Travel

Round trip travel along the main street is a key success factor in the city center

If you’re wondering why Fitchburg is facing all the challenges of returning Main Street to two-way traffic since Thursday morning, it might be helpful to look back at why the one-way scheme was introduced in the 1960s, what are the problems with that design and what the city is trying to achieve with this new travel pattern.

Main Street was laid out long before the advent of automobiles, when Fitchburg’s biggest traffic problems were dusting and clearing horse manure. Even after the introduction of automobiles in the early 20th century, the city center was focused on serving pedestrians who lived in the surrounding areas or took streetcars to Main Street.

Everything changed after World War II, when the car became king. Urban planners in Fitchburg and other cities across the country saw a dramatic increase in traffic in the 1950s and looked for ways to ease the growing congestion. The solution they found was to abandon traditional traffic patterns and create larger one-way corridors that could move traffic faster and more efficiently.

This is how Fitchburg and many other communities around the country decided to transform their business centers. In the 1960s, Main Street was converted to two one-way lanes, while Boulder Drive was created for traffic in the opposite direction. The planners favored a downtown car, but did not take into account the side effects of this decision.

The problem with this plan is that the rest of the center is left behind. Traffic on Main Street was faster, but at the expense of pedestrians crossing the street and walking on the sidewalks.

This made it easier for cars to pass through downtown on their way to the John Fitch Highway, but made it harder to access businesses on Main Street. Higher speeds limited visibility of businesses on the main street, and storefronts on the far corner of buildings were hidden from one-way traffic.

Beginning in the 1990s, planners across the country realized that this was a mistake, as city centers devoid of people were left to fend for themselves. Fitchburg is not alone in its decision to restore two-lane downtown, and many other cities have already gone through the process to end one-way traffic.

If downtown Fitchburg is going to be a successful downtown, it needs people. He needs people coming downtown to work, shop or eat out. He wants people living on the top floors of the buildings on the main street. And he needs a traffic model that supports that vision.

Instead of prioritizing cars traveling to other parts of the city, the main two-way street will be focused on serving people living, working, shopping and having fun downtown. This is a key ingredient in reviving the heart of our city and I look forward to it.

Andrew Van Hasinga is a member of the Fitchburg District 4 City Council.

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