Depot Street Alternatives Get Public Review
MANCHESTER — Six possible versions of a redesign of Depot Street from the Roundabout to Richville Road, one of the town’s busiest commercial corridors, were presented to local townspeople for review Monday.
One of the six, which offered two five-foot wide bicycle lanes, five foot wide sidewalks and two 11-foot wide travel lanes, with 8-9 feet of green space on one side or the other to separate bikers and pedestrians from motorists, seemed to emerge as the preferred option from the group of roughly 20 people who attended the meeting held at the Park House at the Rec Park Tuesday, Aug. 16.
The six alternatives presented by Corey Mack, a project engineer with RSG, a Burlington-based consulting firm, and Jim Donovan, a landscape architect with Broadreach Planning and Design, a Charlotte-based consulting group which specializes in transportation solutions involving pedestrians and bicyclists, were narrowed down from an original group of 34. Two other alternatives, which deal more with the lighting aspects of the redesign of the commercial thoroughfare remain on the short list, but were not discussed at length during Tuesday’s meeting, which focused on the transportation and roadway configuration aspects.
“The goal tonight is to get your input as to which one you think might be the most appropriate, or which combination might be the most appropriate,” Donovan said near the start of the meeting. “Nothing says we have to stick with these six – we might end up mixing and matching them.”
A steering committee consisting of town officials and local businesspeople, along with the consultants had developed the earlier options which had been boiled down to the half-dozen shown to members of the public, he added.
The goal was to come up with a final proposal that matched what local townspeople felt best reflected what they wanted from the redesign of the street, which was last overhauled in the early 1980s and at the time added a third driving lane to enhance the ability of motorists to navigate that section of town. But in recent years, a consensus among some community members has emerged that the scales needed to be tilted back to make it more pedestrian and bike-friendly, eliminating the third travel lane and creating bike lanes and buffer zones between the roadways and sidewalks, along with adding a few aesthetic improvements to make the road more visually attractive..
The town was successful in securing a $580,000 state grant from the agency of Transportation last fall to help fund the study, as well as at least most of the construction work.
The Depot Street redesign will come in the wake of an already planned for repaving and restriping of the roadway, which will be paid for by state funds. An upgrade of sewer lines over one section of Depot Street will precede the striping and re-paving. Once that work is done, the redesign of Depot Street discussed Tuesday can begin. The state has estimated the cost of the paving and restriping at $545,000. The $580,000 state grant, which includes a 10 percent local match, would pay for the reconfiguration of the roadway. The option which included the green space and the two bike lanes was estimated to cost $635,500, but that could be adjusted once they get further into the project, or the town could reapply for another state transportation grant. Originally, the town sought $800,000 for the project, but was only awarded $580,000. But that does not preclude a second try for the remainder.
Under the option which seemed to present the fewest concerns, the width of the travel lanes would be reduced from their current 14 feet, or 12 feet in the case of the existing middle travel lane, to two 10 and one-half foot wide travel lanes for vehicles. There would be two five-foot wide bike lanes on each side of the street, with the green space along one side of the street as an additional buffer between pedestrians and motorists in addition to the bike lanes. The green spaces would be reduced or dropped at intersections and driveways with high turning counts to make room for center turning lanes as needed, according to the plan.
One concern raised by Philip “Grub” Bourn, Manchester’s fire chief, was that emergency service vehicles, such as fire trucks and ambulances, be able to negotiate the redesigned stretch of Depot Street without difficulty. One alternative presented featured a green space running down the center of the street, to help provide improved drainage. This scenario did not include the bike lanes, but did use a four-foot wide shoulder section between the sidewalk and the road to separate pedestrians and motorists.
But Bourn was adamant that the center greenway drainage area, which limited fire trucks, police cars and ambulances to making turns at existing intersections, was incompatible with their needs.
“You’ve got to be able to get emergency vehicles down the center in the lane especially during foliage season — the only way you can get down there is through the center lane,” he said. “If I can get my tower truck and engines (through the street), whatever else works, works for me.”
Lana Hauben, a local businesswoman from Manchester Designer Outlets, which leases commercial space and manages properties for several of the town’s retail outlet stores, said her primary concern was safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“I would love Depot Street to look beautiful. I would love businesses to prosper and for cyclists to have a nice place to cycle,” she said. “I am just concerned about how all of this is supposed to work. Will it be safe?”
The consultants and planning engineers will process the public comments they heard Tuesday and integrate them for another presentation they are planning to make to the town’s selectboard for another presentation they anticipate to make in the near future, said Mack.