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Editorial: Don’t give up on heated sidewalks

The plan to heat downtown Concord’s sidewalks must not be abandoned. It was one of the only changes to Main Street that enjoyed almost unanimous support, and for good reason. When it meets next week, the city council should invest in the future – not just of Main Street but the entire community – and vote to keep heated sidewalks in the plan.

The snowfall on Feb. 5 left Main Street sidewalks unpassable for all but the most intrepid for days. Even after most walks were cleared, pedestrians had to scale a wall of snow to get from street to sidewalk or court danger by walking in the street until a chink in the wall presented itself. Downtown was nearly empty.

A week after that snowfall, the majority of sidewalks were cleared, although chalky white with salt, but patches of snow and ice could still be found. Then another storm hit, and the cycle began again, leaving walks treacherous on Valentine’s Day, a big day for merchants.

Heating the sidewalks would eliminate the barrier wall, make downtown welcoming and help businesses thrive. That, in turn, would raise the property values of downtown real estate and help reimburse taxpayers for their investment.

It’s clear that some parts of the ambitious redesign plan will have to be altered, dropped or postponed. The plan to widen sidewalks can’t be eliminated, since it’s the key to making downtown buildings accessible to the handicapped. So is the plan to re-grade the road to eliminate the step up to sidewalk level on the west side of Main Street.

So what can give? Some of the plantings, certainly, along with the pocket parks and automated trash cans. Another candidate, one big enough to offset the cost of heating the sidewalks, whether with steam or natural gas, is the plan to bury the utility lines on South Main Street at a cost of roughly $2.3 million.

Scrapping that part of the plan could, however, slow or prevent redevelopment on South Main, including that of the soon-to-be vacant Employment Security building. It would mean a loss of future tax revenue that, over time, could exceed the cost of burying the lines. The council should seek plenty of input before making that decision.

Nightime work, the requirement that contractors preserve 75 percent of all existing parking spaces during construction, and severely limiting the length of street that can be dug up at any given time all significantly raise the price and lengthen the construction period. Dropping those requirements puts downtown merchants at greater risk.

The council should help offset the disruption by making parking free on Storrs Street and perhaps, with time limits to prevent downtown workers from hogging the spaces, in parts of downtown.

While it’s at it, the council should reconsider its virtual ban on new surface parking lots. In Portsmouth, one of the most popular parking lots in that city is a surface lot across from restaurants and entertainment venues. Ditto in Manchester, where the surface lot near the Center of New Hampshire is a magnet for visitors.

Cities that invest to become beautiful, walkable and safe, that invest in public parks and other amenities thrive. Those that don’t, shrivel. Money is still cheap to borrow. Concord’s Main Street badly needs a complete makeover. The council should vote to support all but the most extraneous changes called for in the redesign plan.

Legacy Comments4

democrats that control Concord dont know the difference between "wants" and "Needs". Not surprising...... democrats still dont understand the role Government is mandated to play in society.

Just curious about as to why Portsmouth and Keene can manage a vibrant downtown without heated sidewalks? Could the secret be that those cities Main Streets' have something that people are attracted too? People that live in snowy states should expect snow and be able to deal with it. I am unclear as to who will be footing the costs of the sidewalk heating. If tax money is used what will make up this sizable cost and even greater yearly maintenance costs? Sure businesses are all for the convenience but will building owners see taxes go up? Will businesses embrace higher rents to cover this luxury. Or will services have to cut so tax money can subsidize these sidewalks? How about some clear answers instead of pretty artists renderings of what might be. Where is a real world dollar figure, show us a dollar amount. Then lets make the decision.

Big plans for downtown. Heated sidewalks, automated trash cans, widen sidewalks. Yet, on the Heights which has triple (or more the number of business ) the brilliant city councilors decides to put in a bike path and reduce the traffic lanes by a third ! I guess the idea is to make the traffic on the heights come to a stand still and essentially become a parking lot. Then we an have all the shoppers from downtown park on Loudon road and take a bus to downtown !

Interestingly, I went to a show in Plymouth last night. First time I have ever been there. There were no mounds of snow anywhere downtown, with arguably the narrowest downtown sidewalks I have ever walked on. People out and about everywhere. In fact, it took a while to find a spot to park. I was surprised there was no snow anywhere. Maybe the the narrow sidewalks make it easier to remove the snow. Still, the question remains if Concord Steam cant do it, the city will have to build its own gas fired plant. Why not make a deal with Northern Pass. Have the city allow the towers if they connect a free electrical street heating system?

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