Advocates say 'sky's the limit' for Eagle Street redesign in North Adams

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NORTH ADAMS — What would Eagle Street be like if the car lane was narrowed and the sidewalks were wider with more plantings and pavers?

City Council members heard the possible answer at a meeting Tuesday during a presentation on the Eagle Street Woonerf Feasibility Study.

Redesigning Eagle Street has been discussed as an issue in the city off and on at least since 1921, City Councilor Ben Lamb said. The Eagle Street study is being conducted at the request of the city and paid for using Community Development Block Grant funding.

The idea is to see what would happen if Eagle Street was redesigned along the lines of a woonerf. The Dutch term refers to a section of roadway that is transformed into an avenue that would be equally as passable for pedestrians, bicycles and cars. A woonerf uses narrow car lanes and people-friendly plantings and branding to make it a more appealing commercial zone.

Among the tactics under consideration are improving the landscaping and planting, and using traffic calming measures to slow the passage of cars through the corridor. Other ideas include making room on the sidewalks for more outdoor dining, a gateway appearance at the entry point from the Center Street parking lot, rotating food trucks and adding a pocket park next to Adams Community Bank.

The goal is to encourage social interaction and make Eagle Street into a destination where people like to spend time, said Eammon Coughlin, senior transportation planner for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

But one of the biggest challenges lies in the parking question, said Coughlin, who gave Tuesday night's presentation on the feasibility study.

To capitalize on the concept, some or all of the 17 parking spots on Eagle Street would be eliminated in favor of wider sidewalks in all but one of the concepts. But the businesses on Eagle Street aren't too happy about that idea, especially in the winter when longer walks from the car might reduce the number of people heading to their shops in the dead of winter.

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Coughlin offered several different concepts that ranged from no parking spaces to about half, and a concept with all the parking intact. Every design had to make room for emergency vehicle access through the entire corridor.

In one of them, the street is only 9 to 10 feet wide, with 15-foot sidewalks on both sides of the street and no parking spaces, which would allow six to 10 outdoor tables for Eagle Street eateries and plenty of street trees and other planting.

"The sky's the limit with what you could do," Coughlin said.

Another version retains all the parking but expands the sidewalks a bit and adds more plantings.

Coughlin noted that these concepts can be altered or merged depending on what the city wants. "It boils down to parking issues," he said. "There are 175 parking spaces within 1/10 of a mile, so parking is still close at hand."

As part of the study, the BRPC conducted a man on the street survey, met with folks at several public events downtown and spoke with Eagle Street business owners. The commission sought to gauge the hopes and big ideas people might have to liven things up, and the ideas folks aren't too sure about.

Now that initial work is done, the BRPC will apply the concepts and ideas that they have documented and work them into a final study document that will offer well-informed advice for the redesign of Eagle Street. Funding for the final design, topographic survey, traffic study and project construction is yet to be identified.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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