What is the Downtown Manchester Improvements Project?
The Downtown Manchester Improvements Project (also referenced as the Downtown Streetscape Project or Downtown for All) is the next phase of the Town’s recent efforts to make Downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods more vibrant places. Manchester considers a strong Downtown one of its very top priorities. This project would –
- Represent a significant investment in Downtown that would benefit the entire community;
- Complete necessary, cyclical maintenance of the Main Street corridor; and
- Address multiple community needs previously identified in various workshops and surveys spanning the past decade.
The project will transform the Main Street corridor between Center Street and Hartford Road into an accessible, vibrant, and equitable “Complete Street” through a comprehensive design that includes traffic and pedestrian/bicycle safety improvements, additional public gathering spaces, and enhanced streetscape complemented with strategic public and private development. Measurable results from this project will include fewer serious vehicular accidents, more short trips taken by bicycle or on foot, slower vehicular speeds, additional outdoor space for local businesses, and additional, accessible public spaces.
“Complete Streets” is a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated, and maintained to enable safe, convenient, and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation. The Manchester Board of Directors adopted the Town’s “Complete Streets Policy” on October 3, 2017.
What Improvements Does the Project Include?
The foundation of this project is a “road diet”, which creates the necessary space for most of the improvements. A “road diet” typically involves converting an existing four-lane, undivided roadway segment to a three-lane segment consisting of two through lanes and a left-turn lane. This reconfiguration of the public right-of-way would then allow for additional public spaces and amenities, including a separated cycle track, outdoor street vending and dining, pocket parks, and other placemaking opportunities.
While counter-intuitive, going from four lanes to three actually improves traffic flow in that those taking a left turn now have a dedicated lane. Those behind a turning driver will be able to keep moving instead of having to stop or worse, swerve into the other lane and risk a potential accident. Buffer space has been built in as well to avoid conflicts between moving traffic, parking cars, loading trucks, emergency vehicles, etc.
The proposed “road diet” includes on-street parking changes in some areas, but the mix of parallel and diagonal spaces will remain. Importantly, the project is expected to result in no significant change in the number of parking spaces and the current design includes a small net INCREASE in the number of on-street spaces. All these improvements are intended to make Downtown a safer and more accessible place to be for ALL residents, whether they travel by car, foot, public transit, bicycle, or stroller.
A second piece of the project on Main Street could improve the safety of downtown visitors and make for a safer experience driving down Main Street. There are two roundabouts proposed for the “top” (Main St. & Center St.) and “bottom” (Main St. & Charter Oak St./ Hartford Rd.) of the Downtown area.
The proposed roundabouts allow for vehicles to travel counterclockwise and a center island to “turn” onto the desired road. Roundabouts can vary in size, but the proposed Manchester roundabouts would be larger than others that exist in the area. They would also be able to allow for vehicles of all sizes, including emergency vehicles, buses, and truck and trailer combinations. Most importantly, roundabouts are designed to slow traffic, making Downtown safer for everyone. Downtown is currently a high accident location and tragically has also seen pedestrians injured and even killed in recent years crossing the street. Slower vehicles significantly improve safety for both vehicles and pedestrians.
The third and critical piece of the project is to upgrade the traffic signals in the Downtown so that they are coordinated. Coordinated traffic signals synchronize traffic movements so that cars stop less when traveling. While the first two pieces of the project will intentionally reduce vehicle speeds, the coordinated signals will allow drivers to get from one end of downtown to the other in essentially the same amount of time. Vehicles will move more slowly, but traffic will flow more smoothly with fewer stops and no need to drive around someone taking a left turn. An added benefit here is the lower emissions generated by fewer idling cars.
What is the status of the Downtown Manchester Improvements Project?
The Town is grateful to the State of Connecticut for funding a portion of the project through the Community Investment Fund 2030. Because the project is not fully funded, there is no construction start date scheduled at this time. Further, any construction will not be all at once.
The town will coordinate this project closely with Downtown Businesses and events and the project will ultimately enhance our treasured Downtown events. Importantly, current plans have been completed with the guidance and consultation of the Downtown Special Services District, Business owners, and major event personnel. The Town will continue to engage these groups as the project comes closer.
The project team will also continue to provide opportunities for the public to influence the plan in the coming months. At this time, the project is a concept that has been crafted into an initial design, but it will go through multiple design updates before becoming a reality.