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Reckless drivers, dangerous streets: Manchester residents share concerns at traffic forum

Mary Georges explains how difficult it is to make turns in the streets of Center City.
Gabriela Lozada
Mary Georges explains how difficult it is to make turns in the streets of Center City.

Residents of Manchester’s Center City participated in an open forum Thursday to discuss problems affecting the area's families, most of them related to dangerous traffic on local streets.

Around 40 people attended the session, where Mayor Joyce Craig and other aldermen heard concerns from the public. People said some streets have become dangerous over the last several months since a change in traffic patterns. Drivers on Maple, Beech, and Chestnut streets are speeding up to the point they are putting people at risk, people said.

Neighbors said two-lane, one-way streets encourage drivers to drive recklessly.

“People are nervous about crossing the streets and going to the park,” said Arnold Mikolo, environmental justice advocate with CLF New Hampshire. He and others organized the forum. “We can make proposals and come up with ideas on how to solve this today,” said Mikolo.

Mikolo said he has been trying to encourage people to come to voice their concerns about the neighborhood, but it hasn’t been easy. While business owners and people who rent apartments attended Thursday’s forum, only a few lived in the area.

Amanda Scanlon, who lives in Maple street, said she sees accidents all the time.

“People drive up and down and it’s terrifying,” she said.

Others said they are worried about the safety of local children amid the speeding drivers.

Advocates from Bicycle Collective were present too. Florian Tschurtschenthaler, a cyclist, said these streets have too many cars: “Reducing it to one lane may give people a visual incentive to disperse traffic from this super dangerous area,” he said.

He also wanted officials to know how different the city is just a couple of blocks north, where there are bike lanes and traffic is much lighter.

“It is a piece of heaven to have that just for peace of mind,” he said.

Most of the questions were directed to highway chief engineer Owen Friend-Gray, who works for the Department of Public Works. He wrote down the concerns to be attended immediately and emphasized that the department has gathered crash data for a few months to determine why they happen and where they happen, “but there is much more to do,” he said.

“We don’t see the same things you do. We are not out there every day, so everything you can offer at this meeting is incredibly helpful for us,” Friend-Gray said.

Center City residents said access for people with wheelchairs is complicated and that there is a need to beautify the streets with new lamps and trees. Sandra Almonte, a local business owner, talked about how to approach the immigrant community to educate them about traffic in their languages. Mary Georges, who lives in the area, agreed but said all people in New Hampshire, not only immigrants, need traffic education.

Some residents raised a concern that local rents will rise by beautifying the neighborhood, to which Craig responded, “there is no rent control in New Hampshire.”

When the forum culminated, some people met for the first time and talked about what else could be done. Mikolo, the organizer, said there are plans for a similar session about lead paint, another critical issue in the area.

“When people get together, change can happen,” said Mikolo.

Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.

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