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Street smart
Nashua looks to replicate Concord’s roadway redesigns

04/07/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 Just a few months after Concord’s downtown rebuild, city planners in Nashua concluded a year-long study looking at ways to implement similar so-called Complete Streets strategies to improve traffic for automobiles, pedestrians and bikers.

 
Options in Nashua
For the Gate City, this is only the first step in a direction Concord had been heading down since 2009. The study looked at every roadway in the city and graded it based on several factors, like the physical attributes of the road, speed of traffic, existence of sidewalks, bike lanes or on-street parking, the width of shoulders, safety, lighting, aesthetics and so on.
“So we mapped the whole city with those scores and mapped potential routes between where people live and where they might want to get to, destinations like parks and schools,” said Ryan Friedman, the planner who was in charge of the part of the study that looked at “stress” levels in each street.
From that map, they were able to conclude that there were a number of opportunities for improvement, which were presented recently to local stakeholders and members of the public. Planning Manager Camille Pattison of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission said they did not recommend any particular project.
“This has been less focused on specific projects and more focused on input from people on where they felt safe biking and walking in the city,” Pattison said. 
She said implementing a Complete Streets policy in Nashua is feasible, but a lot hinges on resources and political will.
“It’s definitely possible. I think it’s just ‘What is the desire?’ and ‘What is this on the priority level of the city?’” Pattison said.
Still, there’s some low-hanging fruit that won’t cost a lot. One early project involves getting local artists to stencil baseball-related artwork onto crosswalks by Holman Stadium. 
Another opportunity for improvement is around the roads along and north of East Hollis on the way toward Dr. Norman W. Crisp Elementary School, where “stressful” segments force pedestrians to take more circuitous routes to school.
“But if you were to make some improvements under a Complete Streets methodology so that those segments along East Hollis were no longer as stressful, it opens up a specific number of extra miles,” Friedman said.
 
Taking a cue from Concord
Ed Roberge, the city engineer for Concord, remembers the winding road that led to a new and improved downtown.
“We didn’t really have room for bikes, we didn’t really have room for gathering, larger gathering spaces along our sidewalks, so the Complete Streets approach that we applied there required some significant change to how we use the space today,” Roberge said.
The most impactful decision they had to make was the reduction in parking and the elimination of two driving lanes on Main Street. 
He says the city first adopted a Complete Streets policy in 2009 a couple years after Mayor Jim Bouley was first elected. To streamline the process, they consolidated a number of disparate committees around planning and transportation and created an umbrella group called the Transportation Policy Advisory Committee.  
This, he said, put everyone on the same page when it came to the policy and made it easier to implement it on the ground. 
“[In] Nashua and Manchester ... you might have community development on board with the Complete Streets concepts, but that needs to get through administration and get through Public Works and then also get through the supported commissions that are involved in that. So, I’m not sure if it’s any easier,” Roberge said.
Bureaucracy aside, Nashua and Manchester can start small, with rethinking how they paint road markers to create safer shoulders for bikers or pedestrians, he said. And he said some roads are already slated to be redone anyway, which offers an opportunity to make a few tweaks.
That’s something Concord is doing now, Roberge said.
“[We’re] just making sure that when we rebuild an intersection or rebuild a street, we keep Complete Streets in mind. We want to make sure that we share that space appropriately, [that] we’re not so autocentric,” Roberge said.





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