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Engineering consultant: Roundabout for Concord’s Main St. has benefits, challenges

The intersection of Main and Pleasant streets could function as a roundabout, consultants for Concord’s Main Street project said last night.

Replacing traffic lights with a roundabout at the intersection would improve safety for motorists and pedestrians by slowing and calming traffic flow, said Gene McCarthy, a consultant for the engineering firm McFarland Johnson. But large trucks could not turn at the roundabout, he told residents and business owners at a public meeting about the city’s $7.85 million Main Street redesign project.

“We certainly feel that it has some benefits, but it certainly has some challenges as well,” McCarthy said.

Residents praised the roundabout design at last night’s meeting, but some expressed concerns about its practicality. Will Delker, a member of the city’s Main Street advisory committee, said he worried about pedestrian safety. Crosswalks would be set back from the roundabout and would not have crossing signals.

“I think it’s an interesting idea and it would look great, but I really have some reservations about . . . whether the practical aspects outweigh the aesthetics this particular circumstance,” Delker said.

McCarthy said roundabouts “have proven to be very safe for pedestrians” because traffic slows as it approaches the intersection. Stopping for pedestrians is part of the roundabout’s design and flow, he said; when a vehicle pauses it allows time for others to enter the roundabout from different directions.

Gerry Carrier, owner of Little River Oriental Rugs on North Main Street, said he likes the roundabout design but worries about delivery trucks. McCarthy said trucks could still access Main and Pleasant streets by traveling straight through the roundabout but would be unable to turn. While the city could re-map its main truck route that passes through that intersection, he said the path would not be closed to all trucks.

“I would like to be the first to say that if it comes down to a choice of having a roundabout at that intersection or favoring the occasional truck . . . I would definitely opt for the roundabout,” said Dick Lemieux, a member of the Main Street advisory committee and chairman of the city’s Transportation Policy Advisory Committee.

A roundabout at Pleasant and Main streets would be the same size as the existing roundabout at Centre and Liberty streets, said Brian Colburn, an engineer with McFarland Johnson.

Mayor Jim Bouley asked whether traffic backups at the intersection of State and Pleasant streets could overflow into the roundabout, and expressed concern because the route is important for emergency vehicles to reach Concord Hospital.

“So I think there is a concern to that,” McCarthy said. “I’m not sure how far we’ve looked into that.”

Parking, streetscape layout

The design team received praise last night for their parking and streetscape layouts.

To avoid varied sidewalk width, City Engineer Ed Roberge said North Main Street would have parallel parking on the west side and angled parking on the east, except in front of the State House plaza.

The current design would result in a net loss of 21 parking spaces between Fayette and Centre streets, Colburn said. That estimate roughly fits the Main Street advisory committee’s recommendation to limit the loss of parking spaces.

The city received a $4.71 million federal grant last year to redesign 12 blocks of Main Street. The current design includes reducing traffic from four lanes to two lanes, with a six-foot crossable median in the center. Construction is scheduled to begin in September and end by 2015.

Sidewalks would have a minimum width of 18 feet under the proposed design, McCarthy said, and could be as wide as 30 feet in areas with bump-outs and pocket parks.

The sidewalks would have a brick section along the curb for landscaping and bike racks, said Johnathan Law, of the landscape architecture firm Carol R. Johnson Associates.

Law said Main Street could be divided into “zones,” each with different colors, public art and landscaping. The layout would keep the street from looking like a bowling alley, which worried residents at a meeting last month.

Byron Champlin, chairman of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce’s Creative Concord committee, said he liked the new ideas for creative street furniture and public art. But he was skeptical about the proposal for four themed zones: civic; transportation; cultural and arts; and agricultural to industrial.

“I am concerned about the idea of the themed areas,” he said. “I worry very much that we’re moving to a Disneyland type of thing here.”

The designs presented last night also include a “pocket park” with fountains on Phenix Avenue, which the design team proposed closing to traffic and pedestrians.

Law suggested moving the clock tower currently in front of Eagle Square to a different location, and showed an image of it in front of the Works Bakery Cafe. He said the tower blocks the entrance to Eagle Square and crowds the sidewalk. In his proposed design, the tower is on a larger sidewalk and has seating areas alongside it.

“It also helps us to place the clock far enough away from the facade of the building to not make it feel very daunting to walk past it, to not make the space feel closed,” he said.

Residents and business owners praised the design, which included more details and variations than at a December meeting.

“I used that unfortunate term ‘underwhelming’ last time,” said resident Althea Barton. “But I think it looks very attractive.”

The design team has created a website and Facebook page for the project. The Facebook page is called “Concord Main Street Project.” The website, which McCarthy said will go online tomorrow, is concordmainstreetproject.com.

On Feb. 4, the design team will host a public feedback session at the Grappone Conference Center. The city council will hold a public hearing about the designs at its
Feb. 11 meeting.

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

Legacy Comments8

Sad, modern roundabouts are not rotaries. If you want to see the difference between a traffic circle, a rotary (UK roundabout) and a modern roundabout, search www.k-state.edu to see pictures. And here’s another site that shows the difference between an older roundabout/rotary and a modern roundabout: http://tinyurl.com/bzf7qmg Rabbit, explain how a car can't fit? Do you know what a truck apron is and what it is for?

No more roundabouts! These stores will probably go out of business during construction because nobody will dare to go downtown. And losing parking spots is a bad idea. Who will be sitting on all these new artisan crafted benches? Homeless people? A nice looking area is always inviting, but you have to have the stores as well or people just won't pay to park and walk around.

This is a TERRIBLE idea. Rotary = Massive traffic snarls. Ever tried going to the Cape? That's just one of a zillion examples.

Don't worry, be happy! A rotary is not being proposed. If you want to see the difference between a traffic circle, a rotary (UK roundabout) and a modern roundabout, search www.k-state.edu to see pictures. And here’s another site that shows the difference between an older roundabout/rotary and a modern roundabout: http://tinyurl.com/bzf7qmg The FHWA has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhHzly_6lWM ).

We seem to be on a roundabout fad for the last few years. The one by me headed towards Boscawen is a disaster. It is too narrow for regular size cars let alone trucks. It is obvious that sprucing up Main Street has become nothing more than a bunch of folks who have these grand ideas that cost a lot of bucks. No doubt the project will double in cost, cut out more parking and do nothing to attract more business owners who have deep pockets and can afford the high rents on Main Street. We have seen so many business come and go downtown. High end restaurants do not last, nor do expensive shops with small inventories that have to charge high prices for their products. Some folks seem to think Concord NH is Concord Mass. We are not income level wise.

Harris Hill and King? What car can't fit? Modern roundabouts are designed for trucks by including the center flat area around the circle. It’s not a sidewalk, it’s called a truck apron, and it’s for trucks to begin a sharp right or end a left or U-turn on. Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsCoI7lERGE Or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nVzsC2fOQw for examples.

Time and time again the public was told by city staff that because of the deadlines they had to meet that there was no time to look at alternatives or to try out the proposed ideas before the start of construction. So what does city staff come back with, a radical new plan that was never discussed at any meetings. A plan that will have even less time for public input then the plans aired during the Complete Streets Advisory Committee meetings. In addition to the roundabout we now have a design plan with themed sidewalks, a pocket park and a sprinkler. It’s not like the city has been able to maintain the public spaces that are already adjacent to Main Street. Does any sane person buy into the idea that we need sidewalks a minimum of 18 feet wide so they can be painted various colors with water spouting up from them. Shame on city staff for not even broaching the idea of a roundabout when there were opportunities to discuss this at regularly scheduled public forums. And while we continue to look for money to fund basic city services, the city is going forward with large scale and expensive projects that will require even more funding for maintenance once these projects are completed - Allan Herschlag

Maybe it's 5-10 times safer than a traffic signal with less daily delay, hence less auto emmissions.

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