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Less traffic, more trees: recommendations unveiled for safer streets in central Manchester

At a community meeting on Friday, Manchester residents discussed how Beech and Maple streets could be safer for those who live nearby.
Mara Hoplamazian
At a community meeting in July 2023, Manchester residents discussed how Beech and Maple streets could be safer for those who live nearby.

In an area of Manchester south of Bridge Street, two-lane one-way roads are known as “neighborhood highways.” Residents say cars drive fast, and walking or biking around the community can be difficult.

A group of planners, engineers and architects with the nonprofit Plan New Hampshire came together with residentsover the summer to learn how residents wanted to make the streets safer.

This week, Plan New Hampshire’s recommendations were unveiled at another community meeting.

The group made suggestions like turning the two-lane streets into one-lane streets, adding protected bike lanes, making sidewalks more accessible, and planting more trees in public space.

Arnold Mikolo, an environmental justice advocate with the Conservation Law Foundation, helped organize the events. He said the recommendations are about more than just safety.

“There is a lot of pavement,” he said. “During the summer it's really, really hot. So having trees in these neighborhoods not only mitigates the heat wave, but also provides shade and provides actually a better air quality.”

The neighborhood is considered “overburdened and underserved” by the federal government’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. It’s in the 97th percentile for asthma and in the 94th percentile for traffic proximity and volume. It also has fewer trees than other parts of the city.

The areas in gray are considered "overburdened and underserved."
Screenshot, Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool
The areas in gray are considered "overburdened and underserved."

But Mikolo says people have been advocating for change – especially for the dangerous traffic patterns. A pilot program from 2019 turned part of Maple street in Manchester into a one-lane street to make traffic safer – but only in a neighborhood north of Bridge Street, which is not categorized as “overburdened and underserved.”

“Unfortunately, those same efforts have never been replicated,” Mikolo said. His organization has been working with Manchester city officials and people who live in the neighborhood south of Bridge Street to expand the program – and now, they’re hoping to broaden that advocacy to pushing for greener, safer streets in general.

One specific area they’re hoping to change is Corey Square, on the corner of Central and Maple streets. With a $100,000 grant from the Mackenzie Scott Foundation and help from Queerlective, the Conservation Law Foundation is hoping to reconfigure that space with direction from residents to make it more accessible and inviting.

Mikolo says having a plan on paper for how to improve the streets could spur more action towards making those recommendations a reality.

“That really helps when you visualize something and you can see it,” he said. “It really signals that that particular thing is very possible to achieve.”

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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