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Concord Main Street committee advised to go with two-lane road

Concord’s Main Street advisory committee debated the issue of parking last night, after hearing a presentation about traffic and sidewalk design options.

Representatives from the city’s Transportation Policy Advisory Committee, or TPAC, told the Main Street committee last night that it recommends a two-lane street with a crossable center median, bike lanes, sidewalks about double their current width and parallel parking.

But TPAC did not consider parking in its deliberations, said TPAC member Tom Irwin. The group focused on transportation for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transportation users.

Jay Surdukowski, a member of the Main Street committee, said “parking is king” based on the feedback he’s heard from residents. Considering designs without weighing them against parking is “a fruitless exercise,” he said.

“Our view is it would be a mistake to build this entire project around the concept that we cannot lose parking,” Irwin said.

But Chairman Steve Duprey, a Concord developer, said the $7.85 million streetscape project is meant to spur economic growth, and businesses need adequate customer parking to thrive.

“If you’re right, wonderful,” Duprey told Irwin. “If you’re wrong, you’ve probably killed downtown.”

The city received a $4.71 million federal grant in June to redesign 12 blocks of Main Street. The 17-member Main Street advisory committee is now tasked with presenting design recommendations to the Concord City Council by mid-November.

TPAC developed a matrix to guide the Main Street committee with 16 possible designs and their impact on motorists, bicyclists, bus users and pedestrians. Last night, Irwin presented TPAC’s top four choices:

∎ Two traffic lanes with a six-foot crossable median, designated bike lanes, 22-foot sidewalks and parallel parking. (Current sidewalks are 11 feet in the narrowest sections, said City Engineer Ed Roberge.) Roberge estimated that this design option would result in a loss of 81 parking spaces between Centre and Perley streets.

∎ Three traffic lanes – including a center turning lane – with designated bike lanes, 21-foot sidewalks and parallel parking. Roberge said 81 parking spaces would be lost.

∎ Three traffic lanes – including a center turning lane – with space for bikes to travel in the traffic lanes, 21-foot sidewalks and a mixture of parallel and angled parking. Roberge said it would result in a loss of 35 parking spaces.

∎ Two traffic lanes with a four-foot crossable median, space for bikes to travel in the traffic lanes, 14-foot sidewalks and back-in angled parking. Roberge said nine parking spaces would be lost.

The final option, with the smallest affect on parking, looks nearly the same as the current Main Street, said committee member Will Delker.

“If we’re left with this, which is essentially Main Street as it exists, it is not worth $7.8 million,” Delker said. “But on the other side, I absolutely recognize that parking is an issue.”

Dick Lemieux, a member of the Main Street committee and chairman of TPAC, said the TPAC options are simply recommendations; the Main Street committee can now consider parking and other issues it finds important. Ultimately, city councilors will make a decision about the design.

“We have suggested four alternatives that we looked at very carefully that we think will work,” Lemieux said. “Within that, there are variations that will also work.”

Mike Cohen, a committee member and owner of Pitchfork Records, said he did not support the idea of parallel parking, which Roberge had previously said would result in a loss of about 100 parking spaces.

“A Main Street merchant looking at parallel parking, to lose 100 spaces out of 230 is just not going to fly, and I can talk for any merchant downtown right now,” Cohen said. “It’s just not going to fly.’” Craig Tufts, a member of TPAC and an avid bicyclist, urged the committee to look beyond parking and choose a design that is safe for every mode of transportation.

“You can park 12 bicycles in the space it takes to park one car,” Tufts said. “If it is safer and more comfortable to ride a bicycle, then I think people are going to do that. And it’s another customer base you will get, and I think it will take more pressure off of parking.”

Gerry Carrier, who owns Little River Oriental Rugs on North Main Street, told the committee that customer complaints about available parking “is a reality.” He said Concord shoppers are accustomed to parking in front of their destination, so local businesses depend on parking spaces.

“I just think that we are going to be the mice in this experiment,” Carrier said. “We are feeding our families with this, I’d just like everyone to remember that. These are family businesses. We can’t go to our national headquarters and get more money.”

Also last night, the committee discussed adding other parking in the downtown area to relieve lost space on Main Street. Roberge said between 50 and 56 spaces could be added in a current no-parking zone on the South End of Storrs Street, and angled parking could be added on Park Street.

Committee members had other new ideas last night, including building a designated two-way bike lane on one side of Main Street, between the parked cars and the sidewalk. Holland uses this model, Duprey said. Sue McCoo, who owns Capitol Craftsman & Romance Jewelers, said that option appears safer than a bike lane.

“I’m thinking of it more as the family if you were going to bring your kids down,” McCoo said.

Committee member Mark Ciborowski, whose family owns downtown buildings, said he would like to consider significantly widening sidewalks on the east side of Main Street, but maybe not the west side. In the past week, Ciborowski said, he has personally measured sidewalks up and down Main Street and found that the west side of the street already has wider sidewalks in several places.

“When you think about it, there are 16 eating establishments on the east side” he said. “When I think of wider sidewalks – granted mobility is a huge thing – but the other real benefit of wider sidewalks is outside table seating. . . . There are only two (eating establishments) on the west side.”

At both of its meetings next week, the committee will hear feedback from a number of groups, nonprofit organizations and companies that Mayor Jim Bouley asked the committee to consult about the project.

The committee, formally called the Downtown Complete Streets Project Advisory Committee, will meet at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and 7 p.m. on Thursday in the city council’s chambers at 37 Green St.

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