suggested that area could be left open because it is New Hampshire’s “political stage.”
“But it doesn’t need to be that ugly,” said committee member Sue McCoo, referring to the plaza’s current look.
Also last night, the committee heard a presentation from representatives from the Institute for Human Centered Design, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that promotes designs for people of all abilities.
“You could have literally a downtown here in Concord that works for everyone, it gets people into almost every storefront . . . and it would be attractive, beautiful and safe,” said Christopher Hart, the organization’s director of urban and transportation projects.
At its next meeting tomorrow night, the committee will discuss traffic configuration on Main Street. Roberge told the committee that a presentation tomorrow from the city’s Transportation Policy Advisory Committee will allow the group to “start to piece it all together.”
The committee, formally called the Downtown Complete Streets Advisory Committee, will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the city council’s chambers at 37 Green St.
(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)