More Research Needed on Joining Regional ‘Complete Streets’ Program

The Derry Planning Board will do further research and hold at least one more workshop before saying “yea” or “nay” to the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission’s (SNHPC) “Complete Streets” program.

The board discussed Complete Streets in a workshop May 18. While the program has some appeal for Derry, members determined to investigate it more and find out what they already have.

“Complete Streets” is a national initiative being piloted locally by SNHPC. Deputy Executive Director Sylvia Von Aulock wrote in a memo that the program is “aimed at making more efficient use of existing local roadways for all users.” She wrote, “Complete Streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”

Von Aulock also wrote, “Complete Streets makes it easier to cross the street, walk to shops, bicycle to work and enhance the community.”

Part of the program will include a Complete Streets toolkit covering planning and policy guidelines, design and engineering standards, and regulatory land use guidance.

The menu items for communities include the following:

• Pop-Up Planning Initiative, the planning of a temporary demonstration street segment, using materials such as tape and bollards to delineate bike lanes, wider sidewalks or other Complete Street-recommended elements.

• Policy/resolution development, assisting the municipality toward developing a Complete Streets policy, using nationwide best practices and New Hampshire examples as guidelines.

• Design standards, assisting the municipality in developing design standards and if needed, a review and commentary on the appropriateness of existing planning documents.

• Education and outreach, recruiting and calling on individuals in whose communities Complete Streets has been implemented.

But board members weren’t sure their street system was broken or needed Complete Streets to fix it.

Mixed reviews

Board chairman David Granese read a memo from Public Works Director Mike Fowler, in which Fowler said his department did not recommend adopting Complete Streets, due to both fiscal constraints and the fact that Derry has already made improvements to its downtown. Fowler cited dedicated sidewalks on both sides of East and West Broadway, bump-outs, parallel parking to increase width, and a streetscape project in 2000.

However, he added, the town could adopt “individual aspects” of Complete Streets.

Granese said, “I don’t think it would work downtown. The streets aren’t wide enough” for bike lanes and more sidewalks.

What needs to be addressed, Granese pointed out, is safety for the pedestrians Derry already has. He remembered coming home one morning at 3 a.m. and watching a woman trying to cross West Broadway near the Halligan Tavern. “Seven vehicles passed by her,” Granese said.

Alternate member Mark Connors, who is vice-chair of the Rail Trail Committee, wants to see the town more bike-able and walkable. “I would like to see more sidewalks,” he said, adding, “But I don’t want to hamstring the DPW from doing what’s best for our town.”

Member Jim MacEachern said, “I would still like to do something with Complete Streets. We already have bump-outs, but we need to do more work on our sidewalks.” He cited the area from the traffic rotary to West Running Brook Middle School as an example, plus several areas on Crystal Avenue.

“We can take from it what’s right for Derry,” MacEachern pointed out.

Town engineer Mark L’Heureux said, “Mike Fowler and I have had several conversations about this. Some of the difficulty is that the country roads aren’t centered in the right-of-way. They are winding, hilly.”

He and Fowler are adding space where they can, he said, pointing to the recent extension of the right-of-way while bringing town water and sewer to Rockingham Road (Route 28).

But funding is limited, and sidewalks are costly, he said. A recent project on Tsienneto Road, for “a couple of thousand feet,” cost $150,000.

And some of the ideas, such as striping the roads to create a bike lane, would actually narrow them, L’Heureux added.

“I don’t want to sacrifice safety in order to encourage pedestrians or bike traffic,” he said.

“None of us are advocating making things less safe,” MacEachern said. “I’m looking for an opportunity to get help from outside Derry.”

Planning Board vice-chair John O’Connor, who is a state representative, said he and State Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead are co-sponsoring a Complete Streets bill in the legislature. It was in danger of becoming a Department of Transportation mandate, O’Connor explained, and they wanted New Hampshire towns to have a choice.

“We wanted to make sure each town has the ability to incorporate some of it,” he explained. But with some streets, “it is an impossibility,” O’Connor added.

Possible solutions

For pedestrian safety, Granese likes the solar-powered Crosswalk signs. He’s seen them in St. Petersburg, Fla., and thought they were effective in alerting drivers to pedestrians.

O’Connor has been promoting the signs for a while. They are a prominent feature on the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, he said.

Connors also sees a solar crosswalk sign every day on his way home from Reading, Mass. And as a biker and user of rail trails, he’s also seen the one at Route 125 in Epping. “They are excellent, and we should invest in them,” he said.

And they don’t wear out, O’Connor pointed out. UNH has had them for several years and is still using some of the original ones, he said.

Terri Pastori, chairman of the Economic Development Committee, said she hoped the meeting would start a “cooperation and collaboration” between the Planning Board and Economic Development.

Pastori leaned toward the public education piece of Complete Streets, noting, “If you can get feedback from this group on how to increase foot traffic, that would be great. We need to pick the nugget that works for Derry.”

She observed that foot traffic has increased downtown with more offerings at the Opera House and an interesting choice of restaurants. But safety issues have increased along with the pedestrians. “Driving through downtown, I cringe,” Pastori admitted.

Derry already has walking trails, put in during the 1990s, and bike paths, particularly the Rail Trail. Group members identified a need to make both walkers and bikers more aware of what exists in their community.

MacEachern said, “How can we better connect what we’ve already got?”

Connors said there is an interactive Google map on the new Town Web site that lists the available bike paths.

More study

MacEachern urged the board to take advantage of the “education piece” of Complete Streets. “There’s an important opportunity out there, a learning experience,” he said.

And Derry is not just “downtown,” he said. “I was hoping to look at other areas of town.”

Member and board secretary Michael Fairbanks agreed. “We have some troubled areas, and maybe their education program can show us what to do,” he said.

“If it doesn’t make sense, great,” MacEachern said. “But I’d like to take a town-wide perspective.”

Pastori said, “Our DPW knows what we have to work with. But why not use Complete Streets as a learning tool?”

L’Heureux said, “We do not advocate joining the program now. We want to see what it does in other towns.” In addition to financial constraints, town staff also has limited time, he said.

“We already advocate for the things they’re talking about,” he said.

MacEachern agreed and said, “I have no desire to apply for the pop-up street. We already have a lot of those things.”

“I want to hear from the other communities – the good, the bad and the ugly,” MacEachern said.

Since the application is not due till the end of June, the board decided it has time for one more workshop. The board decided by consensus to hold a workshop at its June 1 meeting, and to invite representation from Pastori’s group and the Highway Safety Committee.