Category Archives: Projects & Proposals

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.

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Finding your way around Manchester

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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.

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.

The ongoing disappearance of Granite Square

The Barr & Clapp Building stood in the heart of Granite Square until it was demolished in the 1980s.

It’s been several decades now since the elegant Barr & Clapp Building, also called the Crescent Building, was demolished in the 1980s. The handsome, curved brick building stood at the intersection of South Main and Granite Streets, in the heart of Granite Square, for roughly a century before being replaced by a single-story retail building, home to Stacie’s Barber Shop and other shops, with a sunken plaza out front.

With the demolition of the Barr & Clapp, Granite Square lost not only its most significant landmark, but also its sense-of-place. The square is now dominated by an ever-widening Granite Street, the Burns Apartments tower, a Dunkin Donuts and a gas station. The Manchester Housing & Redevelopment Authority, no doubt trying to improve the square following a fire, led the demolition of Granite Square thirty years ago. Astonishingly, the MHRA still promote that redevelopment along with other long-since discredited projects as past projects that they claim were “instrumental in shaping the skyline of the city and helped create the vibrant, growing economy” on its website:

Following a fire which destroyed the Crescent Building on the corner of Granite and Main Streets, a number of buildings in the immediate vicinity were removed to make way for the commercial and retail offices and stores that exist today. Across the street MHRA built the Reverend Raymond A. Burns O.S.B. Apartments.

Continue reading The ongoing disappearance of Granite Square

The Future of Downtown: the Next Step Summit report

Population growth in New England cities 2010-2012 – from the Boston Globe

A few months back, we wrote about the Next Steps Summit being put on by Intown Manchester to chart a course for the future of downtown.

Earlier this month, Intown released its summary report based on the summit, and while there’s nothing too groundbreaking in the report, it does pull a lot of great ideas for downtown into one document, and sets the stage for realizing many of those ideas.

The overall goal is to create a stronger sense of place, and strengthen downtown Manchester’s position as a prime location for business, as an urban residential area, and increasingly as a destination for the creative and tourism economy in New England. To that end, the report identified four overarching priorities:

  • Develop & implement a multi-year branding and marketing initiative, to strengthen the identity of downtown (and the city as a whole) throughout the region and within the city
  • Create a variety of outdoor amenities aimed at pedestrians, bicyclists and families, ranging from bike paths and lanes, walking trails, ice skating, public art, and access to the river
  • Increase residential density downtown, including a range of market-rate housing options from affordable to luxury units (an increased retail presence will follow an increase in residential population downtown)
  • Build supportive cultures for growing business sectors, such as technology and creative fields, and to support artists and artisans Continue reading The Future of Downtown: the Next Step Summit report

Proposed standalone liquor store does not belong on Elm Street

Rendering of liquor store proposed for southern Elm Street
Rendering of liquor store proposed for southern Elm Street

The Union Leader reported last week that developer Dick Anagnost, most famous recently for his work on the Rivers Edge complex, is hoping to have a state liquor store completed on southern Elm Street by the end of the year. The proposed liquor store is being touted as both good for local businesses–since downtown restaurants and bars will have easy access to liquor and wine–and a positive sign of interest in retail near downtown. Both those things are good news.

But the liquor store, as proposed, leaves a lot to be desired. The site, near the intersection of Elm Street and Brown Ave, had previously been part of the Rivers Edge project, which promised to bring a sense of urban density and mixed-use development to the southern end of Elm Street. The Elliot at Rivers Edge has the potential to spur truly urban redevelopment in the area of southern Elm Street, but not if drive-thrus and suburban-style standalone stores move in first.

Continue reading Proposed standalone liquor store does not belong on Elm Street

St. Mary’s Bank & the future of the West Side

Rendering of the new St. Mary’s Bank at the corner of McGregor & Amory streets – image from St. Mary’s Bank (Lavallee Brensinger Architects/Harvery Construction)

Mike Cote of the Union Leader has a wonderful piece in Sunday’s paper about the topping-out ceremony at the new St. Mary’s Bank headquarters on McGregor Street. The new building, like the old St. Mary’s Bank that anchored the Flat Iron District on the West Side until 1970, will front the street and restore a sense of urban form to the corner of McGregor and Amory streets.

LivableMHT discussed the history and potential of the site and surrounding neighborhood when we first heard about plans for a new St. Mary’s headquarters last summer. Since then, we’ve watched the steel go up until last week’s topping-out, and it’s clear that the new building will be a huge improvement over the current credit union headquarters, built in 1969.

Flat Iron District before demolition, looking down Amory Street toward Mill West from Simpson Park – photo from the Library of Congress

While the new building will be elegant, with a graceful curve echoing the original 1925 bank headquarters, it alone will not undo the damage caused by the wholesale destruction of the Flat Iron District in 1970. As Mr. Cote writes:

[The wrecking ball destroyed] an elegant building that fell victim to “urban renewal” that erased the Flat Iron neighborhood on Manchester’s West Side. Planners thought a shopping center strip mall would be superior to a collection of mom-and-pop businesses and city streetscapes. They “traded up” … [to] a discount store with a sea of parking spaces.

Continue reading St. Mary’s Bank & the future of the West Side

It’s time to rethink city buses

MTA bus with new bike racks

NPR’s Talk of the Nation is discussing ways to improve the lowly city bus today. In the segment, Will Doig discussed the piece he wrote on Salon about how buses are often overlooked compared to streetcars, subways and other transit options, and how easily the image and experience of the city bus could be improved.

Making people like the bus when not liking the bus is practically an American pastime essentially means making the bus act and feel more like a train. … When people say they don’t like the bus but they do like the train, what they really mean is they like those perks the train offers. But there’s no reason bus systems can’t simply incorporate most of them.

Much of Doig’s piece focuses on the benefits of bus rapid transit (BRT), but he also discusses improvements that smaller cities like Manchester can make to their bus transit systems, which should build ridership and offset costs. Still, he says frequency–something that is often mentioned as a desired improvement to the MTA bus system–is key.

“All the speed-it-up tweaks in the world won’t mean much on a bus route that runs twice an hour, however.”

Twice an hour sounds pretty good compared to the MTA routes, all of which run every hour with the exception of the much more frequent (and free) Green DASH downtown circulator.

With statewide budget cuts, a legislature that shows no interest in promoting public transit whatsoever, and the City issuing its first budget to comply with the recently enacted tax cap, now may not seem like a good time to look at improving the bus system in Manchester. But Doig explains that investing in transit can have payoffs in increased ridership, and increased transit ridership can lead to greater economic development and certainly a more livable city.

And in the last few years, the MTA has already been making some positive improvements despite the budget woes.

The MTA's free and frequent Green DASH downtown loop bus

Initiating the Green DASH service, which runs every 10 minutes during peak hours on a downtown loop, is probably the biggest improvement to the city’s public transit since the MTA became a city authority in 1973. Shortly after launching the Green DASH, the MTA began running the weekday #1 Healthcare Shuttle route, connecting the major hospitals and medical centers scattered across on the East Side for the first time that we’re aware of. And in an effort to connect Manchester with the other major cities of the Merrimack Valley, the MTA now runs four trips daily to Nashua and two to Concord.

Continue reading It’s time to rethink city buses

Bridging the canal: uniting the Millyard and Elm Street

Iconic view looking up Stark Street to City Hall Plaza from Arms Park past Mill Girl Statue - photo by Brad Danielson

The Amoskeag mills made Manchester.  They are the most prominent feature of the city as seen from I-293 on the west side of the Merrimack—a low, long skirt to the city’s newer, taller buildings up the hill along Elm Street.  Though little manufacturing takes place in the mills anymore (beer from the city’s lone brewpub being one of the last vestiges of production there), they remain crucial to the city’s economy, housing many of its largest employers and best-known businesses.  To this day, the Millyard remains the most iconic symbol of Manchester, and the heart of the Queen City.

Yet despite being only a few blocks apart, the Millyard is too far removed from Elm Street and the bustle of downtown.  The canals and gates that once surrounded the Millyard are long gone, as are nearly all of the smaller-scale accessory buildings that once lined the canals and filled the spaces between the remaining, larger buildings.  In their absence are the scars of Manchester’s urban renewal efforts of the 1970s and 1980s—where 19th industrialism was shrouded in austere Victorian beauty, the 20th century renewal was all business: the ugly, highway feeling of Canal Street and the adjacent rail line, and parking lots and vacant spaces scattered throughout the Millyard.

The canals and rows of curved accessory buildings between the Millyard & Elm Street were removed in the 1960s & 1970s - photo by Randolph Langenbach

Arms Park and the Merrimack River are less than a five-minute walk from Elm Street, but none of the routes there pass many—if any—retail establishments, parks or other draws to entice pedestrians.  Worse, once past the old boardinghouses (and the recently, very well done, new sidewalks and streetscape improvements along West Merrimack, Middle, Market and Stark Streets), pedestrians must pass through the automobile-oriented wasteland of Canal and Bedford Streets and what feels like the backside of the Millyard.  And as bustling as the Millyard is during business hours, there are far too few restaurants, cafes, bars and shops to attract people past Canal Street, and almost no options for those who would like to live in the brick-walled, airy spaces with river and city views.

Currently, the Millyard functions more like a financial district or business park—albeit an especially beautiful one that forms a lovely backdrop for the city—rather than a dynamic district or neighborhood connected to the rest of downtown Manchester.  The good news is that there have been plenty of planning proposals, policies and schemes drawn up to better tie the Millyard and river with Elm Street; and it really wouldn’t take much to make that happen.

Continue reading Bridging the canal: uniting the Millyard and Elm Street