Jon Schluenz: A more collective Main Street

Downtown Northampton over Main Street.

Downtown Northampton over Main Street. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The upper end of Main Street, Northampton. Photographed on Thursday, June 24, 2021.

The upper end of Main Street, Northampton. Photographed on Thursday, June 24, 2021.

Published: 05-30-2024 4:08 PM

Modified: 05-30-2024 8:17 PM

I have heard and read arguments regarding the Main Street redesign. These include parking concerns, traffic congestion, pedestrian and bicycle safety, accessibility, and plain old not liking change. Ideally, a new Main Street redesign will incorporate all needs and opinions, however varied they may be.

It is most likely impossible to make everyone happy about this project, but it might be possible to use Main Street as a laboratory, to figure out what will work best for the city. Main Street is constantly changing as businesses come and go. A design incorporating flexibility can better support the needs of the businesses and the people of Northampton as the city continues to evolve. A scaled-back project scope with a focus on accessibility and infrastructure improvements, without making as many permanent curb changes to direct traffic flow and parking, could accommodate this.

In many cities, streetscape changes are created using planters, bollards, surface paint and traffic barriers to define use areas, without making these changes permanent. For example, spaces for seating outside of restaurants and cafes can be created and removed seasonally as needed. Short-stay parking can be prioritized near carry-out and short-visit businesses. Main Street can be widened for festivals or increased traffic flow.

I’d also like to mention the need for better connectivity and safety for bike travel into downtown. On paper and in renderings, it looks like the new Main Street will improve bicycle access and safety, which is great. For this to be successful, though, the streets that feed into downtown need to be safe for bikes.

Currently, most bike access to downtown is via car-centric streets where bike lanes appear and disappear. Bikes are often forced out into traffic in favor of parking or car travel. In order to provide safe and equitable alternatives to driving, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, we need to support the safety of bicyclists as well as pedestrians.

Jon Schluenz


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