Fitchburg Main Street goes on one-year, one-lane diet

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A stretch of reconfigured one-way main street in FitchburgAfter years of watching cars speed down the two-lane, one-way stretch of Main Street downtown trying to beat the next red light, Fitchburg is piloting a one-lane configuration with a new bike lane to see if it can make its downtown safer.
 
Fitchburg plans to test its low-cost, temporary configuration for a full year to get an accurate picture of how it works in all seasons and during various annual downtown events.
 
Fitchburg City Councillor Joel Kaddy first pitched the idea to the rest of the council two years ago, after working for 22 years in a Fitchburg police cruiser and the last three years of his police career walking and biking Main Street, five days a week, eight hours a day. He argued that the car-centric approach to road and urban design that took hold in the 1960s and ’70s created an unsafe “thruway” in the heart of Fitchburg.
 
“Walking or riding a bike there for three years, you get a whole different perspective on how unsafe we’ve made a road,” he said. “The idea is to stop vehicles cutting through the city and create a road where it’s safer for pedestrians and bicyclists – for all modes of transportation.”
 
Mayor Stephen DiNatale said getting the public on board with the idea was “a little rocky” because it was difficult for people to visualize how the configuration would work. The key, he said, was bringing everyone into the same room, including the fire and police chiefs, the Department of Public Works, traffic engineers and architects.
 
“The citizens who were the most vocal in opposition to it were business owners on Main Street,” DiNatale said. “They had some concerns over how it was going to affect their businesses, and justifiability so. We got them into the room with public meetings, but we also had a number of opportunities during council meetings for public comment.”
 
Support came from the local business organization Fitchburg Pride and Fitchburg State University, which funded a feasibility study and engineering for the project. FSU Vice President Jay Bry is a Pride board member, and the university recently purchased more property downtown, where it already has its Center for Professional Studies, to further expand its campus.
 
The Fitchburg Rotary Club helped to keep costs low by granting the DPW permission to use the large flower boxes it had placed throughout downtown to line the street, making it clear that a former travel lane was now only for bicyclists, according to DPW Commissioner Lenny Laakso. FSU also donated concrete planters to install along the street.
 
Laakso said the yearlong pilot is necessary to see how the configuration works during the winter months, when streets need to be plowed and snow and ice build up.