NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Traffic Commission signed off on a number of options for increasing outdoor dining and creating safer pedestrian ways in the downtown.
At a meeting in late July, Zachery Feury, project coordinator in the Office of Community Development, gave the commission a presentation on more refined plans for the city's application to the Shared Streets and Spaces grant program.
The state program is designed to give communities resources for converting public ways into shared spaces because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state's reopening plans prioritize outside gathering spaces as a way to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus while aiding local businesses and promoting social distancing.
Feury had presented the options to local businesses in early July and some spaces, such as the closure of a section of Center Street, have already been implemented. The areas under consideration are Eagle Street, North Church Street, Main Street and Center Street.
"It's also important to note that the grant program gives preference to projects that have the potential to become permanent and can be implemented within 30 days of the award should municipality be so lucky as to receive an award," he said.
The program that began on June 10 offers grants between $5,000 and $300,000. It has so far awarded $1.3 million, including $22,500 to Adams for tables, chairs, umbrellas and hand sanitation stations at Armory Court and the Visitors Center.
Dalton got $70,441 to install solar-powered flashing safety beacons and new crosswalk markings on Main Street; Great Barrington received $69,955 to erect temporary barriers and signage to create a shared street on Railroad Street; and Lenox received $29,989 to convert on- and off-street parking into outdoor dining areas.
"The plans for historic Eagle Street are largely drawn from or inspired by the city's woonerf feasibility study, which was conducted as part of its fiscal year 2018 Community Development Block Grant Program," Feury said.
The plans include removing three parking spaces at the north end of the street to create a parklet with water-filled barriers and planters, and traffic calming devices such as raised rubber crosswalks.
North Church Street will be made two way with parking shifted from the east side to the west, and islands on each end to better direct traffic.
"This intersection has long been confusing and somewhat dangerous for motorists and pedestrians alike," Feury said, referring to where Church and Main Street meet. "Adding another point of a vehicular entry would likely serve to increase such confusion and potential danger. As such the application calls for several interventions at this location, including center medians on all four streets to help guide the traffic. These medians also act as pedestrian refuge islands."
A portion of the eastern end of Center Street will be made one way to provide parking for Eagle Street and space for a loading zone. The western end of Center will remain as it is with access to the parking areas on each side of the currently closed off section being used by Grazie. Those sections will be made two way.
On Main Street, three parking spots in front of Ramunto's will be removed to create another parklet.
"I think it looks awesome," said Commissioner Amanda Chilson, who said she was aware of the grant through her work with Mass in Motion. "Anything like farther down Main Street for like Meng's [Pan Asian] things or the Capitol [Restaurant] or anything like that?"
Feury said there had been some talk about creating more spaces but "we received word from local restaurants and business owners that they preferred to leave the parking as is there."
The options, as shown to the Community Development Committee, had also included closing off part of Holden Street.
"We ran both scenarios by some of the restaurant and business owners on Holden Street and they weren't really interested in that area," he said, adding that some business owners and the Public Safety and Public Services departments were worried it would create safety issues, particularly for larger trucks moving through that area.
When asked about a rotary at the intersection of Main and Church, which would be turned into a four-way stop with this new plan, Feury said the consultants had been very cognizant of the fact there was an elementary school and bus traffic in close proximity and the rotary idea was dismissed because of the minimal resources available.
"A makeshift rotary would not be a good option because it might not, without proper engineering and design, it might not work the way it should and sour people on what it really might be the appropriate fix for the intersection," Feury said.
A rotary is part of a long-term study for that intersection, which only one stop sign at the bottom of West Main and has no indications for who as the right of way.
"We're exploring the possibility of creating a 50 foot diameter rotary for that intersection at the stage we're at right now it looks like it would work well if properly designed and engineered," he said.
All of the projects are being considered pilots for potential long-term changes. Feury noted that a number of the options, particularly Eagle Street, have been talked about for decades with little movement.
"It was determined that this would be a great way, a great experiment, to test those ideas or a variation of those ideas and determine whether or not it's truly feasible and viable," he said. "What its impact on local businesses would be, what its impact on traffic congestion. ... we would really work with Stantec, our consultants, over this period to assess what the impacts are."
The presentation was referred to the City Council for review.
In other business, the commission recommended no-parking signs be placed on Protection Avenue from the ballfields at Alcombright Athletic Complex to Route 2. The exact measurements will be taken and referred to the City Council for placement of the signs. The commission also voted to send a letter to the police chief for patroling and enforcement.
• Several other issues had been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including looking into parking on Forrest Street (postponed to the next meeting), a parking spot that was supposed to be removed on Church Street (Chairman David Sacco will speak with Public Services), an inquiry into where signs could be posted to prevent tractor trailers from entering Mohawk Forest, and speeding on Autumn Drive.
• Benjamin Lamb gave an update on the NAMAzing project on Ashland Street and Sacco asked that the commissioners consider what should be included for Rules of Order for the commission.
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