Main Street feedback: City surveys local businesses on one-lane transformation

By Elizabeth Dobbins,

UPDATED:   09/13/2017 12:51:30 PM EDT

FITCHBURG -- Almost a year after workers labored overnight to transform Main Street from two lanes to one in a bid to help revitalize downtown, the city is asking businesses and property owners in the area for feedback on the change. 

Executive Director of Community Development Tom Skwierawski said his office sent out letters to about 180 people with properties or businesses on Main Street or adjacent roads. The letters -- and, for some businesses, a follow-up email -- contained a link to a 10-question survey developed by Brandeis University. 

"We wanted something more comprehensive and more thoughtful" than the informal feedback the city has already heard, Mayor Stephen DiNatale said.

So far about 30 people have responded to the survey, but the city hopes to get responses to at least half of the letters by the end of the month, Skwierawski said. 

From there, the Brandeis professor working on the project, Mary Brolin, will compile the survey into a report that Skwierawski plans to present at the City Council meeting in November or possibly earlier. 

DiNatale said, depending on the results, one lane Main Street may stay that way or change back to two lanes. 

Information on the crashes and traffic patterns in the area is already available, according to DiNatale, so there are no plans for developing additional information on traffic patterns.

The city is also in the early stages of considering changes to the parallel road, Boulder Drive, possibly reducing it to one lane as well, he said. 

DiNatale said his office and city council plan to discuss and act upon the results of the survey. 

"This is something we're going to decide as a city," he said. 

According to Skwierawski, the city will not have access to individual responses from businesses, because the survey is being done through a third party, Brandeis University.

A survey is being out to Main Street business owners, asking about their most recent opinions about one lane Main Street in Fitchburg, as seen on Tuesday, September 12, 2017. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / Ashley Green 

As well as a professor, Brolin is also an in-house evaluator at ReImagine North of Main, which is collaborating with the city on the project. 

"We thought it would be best to use an independent investigator to look at this process and to make sure it's done in a neutral and effective way," he said. 

Reducing Main Street to one lane is part of the "Smart Growth" concept for downtown, which will be discussed at further length during the "(Re)Building Downtown" workshop and presentation at the City Council meeting Tuesday, he said. 

Several downtown businesses say they have already filled out the survey. The feedback, so far, is mixed. 

Dr. Knute Alfredson said he answered "very unsatisfactory" on most of the questions, which inquire about changes in customer perception, access and transportation since reducing the stretch to one lane. 

He said he lost 12 parking spaces and the business of at least one patient, because of the change. 

"It's bad for business," he said, after describing a patient who, unable to find closer parking, had to walk on crutches for three blocks to get to his office. 

Manager at Shack's Fine Clothing, Kent Bourgault, had a different take. 

"I think one lane Main Street is working out fine," he said. 

Most people use the store's back entrance on Boulder Drive, he said, adding he doesn't see how the change could affect business. 

He said he has seen some increased use of the bike lane and praised the flower box in the road, which filled with blooms Tuesday afternoon. 

"I've heard from a number of people say they feel more comfortable walking," he said. 

But for Rich DiCato, owner of River Raven Tattoo and Piercing, the change was not a success. 

DiCato said he was among the business owners who signed a petition introduced by Alfredson and Dr. Edward Radivonyk asking the council to shelve the idea last June. 

A temporary dip in business after the change and the frequent sight of confused drivers outside his window hasn't changed DiCato's early opinion. 

"I don't think one lane Main did what they expected it to do," he said. 

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @DobbinsSentinel


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