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Downtown improvement plan ready to roll in Bristol


January 25, 2012
BRISTOL—There is a palpable sense of excitement, if not also a little trepidation, as the Town of Bristol prepares for the beginning of a season of change in busy Central Square.

Last Thursday evening, the Board of Selectmen held a public hearing on the ambitious Transportation Enhancement grant improvements that are set to begin in the downtown business and historic district later this spring.

The purpose of the hearing was to solicit feedback from the public as the project gets closer to implementation.

"This is a much anticipated project that has been in the works for a long, long time," said Board Chairman Rick Alpers as he welcomed interested members of the public to the hearing and introduced project Engineer Mike Vignale, from KV Partners, who outlined the plans for a redesign of the major intersection, pedestrian and sidewalk improvements and streetscape amenities.

One objective of the plan is to create an attractive, open "green space" to serve as a focal point — a small, Town Common — where the public can gather for community events. It would also serve as an attractive, fitting home for Bristol's four Veterans monuments, including the signature Civil War Cannon that is an anchoring feature of the landscape.

The improvements will make the business district more accessible, walkable, bicycle friendly and welcoming for shoppers, visitors, and community gatherings.

In conjunction with other projects that are in the works, which include demolition of the abandoned Mica Building at 8 Central Square and the proposed construction of a trailhead for a recreational path from Bristol's Central Square to Franklin along the Pemigewasset River, the plans are expected to catapult Bristol into a new era for community, commerce and recreational enjoyment.

Water and Sewer system improvements in the area and a renovation and expansion of the historic Minot-Sleeper Library are also on the agenda for this year's annual Town Meeting. Public hearings on these additional projects will take place in the upcoming weeks.

Vignale said that if the water and sewer infrastructure project is approved by voters in March, the comprehensive downtown improvement project could take place over the course of a few months this spring and summer. He fully expects that the entire project could be completed with minimal disruptions to traffic, road closures, or detours through the downtown area.

The Transportation Enhancement grant project entails a realignment of Route 104 as it comes into the Center of Town, creating more of a traditional "T" type intersection, and adding a small left hand turn lane from Summer Street onto South Main Street, eliminating a major vehicular bottleneck in the area. In addition, North Main Street will be made one-way from Central Square to Union Street, in order to further alleviate traffic pressures.

The addition of an expanded traffic island on South Main, and a cobblestone traffic divider on Summer Street coming into the square, as well as sidewalk improvements, crosswalks and "bumpouts" at the intersection, will make the intersection safer and more pedestrian friendly.

There are no immediate plans to introduce a traffic light at the intersection because current traffic counts do not justify it, according to New Hampshire Department of Transportation criteria. But Vignale said that design allows for accommodations to be made for that eventuality as it becomes necessary in the future.

Vignale said that the reconfiguration of the traffic and parking pattern in the square will result in a net loss of eight parking spaces in the immediate area, but this loss will be more than compensated for by the additional of many angled parking spots on North Main Street which will become available once it is made into a one-way street.

Attendees at the hearing largely greeted the plan with approval, but peppered Vignale with questions and suggestions about several details.

The only controversial aspect of proposal in the planning stages is the proposed introduction of innovative "back-in" angled parking spaces at several locations in the square. Vignale made the case for the new parking space design, saying that where it has been tried in other communities, it has improved visibility for motorists and has been proven to be safer, especially for young children. His proposal was received with some interest, and some skepticism. It was agreed that such an innovation would require substantial public educational and adjustment, but might be well worth the effort in the final analysis.

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