CLAREMONT — A proposed $4.5 million revitalization project would reduce vehicle traffic on downtown Pleasant Street to one direction in an effort to increase pedestrian space and improve economic and social opportunities in the historic city center.
The city held a public presentation Wednesday via Zoon, during which engineers Bryan Colburn and Jonathan Law fielded community questions about a proposed redesign of Pleasant Street — from Opera House Square to Glidden Street — aimed to encourage more pedestrian traffic and economic activity downtown.
Colburn, an engineer with McFarland-Johnson in Concord, said the “Rethink Pleasant Street Revitalization Project” aspires to make Pleasant Street “a destination” for walking, shopping, dining and social interaction.
The project design would convert Pleasant Street from two-way to one-way southbound traffic. Angled parking spaces will replace the current parallel structure. While the conversion will reduce the number of current spaces by nine, the overall design will increase the ratio of pedestrian space on Pleasant Street to 50%. Most of Pleasant Street is presently occupied for vehicle use.
“The design was chosen because it provided a good balance for people and parking and maximizing the opportunities [for the street],” Colburn explained.
The design includes plans for a bicycle lane, improved lighting and signage, and expanded pedestrian walks that can accommodate foot traffic, outdoor dining, seating and artwork. The street could also be closed to traffic periodically for special events, like street fairs or a farmer’s market.
New trees would provide places of respite along the street, help reduce water runoff and improve the visual aesthetic of the street.
Law, a landscape engineer with the IBI Group, a North American landscaping firm, said the current trees on Pleasant Street have fared poorly in health, due to the tree variety and planting system.
“They’re basically planted in a concrete box,” Law said. “Their growth has been stunted because there’s no room to grow and they don’t get enough oxygen.”
Additionally, maple trees don’t thrive well in a streetscape environment, Law said. He would recommend a small-leaf variety like honey locust or ginkgo, which are more drought tolerant, have more contained canopies and won’t threaten to root into the sidewalks.
The project would require additional modifications in street lighting and construction, particularly to reconfigure downtown traffic.
Glidden Street, which connects the south end of Pleasant Street to Broad Street would also become a one-way street, to allow large vehicles conducting business on Pleasant Street a sufficient turn. Colburn said they would create a new intersection, with a traffic signal, at Broad Street and Glidden.
Commercial trucks that typically use Pleasant Street as a through-way, will be rerouted. Northbound trucks entering Claremont from Charlestown Road will be redirected to South Street and then Broad Street. Trucks entering from Washington Street would be rerouted onto North Street and Main Street, where they would then cross Claremont using Sullivan and Mulberry streets.
Colburn said that new parking lots will be developed through private-public partnerships. There are currently nine or 10 privately owned lots around Pleasant Street that, if developed, would create about 100 total additional spaces.
These lots would also be upgraded with street lights and signage improvements.
“To access some of these spots you have to go down alleys that aren’t well lit or inviting, and people have said they don’t know where [these lots] are,” Colburn said. “So the project will include better lighting and signage so people will know how to access them.”
Law, who worked with Colburn on a similar street revitalization in Concord, said that, contrary to concerns expressed by Concord business owners, visitors were willing to park a couple of blocks away and walk to the revitalized area.
About $3.4 million of the $4.5 million total cost would cover the reconstruction of Pleasant Street, including the costs for paving and upgrades to water and sewer lines and storm drainage. About $650,000 would go to streetscape development, such as street lighting and landscaping; $620,000 would go to parking improvements, lighting and signage; and $530,000 would go to building the intersection at Glidden and Broad streets.
The city is looking to fund the project through a bond, given that interest rates are very low at present and three city bonds are about to retire.
“The timing is really good right now,” said City Manager Ed Morris. “No one planned for Covid, but interest rates are dropping and we are currently seeing a 25% drop in building costs.”
Morris said he believes the new bond can be balanced to keep the tax rate from increasing from the current level.
City Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill said the city opted not to pursue grant funding for the project. Applying for the grants would delay the project’s start at least a year or two, and meeting additional stipulations required from a grant would increase the project’s cost.
Colburn and Law gave a second presentation to the Claremont City Council last night, who will decide whether to recommend a bond for the project.
Citizens who wish to view the project details further, or have questions for the project managers, may visit www.rethinkpleasantstreet.com.
This project has been in development for more than 18 months. Colburn said his firm first met with Claremont residents and stakeholders in January 2019 and presented three design options based on public comments in April 2020. The proposed one-way street model was the preference of the participating stakeholders.