Panel airs ‘complete streets’ blueprint for Amherst

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

AMHERST — Making it as easy for bicyclists, pedestrians and people who use public transportation to get around town as it is for drivers is one aim of a proposed complete streets policy.

The Transportation Advisory Committee on Jan. 17 released its six-page draft policy, which will be brought to the Select Board for adoption later this winter.

Chairman Aaron Hayden said the goal of having a policy is to ensure that whenever any large road project is planned, town officials take into consideration five transportation modes, including walking, bicycling, transit, commercial and motor vehicles.

“Our desire is for a safe, connected transportation network,” Hayden said.

With a policy in place that appears to meet the rubrics set by the state, Amherst will be eligible for grants from the Massachusetts Complete Streets program.

“The real trick was to take that state program, and make it into an Amherst policy,” Hayden said.

Amherst will also be aligned with the Community Compact, which the Select Board and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito signed in April.

Amherst has long shown a commitment to such principles, through policies enacted by the Select Board and practices voted by Town Meeting. These include forming a Public Transportation and Bicycle Committee, adopting the Safe Routes to School initiatives, developing bicycle lanes and off-road multi-use paths, such as the Norwottuck Rail Trail and the Swift Connector, and providing municipal financial support for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority and UMass Transit.

The vision statement in the draft policy states: “the town of Amherst shall develop and provide an integrated multimodal transportation network that contributes directly to the safety, health, economic vitality and quality of life of all residents especially the most vulnerable.”

Hayden said people saw complete streets in practice when lower Main Street was rebuilt in 2012, including pavement wide enough to accommodate bicycle lanes, formal bus stops and shelters, and well-marked crosswalks. It was also used in developing the roundabout at Triangle and East Pleasant streets, completed last year, which is designed to be safe for bicyclists, pedestrians and PVTA buses.

The policy includes elements specific to Amherst, such as addressing potential conflicts between transit uses and open space, green space and trees — “because it’s real policy, not just about making the state happy with us,” Hayden said.

Hayden said there is additional cost to do complete streets but that if incorporated into the initial planning, these expenses are reduced. And there is an opportunity for state money.

The Baker-Polito administration has already distributed around $10 million to cities and towns through the program. Sunderland, for example, received $394,972 last fall that will mean accessibility upgrades to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety in its village center.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.