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Concord’s Main Street committee hears from bicycle enthusiasts

Concord’s Main Street advisory committee discussed bicycle lanes and parking last night, while hearing from groups with an interest in the city’s streetscape project.

When Mayor Jim Bouley appointed the 17-member committee last month to develop recommendations for Concord’s Main Street redesign project, he asked them to gather input from a number of groups and organizations. The committee used its meeting last night to hear from some of those groups, and will do the same at its meeting tomorrow.

By mid-November, the committee will present recommendations to the Concord City Council for the $7.85 million Main Street redesign. A federal grant that the city received in June will fund $4.71 million of the project, and construction is scheduled to begin in September 2013.

Committee members have previously expressed concern about losing parking spaces on Main Street as a result of the project. There are 1,375 public parking spaces in the downtown area between Centre and Perley streets and Green and Storrs streets, City Planner Gloria McPherson said last night.

Parking Manager Dave Florence said not all Main Street spaces are used all day long, and there is space in parking garages: Firehouse Block Garage has 155 public spaces and is usually between 30 and 40 percent vacant; the Capital Commons Garage has 114 public spaces with vacancy between 50 and 60 percent; and the Durgin Block Garage has 181 public spaces with an average vacancy of 10 to 15 percent.

Committee member Mark Ciborowski, whose family owns downtown buildings, said the redesign project must balance the needs of people who come downtown for a leisurely evening against those who are in a rush to stop at a specific store.

“But those are the two downtowns that I struggle with, and why I still consider those parking spaces on Main Street to be so important,” Ciborowski said.

At-large City Councilor Mark Coen, chairman of the city’s Parking Committee, showed a map that highlighted private parking lots downtown and suggested the city might work with private lot owners to fill more spots and offer parking spaces.

Some committee members said tiered parking rates may encourage people to use garages and relieve parking issues on Main Street. Making rates more expensive on Main Street and less expensive in the garages would encourage visitors to only park on Main Street for quick shopping trips, said committee member Dick Lemieux, who compared it to parking rates at airports.

“I don’t think this committee’s going to do that in our time frame, but it’s a good suggestion,” said Steve Duprey, a Concord developer and the committee’s chairman.

Resident Althea Barton told the committee that the city should direct visitors to parking garages, leaving more space for wide sidewalks and landscaping or historical displays along Main Street.

“I don’t think we should let a vocal minority, however honest and well-intentioned they are, I dont think we should let them turn our downtown into a drive-through window,” Barton said.

Bicyclists asked the committee last night to look beyond parking.

“People don’t come to Main Street to park,” said Maura Adams, a board member of the Central New Hampshire Bicycling Coaltion. “They come to Main Street because they love something about it.”

Adams said her coalition is not taking an official stance on traffic lane configuration for Main Street, but would like dedicated bike lanes.

Nik Coates, the chairman of the bicycling coalition and a planner for the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission, offered to work with the city to research the option of a cycle track, or dedicated two-way bike lane placed between parked cars and the sidewalk.

Also last night, the city’s Economic Development Advisory Committee Chairman Chris Carley said his committee generally supports the project but had some reservations to share with the Main Street committee. Downtown Concord is “not necessarily broken,” he said.

“I think there was that caveat that it’s entirely possible to bungle something like this and make things worse,” Carley said.

The committee will continue to hear from various groups tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the city council’s chambers at 37 Green St.

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

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