Parking issue delays decision on Main Street project
Concord’s Main Street advisory committee last night reviewed a first draft of its final report, but delayed its final decision with a debate about parking.
Any loss of parking spaces is unacceptable because it could hurt downtown businesses, many committee members argued. Others said angled parking on both sides of the street would not allow for wide enough sidewalks. Some said they might support a plan for parallel parking along alternating blocks of one side of Main Street.
Committee member and At-Large City Councilor Dan St. Hilaire said he wants downtown businesses to thrive, but he would also like wider sidewalks. “I realize it’s a risk,” he said, but wide sidewalks could also bring more customers to downtown shops.
“Those people voting for the parallel parking are only voting for it not for the parking, but for the sidewalks,” St. Hilaire said.
The committee agreed to recommend a design with two travel lanes, a crossable median and arrows painted on the road reminding motorists to share the lane with bicyclists.
The city received a $4.71 million federal grant in June to redesign 12 blocks of Concord’s Main Street. The 17-member advisory committee has until Friday to present final recommendations to the Concord City Council, which will meet Nov. 26 for a hearing and vote on the report.
With angled parking on both sides of the street, sidewalks would become about 3 feet wider than their current 11-foot width, based on the 98-foot width of Main Street calculated by City Engineer Ed Roberge. With parallel parking on one side and angled parking on the other, sidewalks would be about 19 feet wide, or 8 feet wider than they are now.
City Planner Gloria McPherson told the committee last night that sidewalks of at least 18 feet are ideal for adding to the streetscape with public displays, trees or flower beds.
Committee member Will Delker said he is not willing to sacrifice parking spaces.
“Despite the diversity of the merchants downtown, universally without exception they have all opposed a reduction in parking,” Delker said. “And everyone who’s willing to sacrifice parking doesn’t have invested stake downtown and doesn’t live there and work there every single day.”
The committee held votes on configurations based on the number of parking spaces they were willing to lose on Main Street. While they did not make a final decision, Concord developer and Chairman Steve Duprey said the votes gauged the committee’s “pressure point” on parking.
Eight out of 17 members said a loss of 10 spaces between Centre Street and Pleasant Street would be acceptable. Twelve committee members said they would be willing to lose five parking spaces.
Committee member Matt Elliott advocated for parallel parking along one side of Main Street, and suggested alternating blocks of parallel parking and angled parking.
“I really want the widened sidewalks to get that punch to attract and keep people there,” Elliott said.
Roberge told the committee last night that the city could gain three or four parking spaces by closing Phenix Avenue, and between four and six spaces on Capitol Street.
But Roberge also asked the committee to leave some flexibility for the city’s design team rather than dictate specific measurements for Main Street. The city faces challenges such as eliminating a double-step curb, he said, and will need space to think creatively.
Under a draft report written by Duprey and Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia, the committee would ask the mayor and city council to continue meeting once or twice per month to advise the design team about the project.
Among the other recommendations in a draft of the committee’s report:
∎ Testing or demonstrating back-in angled parking on one block of Main Street.
∎ Hiring an outside group for a marketing campaign to encourage people to shop and dine on Main Street during construction.
∎ Heating sidewalks on Main Street and, if possible, the entire street with Concord Steam heat.
The committee still needs to determine its recommendations for parking, the width of the median between the two travel lanes on Main Street, private financing for the project, the time of day of construction and aesthetic elements for the streetscape.
The committee will meet to finalize its report at 7 p.m. in the city council’s chambers at 37 Green St.