Editorial: A more accessible Main Street is in everyone’s interest
What may be the single biggest accomplishment of the upcoming $10 million redesign and rebuilding of Main Street has been obscured by debates over parking, the reduction in lanes and other matters. But if successful, the plan will do more than make downtown Concord safer and more attractive to shoppers and visitors. It will also remove all but one of the barriers to handicapped access to Main Street storefronts and offices – a big deal which could become a very big deal if the city also succeeds in its plan to heat the sidewalks.
The redesign project should make 17 of the street’s 18 inaccessible storefronts accessible for someone in a wheelchair. Only the building at 132 N. Main St. presents problems engineers have not been able to solve. The redesign project removes the two-step curb on the west side of the street and adds bump-outs to shorten the time a pedestrian is in traffic. Current parking rules allow vehicles bearing a handicapped license plate or placard to park for free for the allotted maximum meter time, but more handicapped parking spaces will be added. The spaces will be configured so wheelchair users exiting vehicles on a ramp won’t have to do so in traffic.
Wider sidewalks – the width will increase from the current 9 to 15 feet to approximately 19 feet – will make travel easier. Heated sidewalks would reduce the risk of slipping and falling. The two-lane plus usable median design, with lanes wide enough to be shared by a vehicle and a bicycle, plus the installation of bike racks should make downtown more bike friendly than it’s been in at least a generation. More people on bikes will mean fewer people in cars and less demand for parking spaces. The contribution might be small, but every freed up space counts.
The precise designs for the ramps and other accommodations that will have to be made to make each building accessible still need to be worked out, but it appears likely that the improvements in access can be accomplished without compromising the historical integrity of Main Street buildings or the redesigned street’s aesthetic appeal. Very few of the improvements would have been achieved had the city not applied for and received the $4.7 million federal grant, one of whose requirements is to make the street as accessible as possible to people with a disability. We congratulate the city for pursuing it.
About 7 percent of the state’s residents have some form of disability, but many more will benefit from the added safety of the street’s new layout. New Hampshire is aging faster than most states, and there will be more people visiting downtown who are a bit unsteady on their feet or using canes and walkers. The redesign will encourage them to come downtown.
Steve Duprey, whose company owns several downtown buildings, describes Main Street as Concord’s living room, a place where city residents meet and linger to talk. Today, barriers that can be as simple as one small step keep some residents and visitors out of the room. The redesign will bring everyone in, something that should be the goal of every community.