Concord Main Street meeting covers accessibility plans, latest streetscape designs
Granite benches on the sidewalks. Fountains in the State House plaza where children can play. A handicapped-accessible pedestrian ramp between Low and Phenix avenues, which would be closed to traffic and turned into a pocket park.
Those features are among the latest designs for Concord’s Main Street presented at a public meeting last night. Plans for the streetscape project are moving forward on schedule for construction to begin this fall, said Gene McCarthy of the engineering firm McFarland Johnson.
The design team also has proposed a layout to deal with grading and improve accessibility, McCarthy said. He said the plan was submitted to the city last week and is still under review.
McCarthy said engineers are “dealing with almost each (building) entrance individually” to address handicapped accessibility and will meet with property owners.
“So the trickier pieces are those noncompliant entrances that are very challenging, and they’re more challenging because of the historic nature of this district,” he said. “Not only are the buildings historic, the steps are historic.”
Last night’s meeting also included a presentation by Liz Durfee Hengen, a historic preservation consultant who is on the city’s design team. She provided an overview of Concord’s Main Street, beginning with its first survey in 1726.
Main Street “has never been stagnant,” Hengen said, but certain elements of the proposed design will highlight the downtown’s history.
“Constancy would be the concrete sidewalks, this regular continuous wall of architecturally distinguished red brick,” she said.
Among the highlights of Concord’s history: a 19th century ordinance mandating the construction of sidewalks; the introduction of standardized streetlights in the 1920s; and a federally funded redesign project in 1953 that increased parking and improved traffic flow.
A historical study and review are required under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, said Jamie Sikora of the Federal Highway Administration. He said the project must minimize negative effects on the historical and cultural resources of Main Street.
The city has received a $4.71 million federal grant to complete the Main Street work, and Sikora is overseeing the design process on behalf of the federal government.
The project will reduce traffic to two lanes with a traversable center median and space for bicycle travel while improving pedestrian safety, widening sidewalks and making room for public art and pocket parks. Current designs include parallel parking on one side of the street and angled parking on the other side.
Johnathan Law, of the landscape architecture firm Carol R. Johnson Associates, presented the latest streetscape designs last night. Based on previous public input, he proposed adding granite benches in front of the State House and at other areas along the street that jut out, and installing fountains that are flush with the ground in front of the State House.
“So we feel this would be a good generator to get people back downtown,” Law said.
Law presented plans for a handicapped-accessible pedestrian ramp that would wind down from a pocket park on Phenix Avenue to Low Avenue. Some residents had voiced concern about closing the passage to pedestrians.
Design proposals also include public art and the relocation of the clock tower from the entrance of Eagle Square to the front of Phenix Hall.
City officials have yet to decide whether to build a snowmelt system for both the roadway and sidewalk.
A snowmelt system would run on waste energy from the Concord Steam plant that is planned in the South End.
“As we move forward, the city council will weigh in . . . to see how far they’re willing to take the snowmelt system, McCarthy said.
The city council received cost estimates for the snowmelt system at its meeting this week. Heating both the road and sidewalk throughout the project area would cost $4 million beyond the proposed $7.85 million budget, while heating the sidewalks only on North Main Street is within the budget, according to the report. The cost estimates also included a range of other options.
Mayor Jim Bouley asked the design team last night to provide cost estimates for closing Phenix Avenue to create a pocket park, including the cost difference between closing the street to pedestrians and building a ramp.
“I just want to know truly what we’re dealing with, with cost,” Bouley said.
The latest designs received praise from several residents at the meeting last night.
Steve Duprey, a Concord developer who was chairman of the committee appointed last fall to develop recommendations for the project, asked the design team to include many signs and light fixtures.
Signs to guide visitors to parking garages “can’t be an afterthought,” added Will Delker, a member of the Main Street advisory committee.
The design team will hold its next public meeting April 16. The city council will hold a public hearing and vote on the final designs May 13.
(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)