Streets plan unveiled to improve South Deerfield’s downtown

A Complete Streets plan now under consideration will seek to improve the town center in South Deerfield, including this intersection of Sugarloaf and North Main streets. PAUL FRANZ

A Complete Streets plan now under consideration will seek to improve the town center in South Deerfield, including this intersection of Sugarloaf and North Main streets. PAUL FRANZ

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The empty business windows on Elm Street, the sprawling gray pavement and the speeding traffic could all be eliminated from South Deerfield if the town implements its newly proposed Complete Streets plan.

Last week, Jason Schrieber of Nelson Nygaard, a national transportation planning group, presented the completed report, “Downtown Deerfield: Complete Streets and Livability Plan,” to help improve the town center.

The report is funded through a $60,000 federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant secured for the town by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

This is the final draft report compiled with the input of residents who participated in a series of meetings in November.

Nelson Nygaard designed the plan to make it easy for the town to implement. The cost of most of the proposals put forth are within the existing highway department budget.

The goal of Complete Streets is to improve walking, biking and transportation safety in the downtown. Essential to that is reactivating the streetscape to balance spaces for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit users. This could be done, Schrieber said, with improved crosswalks, which should be no less than 12 feet wide.

To break up the pavement, the town could turn the streets into a community easel with sections of street art. And on North Main Street, trees could be planted to decrease pavement.

“You guys have way too much pavement,” Schrieber said. “You could use this as traffic calming.”

The town could also create bike lanes to support cyclists coming into South Deerfield through the Franklin County Bikeway.

Building on what’s there

The idea is to attract businesses to set up shop.

There are already existing benefits of the downtown. Its housing is near the employment center along Sugarloaf and Elm Streets. And Deerfield also has plenty of parking, a commodity desired by many towns. It has a town lot on North Main Street along with the angled parking spaces on Elm Street.

The only problem is the parking spaces should be parallel rather than angled, according to state Department of Transportation standards. There are also existing partners the town could work with, including Deerfield Academy, Yankee Candle Co. and Historic Deerfield Inc.

The town has already been in talks with the three institutions. Deerfield Academy could advertise South Deerfield to its students, who are usually shuttled to Greenfield on free nights.

The candle-making giant could also place signs on Routes 5 and 10 to point customers to South Deerfield. And Historic Deerfield would like more Deerfield residents to visit its living museum.

With these attractions along with Mount Sugarloaf and the Old Deerfield Craft Fair, Schrieber said the town needs gateways, such as signs, public art or monuments to draw people.

The town, he said, should also take advantage of vacant parcels like the Oxford property.

“What happens on this site is less important than how it interfaces with the community,” Schrieber said.

In February, the town put the 16.3-acre century-old property on Jewett Avenue up for sale, leaving it up to potential developers to propose ideas.

The biggest challenge would be to reopen Conway Street.

Transportation planners believe this would improve the safety for Deerfield Elementary School students and help decrease traffic jams on Pleasant Street.

This future project is costly, Town Administrator Bernie Kubiak said.

Insist on transit service

Schrieber said the town cannot be bypassed by local transit companies.

Franklin Regional Transit Authority will provide future connections to Amtrak service in Greenfield or Northampton as part of the rerouted Vermonter service, known as the state Knowledge Corridor. The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority also runs south to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Schrieber insisted these bus routes come through the downtown.

Implementing the plan

The project ideas were easy, officials said. But the hard part is making it a reality.

“The hard part is to dive into the list of priorities and make time to implement,” Kubiak said.

Darren Gray, a resident and professional engineer who worked with Nelson Nygaard as a consultant on the project, suggested town residents get together to form an implementation plan.

“I plan on getting involved to get something going,” Gray said.

Nelson Nygaard’s report was what residents had in mind.

“We agree with what was said,” James Heller, co-owner of the Daly Lilly Gift Shop building. “Making it a walkable and bike-friendly town is what people want. People want to live in a place that’s pleasing to look at and right now it isn’t.”

Resident Joanne Carney said the Complete Streets plan is exactly what Deerfield needs.

“Deerfield has so much potential for growth,” Carney said. “It’s good for younger members of the community to encourage development.”

In 2010, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments won a $425,000 federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to create the regional plan. The project is a long-term integrated plan for Franklin County to support sustainable development through increased livability. Other towns to receive portions of the grant are Greenfield, Orange and Montague.

The Complete Streets plan will be included in the final FRCOG report to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The full report is on the town’s website at deerfieldma.us.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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