The debates on traffic and parking in central Amherst have an air of unreality. Case in point: residents on Lincoln Avenue (some on Sunset as well) wish to ban parking on their street(s). Too many students parking for free! Emergency vehicles won’t be able to reach our homes! The road is too narrow to handle parking and traffic too!
Try living, as I do, on North Prospect Street.
It is a long block crowded with historic homes, anchoring the North Prospect-Lincoln-Sunset Local Historic District. The street hosts the Amherst History Museum, a nearly 300-year old edifice that preserves and celebrates the town’s heritage. An outsider might picture this as postcard New England.
Far from it. More like Mad Max. The street’s blacktop is eroded and pitted with holes. A torrent of cut-through traffic rages as people rush to get around the long red light at Amity and North Pleasant. Old and young, pets and cyclists, even resident drivers, are exposed to speeding cars day and night. The rough pavement amplifies the noise of vehicles passing. Loud engines too, and horns honking as cut-through drivers blow past residents and CVS patrons trying to get onto the street. And lots (and lots) of parked cars, some of them encroaching into driveway entries. Last but not least, students – renting apartments, livening things up, socializing at the top of their lungs late into the night. Once the partying dies down, the USA trucks arrive in the wee hours to service nearby dumpsters while semis back up to CVS and adjacent businesses, emitting high-decibel beeps (all in violation of the town noise ordinance).
So, like Lincoln, Sunset, and other town center streets, we have parked cars, traffic, noise, etc. It’s a college town, after all. What we on North Prospect don’t need is more traffic and more parking displaced onto our already overburdened street. No complaints here about impediments to emergency vehicles – anyone with urban experience knows that first responders are not daunted by parked cars. What some of us do complain about is the volume, speed, and late-night nuisance of the traffic flows. Where we live has the same zoning status as adjoining streets like Lincoln and Sunset – and yet we are exposed to far greater hazard and inconvenience. Only longstanding habit makes this situation appear tolerable.
Here’s a thought. Could we, maybe, find a common solution for the whole residential part of the town center? Instead of a ban on parking, how about requiring permits to park on Lincoln, Sunset, etc. – same as on N. Prospect? This way, no more free parking for students, and an uptick in revenue for the town as well. What if we adopted (and implemented) a center-wide plan of traffic management, with actual speed limit signs imposing, say, a 20 mph maximum? Signs prohibiting “thru traffic” (i.e. cut-throughs) on residential streets that have seen high traffic volume? Barriers and speed bumps? None of these things – repeat, none — exist on N. Prospect St. (We do have One Way signs and a temporary electric sign saying “Thank you for driving slowly” – but these are routinely ignored.) What about a traffic bypass to take pressure off the residential streets (e.g. diverting North-South flows onto University Drive, or 116 above route 9)? Any plan would also need to address the proposed garage on N. Prospect – the supposed need for which lacks any empirical grounding to date. For now, let’s make it easier to use the (underutilized) parking spaces we already have in the town.
So, instead of NIMBY versus NIMBY, let’s come up with a vision for the town center that has wide appeal and makes the town more livable for all of us. And let’s make it effective. Residents and town government can achieve more by working together and presenting a common front in discussions with UMass, the colleges, and the real estate developers.
Patrick Meagher is a resident of North Prospect Street