Fitchburg City Council OKs one-way plan for Main Street

By Anna Burgess,

Updated:   05/18/2016 09:52:01 AM EDT

FITCHBURG -- Two years ago, City Councilor Joel Kaddy first proposed a single-lane Main Street as a way to make pedestrians and bicyclists safer, traffic slower and downtown more business-friendly.

On Tuesday night, his fellow councilors agreed to move forward with the plan.

At a meeting of the Council-as-a-Whole Committee, after hearing vocal support for the petition, councilors voted 8-2 to accept Kaddy's petition to turn Main Street, a two-lane street, into a single lane. Kaddy said the vote will likely take affect in the near future.

The plan, as explained through a feasibility study done by landscape designer Andrew Leonard, would turn the section of Main Street between Blossom Street and the old City Hall into a one-lane road.

In the short term, Leonard said, the city would paint parking spaces and bike lanes, and install signage on that section of the road.

In the long term, the city could widen sidewalks and install raised crosswalks to make the street even more pedestrian-friendly. Leonard suggested restaurants with sidewalk seating and businesses with sidewalk signs, adding that the plan would only eliminate a few parking spaces compared to the current layout.

"Our goal is a safer, more walkable downtown, making it a pedestrian-friendly and a more business-friendly destination," Leonard said.

Kaddy also spoke on behalf of his petition, explaining that he spent three years as a police officer walking Main Street "five days a week, from 4 p.m. to midnight," and that experience led to this plan.

"This is all about safety," he said. "The economic benefits are there, but this is all about safety, for all modes of transportation."

Economic Development Director Mary Jo Bohart urged councilors also to consider the economic benefits.

"The thinking in downtowns across the country has evolved in the last decade or so," Bohart said. "Slower is better for commerce, and fast-paced through a downtown can be very damaging. I think this is a great step in the direction of slowing things down."

All residents who spoke were in favor of the single traffic lane -- for safety reasons, economic reasons or both.

Main Street resident Kimatra Maxwell, a candidate for state representative of the 3rd Worcester District, asked the council to "please move forward" with the plan.

Main Street business owner Chris Ioshua, downtown developer Matt Fournier and resident Josiah Richards, who works on Main Street, all came forward to speak in favor of the plan, as well.

"This two-lane racetrack is not serving my customers well," said Ioshua, who owns Chaibo and Destaré. "It's definitely hindering development of my building."

Representatives from ReImagine North of Main and NewVue Communities also voiced support, as did Fitchburg State University Vice President Jay Bry, city Health Director Stephen Curry and Department of Public Works Commissioner Lenny Laakso.

"We do believe it's in the best interest of everyone," said Bry, on behalf of the university. "It could tie into longer-term pictures of what we want to do downtown."

He added that FSU funded Leonard's feasibility study because the school is invested in developing Main Street for the benefit of its students.

City Councilor Paul Beauchemin raised concerns about funding the project, but Laakso said it would be relatively inexpensive.

"We're always told we don't have money, so how do we have money for this?" Beauchemin asked.

Laakso said the DPW could easily fund and implement the plan with between $10,000 and $15,000, which it can take from the DPW budget because gas was cheaper this year.

City Councilor Jody Joseph was worried about the plan increasing traffic, saying, "I think people will avoid downtown" if Main Street becomes a single lane.

Though Leonard said traffic studies have been done that show a single lane can accommodate the traffic volume, Joseph said he didn't see it as the right solution to issues on Main Street.

City Councilors Angelo Bisol, Tom Donnelly and Dean Tran said they were concerned about how the plan could adversely affect businesses on Main Street. 

Tran said he would like to see a "dry run" before the line paintings are permanent.

City Councilors Michael Kushmerek and Marcus DiNatale, however, said they have only heard business owners speaking in favor of Kaddy's plan.

"I've spoken to several business owners on Main Street who have voiced support for this," DiNatale said. "If you've got a problem with it, let me know, because otherwise I'm going to assume you're OK with it."

"Business owners typically aren't shy," Kushmerek said. "When they see something acting against them, they will not hesitate to let me know.

"This isn't the silver bullet," he added, "but it's the logical next direction for us."

The committee voted in favor of the petition, with Joseph and Beauchemin voting against. Councilor Jeff Bean was absent.

Follow Anna Burgess on Twitter and Tout @AnnaBurgess18.

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected from its original version to clarify that Kimatra Maxwell is currently running for a seat in the Statehouse to represent the 3rd Worcester District.

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