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Downtown: Main Street roundabout draws mixed reactions

Every day, Mike Cohen hears motorists honking or watches them narrowly avoid collisions at the intersection of Main and Pleasant streets.

Would a roundabout improve the intersection? Cohen, who owns Pitchfork Records and spends his days at that street corner, said he needs to know more before he forms an opinion.

“But the way it is right now, it’s not acceptable,” he said.

The team working on Concord’s Main Street redesign project presented a roundabout design at a meeting last week.

Engineers said it could slow traffic and increase safety for motorists and pedestrians. They’re still working on the roundabout’s layout and logistics, and no design is final until approved by the Concord City Council. But the design team wants feedback about the roundabout idea, Gene McCarthy of the engineering firm McFarland Johnson said last week.

Currently, right turns on red lights are not permitted at the intersection, and pedestrians must wait to cross until all cars are stopped. McCarthy said trucks must cross into other lanes when turning. The “walk” signal shines for five seconds before switching to a blinking “don’t walk” sign, rushing pedestrians to the other side of the street.

With a roundabout design, crosswalks would be set back from all four sides of the intersection and would not have signals. Trucks could not turn in the 95-foot roundabout, but would continue straight through it, McCarthy said.

“From a streetscape perspective, from a calming perspective, from a pedestrian perspective, we think it has some nice elements, it has some nice benefits,” McCarthy said at a meeting last week. “But also because of some of the truck issues, it might create some other issues.”

Patrick Page, who owns Flag-Works and American Cowboy Supply on North Main Street, said he’s open to the idea after last week’s meeting, where he saw an image of the design.

“I’m skeptical, but I think if it worked it’d be much better than lights,” Page said.

While Page noted that engineers need to sort out the

logistics, he said he thinks a roundabout could solve some issues. Traffic may not back up around the intersection if vehicles could move through a roundabout, he said. The potential for backups had always been his worry in reducing Main Street from four lanes to two lanes. Concord received a $4.71 million federal grant last year to redesign 12 blocks of Main Street, based on a proposal to reduce the number of traffic lanes and improve safety.

Pleasant Street marks the divide between North Main Street and South Main Street, and Page said a roundabout would “join north and south.”

“(The roundabout is) a good idea – if you’re going to change something, go all out,” Page said.

Next door to Page’s shop, David Holden said he’s worried about the roundabout.

“It would be disappointing to see a roundabout at Pleasant Street,” said Holden, who owns Hair Biz Salon.

Holden finds it concerning that designs keep evolving; a roundabout hadn’t been mentioned until Tuesday’s meeting, and he didn’t attend.

“It just seems that the city still has homework to do,” he said.

After hearing feedback last week, engineers said they would do more work on the roundabout design. McCarthy said the design team was tasked with finding the best alternative for each intersection in the project area – from South Main Street and Perley Street to North Main Street and Storrs Street. Roundabouts wouldn’t work at the other intersections, he said, but one could function at Pleasant and Main streets.

“We have a bit more work to do on the roundabout alternative,” City Engineer Ed Roberge said at the end of last week’s meeting.

Others, like Cohen, are waiting to learn more about the design. Cohen served on the city’s Main Street advisory committee that developed recommendations for the project, but he missed last week’s meeting.

“I’d certainly be interested in seeing more of a detailed proposal on it,” he said.

CATCH Neighborhood Housing is renovating the Endicott Hotel at the corner of North Main and Pleasant Streets, and its market-rate apartments are scheduled to open this summer. Rosemary Heard, the group’s president, said she’s not yet sure what to think about a roundabout at the intersection.

“We are eager to learn more, clearly,” Heard said. “Our property is right there.”

The next meeting about the Main Street project will be held Feb. 4. The event will be a forum to gather public input, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Grappone Conference Center.

Purple Pit perseveres

Eight months after opening, the Purple Pit jazz club isn’t drawing as many crowds as its owners would like. But they don’t have plans to give up anytime soon.

“It’s a new business and . . . it’s painful for the first year, you know,” co-owner Tom LeMieux said. “Because you’ve got to get everybody to know about it.”

The club on the Pleasant Street Extension opened in May and features live jazz music on Friday nights and blues music on Saturdays. The Purple Pit has a $10 cover charge and a BYOB policy.

On most nights, LeMieux said about 30 people come to the club, while popular bands bring larger crowds. He and business partner Steve Guerrera are still putting their own money into the club, but LeMieux is confident things will turn around after a few years for what he calls “the classiest little club you’ve ever seen.”

“I think it’s going to work out just fine,” he said. “When you think about it, all we need is 100 people on Friday night and 100 people on Saturday night.”

He has marketed the club through posters for each band, and recently he contacted hotels in the Concord area to make sure visitors know about the option for weekend nightlife.

“I definitely want to keep this alive because I think it’s going to need a couple years,” he said. “To pull out after one year, it’s not going to be the right thing to do.”

Market Days on the way

Intown Concord has set the dates for this year’s Market Days – the annual street festival will be held July 18-20.

“We’re still in the very early planning stages,” Intown Concord operations manager Liza Poinier wrote in an email.

Poinier said information for vendors, volunteers and sponsors will be available in a few weeks. (The Monitor is one of Intown Concord’s corporate sponsors.)

“We’re looking forward to following up on the huge success of the 2012 festival with an equally awesome three days and nights,” she wrote.

Intown Concord also plans to bring back a beer tent, Poinier said. The “local food, craft beet and wine tent” made its debut last year.

Architecture on display

The art gallery at Sulloway & Hollis will soon feature its first architecture exhibit.

The firm’s Robert M. Larsen Gallery at 29 School St. will have an “Architecture Now” display beginning next Thursday. Attorney Jay Surdukowski is the exhibit’s organizer.

Entries and winning designs will be on display from the New Hampshire chapter of the American Institute of Architecture’s 2013 awards, Surdukowski wrote in a press release.

The exhibit’s opening reception will be held next Thursday at 5 p.m. It will be on display until March 1.

Main Street on the web

The Concord Main Street project now has its own website: Concordmainstreetproject.com.

Operated by the city’s design team, the site includes an overview of the $7.85 million project, summaries of recent meetings and a schedule of upcoming events. Design images and photo galleries are coming soon, according to the site.

Free parking

Downtown parking is free today. City offices are closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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