Improving Manchester’s streets for everyone

In the past we’ve looked at ways to transform Canal and Bedford Streets into a vibrant urban boulevard, but today we’re taking a look at a more budget-friendly way to make streets throughout the city–and by extension the neighborhoods around them–better places not just for cars, but for everyone.

Reverting multi-lane one-way streets to two-way

Maple Street toward Ash Street School, Corey Square - photo by Brian O'Connor
Maple Street in Corey Square – photo by Brian O’Connor

Standing on the corner of Maple and Lowell streets in the heart of Corey Square just east of downtown, it can be easy to forget that streets are built not just for cars, but for users of all sorts–pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. Streets aren’t just ways to move traffic; they’re the lifeblood of cities, connecting neighborhoods and providing valuable public space.

Across the country, cities are reverting busy multi-lane one-way thoroughfares like Maple, Beech, Pine and Chestnut streets into calmer, single-lane two-way streets that respect the livability of neighborhoods and enhance the viability of local businesses. The results are almost entirely positive, from fewer vehicle collisions to decreases in crime.

LivableMHT's redesign of Chestnut Street on Streetmix.net
One possible reconfiguration for a newly two-way Chestnut Street

The slower traffic makes the streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as motorists, and it increases the livability and property values of the neighborhoods around them. And while the traffic is slower, there tends to be more of it, which is good for businesses, including the corner stores, shops and restaurants that already dot Maple, Beech, Pine and Chestnut streets.

Compared with other infrastructure improvements, reverting busy multi-lane one-way thoroughfares into calmer, single-lane two-way streets is cheap–just take down some one-way signs and repaint the roads. Restriping such streets provides a good opportunity to rethink their currently car-centric feel. In the case of Manchester’s multi-lane one-way streets, there should be plenty of room to have a narrower lane in each direction for cars, plus a bike lane without losing any on-street parking. If space is tight, there could be alternating one-way traffic for bicycles, with a northbound bike lane on Maple Street and a southbound on Beech, for instance.

Maple St

Maple St:Beech St
Two possible reconfigurations of Maple St–the top shows bike lanes in both directions; the bottom in only one direction with the opposite direction on Beech St

Right now, Corey Square is just an odd kink in Maple Street, where the city grid laid out by Ezekiel Straw intersects with the older irregular streets of Janeville. Butalong a newly two-way Maple Street, there would be enough space for amenities common in other cities, like bike lanes and a bus pull-over. More important, there would be ample public space for gathering in a true neighborhood center. Instead of wide lanes of speeding traffic, there could be bike racks, outdoor seating and landscaping in front of neighborhood businesses.

Corey Sq
At Corey Square, there would be plenty of room for cars, bikes, buses in the roadway, and seating, landscaping and other amenities on the sidewalk

Two-ways to one-way

If Manchester decides to transform its multi-lane two-way thoroughfares into proper neighborhood arteries, the city might find a new home for some of its one-way signs.

Since most of Manchester is built on a grid (whether it be the one laid out by Straw on the East Side or that of Rimmon Heights on the West Side), one-way streets make more sense in the Queen City than they do in places like Boston, Providence or even Portsmouth. Downtown Manchester is evidence of single-lane one-way streets working well, with parallel side streets like Amherst and Hanover alternating direction. The streets are narrow and allow parking on both sides while keeping traffic at reasonable speeds. Several of those streets, including Lake Ave and Spruce Street a bit further south, might have enough room to add a striped bike lane as well along with a narrower automobile traffic lane.

On the West Side, though, the problem is quite the opposite from that of streets like Maple and Beech, but it’s an equally easy and economical fix.

As it stands, many of the West Side’s north-south streets like Rimmon, Dubuque and Notre Dame are too narrow to accommodate two-way traffic with parking on both sides. It’s hard to drive a block on these streets without having to pull over between parked cars to pass a car driving in the opposite direction. There’s no reason why some of these streets couldn’t follow the same pattern as Amherst and Concord streets downtown. Converted to a one-way with a single-lane for automobiles and parking on both sides, there would still be room for a bike lane in the same direction, with traffic on the next street over running in the opposite direction.

Notre Dame Ave

Dubuque St
Notre Dame Ave and Dubuque St could work as a pair of one-way streets running in opposite directions for cars and bikes on the West Side

These changes wouldn’t cost much and they wouldn’t reduce on-street parking in neighborhoods where driveways are hard to find, but they would increase property values and make business locations along them more desirable. Most important, they would make the streets safer for every user, and more livable for everyone.

Designing streets for everyone

Reverting multi-lane one-way streets to two-way traffic is just one way of improving Manchester’s streets. The City recently added its first bike lane along Chestnut Street, one of those overly wide multi-lane one-ways. As it looks to expand its system of bike lanes, City officials should look to other cities for ideas, and explore more ways to make its streets more accessible to everyone. Some of them are already doing just that, as evidenced by the Department of Public Works and Bike Manchester working to get Manchester’s first bike lanes.

“The idea is to take a second and hard look at the street system and determine whether there is an opportunity to accommodate bike lanes. A lot of times lanes are wider than they need be and we have an opportunity to put lanes on some of the streets where they will be utilized.” – Todd Connors, Engineering Manager at DPW, as told to the Union Leader last month

LivableMHT used Streetmix to draw possible reconfigurations of some city streets–try your hand at making Manchester’s streets better for everyone.

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2 thoughts on “Improving Manchester’s streets for everyone

  1. We live on Maple Street, one house over from the light @ Blodgett. We moved here in 2001. We have seen serious accidents, 2 deaths, and numerous fender benders from the view of our porch. Many of the accidents are from people who forget or who are unfamiliar with the one way street set up. We also see many families with children and pets, navigating the street on foot, carriages, bikes and skateboards, trying to stay safe on the street and busy intersections. During the summer, we notice extensive issues with traffic on Maple Street, primarily the speeding the second is the use of sidewalks versus streets for those on bikes. Maple Street dwellers rely upon the street parking and opening the car doors can be hazardous unless all the traffic has passed. Not sure how a bike path would be included into a two lane road, perhaps a one lane plus bike path from Bridge Street on? Also unsure how the speeding would be addressed, but the education to the residents of Manchester and the surrounding communities would need to be considered into any changes within the city. We also get many children who walk down Maple Street to the park and pool during the summer months, we need to consider keeping the plan simple and safe. Please keep us posted.
    Holly

    1. Thanks for sharing such a detailed and thoughtful account of life on Maple Street. The scheme we sketched up showing bike lanes, street parking and two-way vehicular traffic is just one idea, sketched up very quickly and based on the City’s aerial photographers. Our scheme called for travel lanes that are narrower than present, which would lead people to drive more slowly, and might allow for bike lanes (or at least one bike lane) without loosing any parking. An actual new layout for Maple Street, however, would require much more careful design by a civil engineer, along with plenty of input from neighbors and the community. That’s where your comment is especially helpful: as someone living on Maple Street, you have a much better view of the perils and downsides of the current multi-lane one-way setup. Perhaps you could let your alderman know that you’d like to see the street and traffic patterns re-designed, or even start a petition among fellow Maple Street (and perhaps other multi-lane one-way streets) residents.

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