Category Archives: News

Bike MHT announces 50/50 bike rack program

Bike Manchester has just announced the Manchester 50/50 Bike Rack Program, which will provide bike racks to 15 lucky (and savvy) Queen City businesses and non-profits for just $200. Thanks to the efforts of Bike Manchester and theCity of Manchester Department of Public Works and Bike Manchester, Manchester gained its first striped bike lanes last year.

Bike lanes and racks are the sort of improved bicycle infrastructure that Bike Manchester has been advocating for in the city since 2013 in effort to get more Mancunians out riding bikes more safely, and the organization is now partnering with the City DPW on the Manchester 50/50 Bike Rack Program.

More bike racks will mean less bikes chained to signposts – photo from Manchester Ink Link

According to Bike Manchester’s map, there are a number of bike racks located at private businesses, city parks and schools, but many are the flimsy portable type, and there are many areas of the city without any racks at all. The Manchester 50/50 Bike Rack Program will not only boost the numbers of racks in the city, but provide strong, permanent racks either on private commercial or non-profit property, or on public sidewalks.

Businesses with bike racks will not only be more appealing to bicyclists, but the increased visibility that the racks will provide will give Manchester residents more assurance that there will be a place to “park” when running errands or commuting by bike.

Bike Manchester explains the application process in their press release:

Business interested in applying to take part in the program must do so by Feb. 28 at bikemht.com/application. Bike rack applications will be evaluated on, and priority given to, those whose proposed bike rack locations are most visible to the public, are accessible to the greatest numbers of bicyclists and potential bicyclists, and on the strength of the applicants’ plans to promote bike rack use to their customers, employees, and/or commercial tenants.

Study says NH needs commuter rail–will the politicians agree?

Next stop: Manchester? - photo by matthrono
Next stop: Manchester? – photo by matthrono

We’ve written several times about the need for commuter rail between Manchester and Boston. In fact, LivableMHT’s very first post was about the Capitol Corridor study of passenger rail between Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Boston.

Two years ago, the Executive Council wisely permitted that study to go forward, and with the official results of due out soon, there are very promising preliminary results showing that commuter rail would be an economic boon to southern New Hampshire.

New Hampshire continues to lose young people to cities like Boston and New York, and the tech companies and startups that fill places like the Millyard have sounded the alarm that they are having difficulty attracting talented workers to the state. It’s clear that the “New Hampshire Advantage” of low taxes (unless you consider property taxes) and a low cost-of-living is no longer enough to convince the young, talented workers who drive the economy that New Hampshire, and more specifically Manchester, is a dynamic, interesting place to live. The State and the Queen City need to step up their game, and join with Nashua, in strongly advocating for a rail connection to Boston.

Manchester Regional Rail option from the Capitol Corridor study
Manchester Regional Rail option from the Capitol Corridor study

Commuter rail won’t solve all of the state’s problems, but with the study showing that the “Manchester Regional” option will lead to an additional 5,600 new jobs and 3,600 new housing units, with nearly 2,600 daily riders, there’s no question that the investment to build and operate passenger rail would be a plus for the state. Rail commuters in Nashua, many of whom now drive to Lowell to catch a train to Boston, would largely be heading south for work.

That will probably be the case in Manchester, too, but Gray Chynoweth, COO of Dyn, points out that passenger rail between Manchester and Boston would also make it easier for commuters to head north from the Hub to the Queen City. That would make jobs in Manchester more attractive to young people who want to live in a bigger city like Boston, and it would make tech companies and other businesses that rely on young workers more likely to stay and move to New Hampshire. Over time, some of those commuters heading north to Manchester might be attracted by the lower rent, access to the outdoors, and the city’s burgeoning dining scene, and decide to settle in the Queen City, knowing that they could still easily hop on a train down to Boston.

Continue reading Study says NH needs commuter rail–will the politicians agree?

Where are Manchester’s 10,000 college students?

UNH Manchester emphasizes its urban setting
UNH Manchester emphasizes its urban setting

The school year is in full swing at UNH Manchester, NHIA, SNHU, St. Anselm and other Manchester colleges, and it’s hard to overstate the positive effects that those schools and their students have on the Queen City.

It has been estimated that there are roughly 10,000 students attending Manchester colleges and universities, and in recent years their presence has become more noticeable around the city and especially downtown. UNH Manchester will be moving into an expanded and more visible space at the Pandora Mill in the coming year, building on the astounding growth of NHIA over the past decade.

NHIA's original building, French Hall - photo by C Hanchey
NHIA’s original building, French Hall – photo by C Hanchey

Ever since it became a degree-granting college in 1997, the New Hampshire Institute of Art has had a growing presence in downtown Manchester and the inner east side of the city. Growing from a single building as an art instruction school, NHIA’s student body now numbers more than 500 on a campus that dots the city center, with facilities ranging from a six-story dorm at 88 Lowell Street to a community arts center in the former St. Anne’s Church.

Manchester will never be a true “college town” like Durham or Hanover–as the state’s largest city, it will always be defined by more than that–but it can and should do more to harness the energy, cultural offerings and economic impact that students and colleges bring to the city. With nearly as many students as Durham and more students than Hanover, Plymouth or Keene, Manchester’s student population and area colleges should have a greater prominence in the wider community. Unlike traditional college towns, Manchester’s economy is not based on higher education and its largest schools (SNHU and St. Anselm) are on opposite edges of town. NHIA’s cluster of buildings around Victory Park are the closest Manchester comes to having a college district or neighborhood.

With news in August that a possible merger between NHIA and SNHU has been postponed, and that student housing could be built on the Pearl Street parking lot, Manchester is at a potential crossroads and should actively consider the role that colleges and students have in the city. Whether a merger between NHIA and SNHU is a good idea or not, greater cooperation and shared efforts by Manchester colleges would certainly be a good thing for the city, as would having many more students living downtown. The Pearl St student housing would be built privately, and presumably would be open to students from several area colleges, promoting more interaction of a diverse and currently far-flung student community. Continue reading Where are Manchester’s 10,000 college students?

Coffee in the Queen City

Image by ilovecoffee.jp

Word has it that Manchester is the second-most coffee-obsessed city in these United States, behind only Portland, Me. Who knew? Compared to Portland (or the cities of the Pacific Northwest), Manchester isn’t exactly teeming with coffee shops, cafes and coffee culture. It’s hard to turn a corner in Portland, Me., without coming across a local coffee shop or roaster. Even Burlington, Vt., which ranks third behind Manchester and Portland, has a more established coffee scene.

The Men’s Health article that placed Manchester second considered “percentage of households that own coffeemakers and buy coffee; household average spent on coffee; coffee shops per capita; percentage of people who drink coffee and who drink five-plus cups a day” in determining their rankings. With the prevalence of Dunkin’ Donuts–41 within a ten-mile radius of Manchester–and the space devoted to coffee in Manchester’s supermarkets, the ranking makes a bit more sense.

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Cafe la Reine, Downtown

But there has never been a better time to be a coffee drinking in the Queen City than now. Within the past few years, downtown Manchester has seen a resurgence of locally owned coffee shops serving locally roasted coffee. And the rise in coffee roasters hasn’t been far behind, with the Millyard-based Java Tree/Cafe du Jour supplying many local restaurants, and CQ Roasters in Bedford recently being honored for roasting some of the best coffees of 2013.

Continue reading Coffee in the Queen City

Could the armory be reborn as a northern anchor to downtown?

Following the National Guard’s recent failing assessment of to the armory facility on Canal Street, there has been renewed interest in one of the city center’s largest under-development pieces of land. At nine acres, the armory site would be an incredibly valuable piece of land to a developer–and an unparalleled opportunity for the city to mark an impressive urban gateway– if the National Guard decides to find new digs.

Arthur Sullivan of Brady-Sullivan, which owns the eponymous tower next door, thinks the site could be a prime candidate for a major mixed-use development, especially given the influx of young people looking to not just work, but also live downtown. The armory site is a 10-minute walk from Arms Park in the heart of the Millyard and 15 minutes from City Hall, putting it within easy walking distance of thousands of jobs downtown. It’s also on the MTA’s free, frequent Green DASH bus route. The site also straddles the loose boundary between downtown and the North End and Oak Park, a leisurely walk away from Stark Park, Livingston Park, Webster Street and the Currier. That could appeal to young people and families who want to be within walking distance not only of downtown’s jobs, restaurants and nightlife, but of the North End parks and Oak Park’s cultural amenities.

Rendering of Portwalk Place, Portsmouth

Just as important, the armory site is one of the most visible in the city, sitting at the northern gateway to downtown, with almost direct highway access and sitting between Elm, Salmon and Canal streets. That’s where the mixed-use comes in: not just apartments, rowhouses or condos, but ground-floor retail, offices and possibly even an “anchor” retail tenant, something that could draw shoppers downtown. The large site means that ground-floor, street-facing retail spaces could be much bigger than what is commonly found along Elm and Hanover streets downtown. Larger retail spaces could mean that a mixed-use development on the armory site could attract the sort of tenants that currently only exist in shopping malls in the Manchester area. That’s a recipe that has proven successful for mixed-use development in already walkable neighborhoods in PortsmouthWest Hartford, Conn., Somerville, Mass. and elsewhere. Continue reading Could the armory be reborn as a northern anchor to downtown?

Finding your way around Manchester

wayfinding_Salem_1
Colorful wayfinding sign in Salem, Ore.

Alderman Pat Long, who represents Ward 3 and thus much of downtown, is calling for the city to finally install uniform wayfinding signs at gateways to the city. The signs would point the way to multiple institutions, mostly downtown and in the Millyard, but also to major attractions like the Currier Museum of Art in the Oak Park neighborhood.

Over the past several years, signs have popped up along roadsides and sidewalks around the city pointing the way to individual institutions ranging from the Verizon Wireless Arena (which some old signs still refer to as the Civic Arena) to NHIA. As the City’s 2009 Master Plan points out, “an attractive and well organized Wayfinding signage system can not only make it easier for visitors to find their way around the City, but also can give the impression of a well organized and appealing City.” And a decade ago, the Manchester Economic Development Office proposed a wayfinding signage program, but the City never funded that request, and Manchester is still without a uniform wayfinding signage system.

After the aldermanic Committee on Public Safety voted last night to approve new signs for UNH Manchester, Alderman Long renewed his request for a uniform wayfinding signage system. Referencing the abundance of individual signs, Alderman Long warned: “I’ve got a funny feeling if we approve this one, two weeks from now we’re going to get another call… They’ll say, ‘Where’s my sign?'”

wayfinding_Burlington
Signage in Burlington, designed by LandWorks, has provided information and a particularly attractive image of the city for visitors since 1986

Other cities offer examples for wayfinding signage that are both useful and attractive, and even as wayfinding becomes easier with GPS and cell phone apps, the signage adds to the informational and aesthetic appeal of a city. Two nearby cities provide case studies that Manchester could follow: signage in Burlington, a college town, and Portland, a tourist-driven city, show the way for students and tourists to find major destinations in town. Continue reading Finding your way around Manchester

Infrastructure as canvas

A painted utility box in Minneapolis – photo by Uncommon Fritallary

Over the past year, LivableMHT has discussed some big ideas for the city–the Riverwalk, a vision for connecting the riverfront and Elm StreetSTEAM Ahead, bike lanes and trails, preserving the few remaining historic buildings in Granite Square, the identity of Manchester’s neighborhoods, the need for city leaders to guide growth, and the ongoing efforts of Intown Manchester to do just that–but often improvement in the city can result from relatively small interventions. And in the scale of the city, things don’t come much smaller than the utility boxes that dot sidewalks across Manchester. With that in mind, Studio 550, in collaboration with the City, the Manchester Arts Comission and Intown Manchester, is calling on New Hampshire artists to beautify a handful of utility boxes around downtown in an initiative called Think Outside the Box.

In Boston, where the program is called Paintbox, and other cities, painted utility boxes have turned infrastructural eyesores into public art, beautifying neighborhoods, deterring vandalism, and showcasing local talent. The call to artists is open to all New Hampshire residents, but Think Outside the Box is especially encouraging Manchester residents to apply. Applications will be judged by a local jury, and the winners will paint their designs on downtown utility boxes in April.

Beautifying utility boxes is small change, but one that shows the color–literal and figurative, in this case–of the city, and could lead to other small improvements in infrastructure and beautification, and that could eventually raise the entire perception and appearance of the Queen City.

It’s good to see an organization like Studio 550 working to improve the city. It will be even better to see the newly painted utility boxes in 2014. Happy New Year, Manchester.

Riverwalk becomes a topic in mayoral race

With less than two weeks before Manchester elects its next mayor, Alderman and mayoral candidate Patrick Arnold is gaining attention for his proposal to renew the Merrimack riverfront in Manchester. In a campaign video, Arnold stands on the graffiti-stained steps leading down to the Merrimack at Arms Park and declares:

We should promote opportunities for companies like Dyn and Silvertech, and visionaries like Dean Kamen to stay here, and create good paying jobs here. Instead of a dilapidated riverfront, imagine a world class Riverwalk or boardwalk promenade with shops, street vendors, and dining opportunities to rival similar projects in San Antonio, Providence, and Pittsburgh. A Riverwalk here would put our city on the map, not just regionally but nationally. We can realize these opportunities without using taxpayer dollars. Businesses and private investors will want to invest in projects like this because they believe in investing in Manchester’s future. The potential for our city is here, and it’s time for us to seize these opportunities. Continue reading Riverwalk becomes a topic in mayoral race

1375887_10202145353624343_1588005138_nFollowing up on the bicycle infrastructure meeting last month, a group of bicycle riders and enthusiasts is holding a Bicycle Advocacy Meeting Monday evening.

Tim Blagden of the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and Nik Coates of the Central New Hampshire Bicycling Coalition will facilitate an “action plan” meeting with Manchester bicycle infrastructure advocates from 6 to 9 p.m., Monday, Oct. 28, at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, 54 Hanover St.

The purpose of this meeting is to help formulate an actionable list of short- and long-term priority projects and goals for which we might advocate. The meeting will also help determine the best organizational structure to accomplish these priorities and goals. Food and drink will be provided with an RSVP. Please note any food allergies beforehand.

If you build it, they will ride

Market Basket provides one of the only bike racks on Elm Street, but it gets plenty of use. – photo by Will Stewart

When a group of people met a week-and-a-half ago at Milly’s Tavern to discuss bicycle infrastructure in Manchester, they had to speak in hypotheticals about the future, because infrastructure for bicyclists–bike lanes, racks, and so on–in the Queen City is essentially nonexistent. When you visit cities from Concord to Portsmouth, Boston to Montreal, Amsterdam to Portland Berlin, Portland, Ore. to Portland, Me., what you’ll find are cities that are expanding their bicycle infrastructure to enable more residents, visitors and workers to get around by bike, whether for recreation, exercise or daily commuting. And by offering people of all skills the opportunity to get around by bike, they’re reducing traffic, improving the health and safety of their residents, and increasing their quality-of-life.

Bike lanes separated from auto traffic in Montreal–something like this could work in Manchester on certain wider streets like Canal or Valley. – photo by Paul Smith

Manchester has been pathetically behind the curve when it comes to bicycling for years now. Despite calls for bike lanes and other bicycling infrastructure in official planning documents like the city’s 2010 master plan and the 2006 Neighborhood Initiatives plan for Rimmon Heights, little if any of it has been accomplished.

The one bright spot has been the work of Manchester Moves, which has built the Piscataquog Trail through the West Side, connecting Goffstown to the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium via the Hands Across the Merrimack bridge, and the South Manchester Trail running from South Beech to Gold Street. The trails are wonderful additions to the city, but because they exist mostly within residential neighborhoods, they remain almost strictly recreational trails. A resident of the West Side riding to work downtown along the trails, for instance, would have to cross no less than seven lanes of busy traffic at Granite Street without any provision for cyclists after crossing the Merrimack. It’s clear then that while they are great assets for the city, the trails on their own are not enough; they need to tie into a network of bike lanes, designated alternate routes for bicyclists, and places to lock up bikes across town. Continue reading If you build it, they will ride