City Tries to Tackle Trouble Spot: ‘Head-Out’ Parking Spaces Highlight Lebanon Pedestrian Safety Plan
Grace Burke of Hartland Four Corners looks before she exits Colburn Park and crosses the street with her Golden retriever Gibbs in downtown Lebanon yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
A man sprints across the crosswalk between Colburn Park and City Hall in Lebanon. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Lebanon — City planners are rallying behind a new parking proposal as a way to increase pedestrian safety on the crowded streets around Colburn Park.
The idea, however, raised more eyebrows than excitement yesterday from passers-by downtown.
The so-called “head-out” parking, which would require motorists to back into spaces, is the most notable of numerous safety measures being weighed by city planners . Hartford planners entertained a similar idea last year, but have since backed away from the alternate way of parking as a result of public discontent.
Kara Killmer, who lives on Flynn Street just beyond Colburn Park and works at the nearby Lebanon Village Market, expressed disbelief when she first heard of the proposal.
After discussing other proposed changes — such as moving the School Street stop sign closer to the post office and adding a “pedestrian island” to the crosswalk in front of the fire station — Killmer returned to the idea of the reverse angle parking, which is being considered for the spaces in front of Citizens Bank and Salt hill Pub in this year’s round of changes.
“You have to stop the car in the middle of traffic, back up,” she said. “You’re going to be waiting because people are going to get annoyed and want to get around you, and then if they’re annoyed and want to get around you, they may pull in front of someone and, I just, that’s crazy.”
Carolyn Judson, who lives at Kendal at Hanover, said she simply would not park in such a space, adding that she usually avoids backing into spaces.
“I’ll stay away,” she said. “Backing up is not something I like to do, because I’m always wondering if someone is there that I don’t see.”
Lebanon Planning and Zoning Director Andrew Gast-Bray, who stressed that the parking change would be a “pilot project” only to be implemented for the spaces along West Park Street that are separated from the travel lanes by a median. He acknowledged that there is a “fear factor” for those unfamiliar with the style of parking.
“They don’t realize that it’s the first step of parallel parking,” he said. “Everybody’s already done it, they just don’t know that they’ve done it.”
Gast-Bray said the change is instrumental for the area around the park primarily for the safety of cyclists on the roads there. If the pilot project goes well, he said, the city would look at implementing head-out parking for the “outside” sections of parking that do not border the park, where a shared car-and-bike-lane is designated.
He also added that the parking constrains the widths of travel lanes for cars, which could have a calming effect on speed.
The concept of reverse angle parking is not new to the Upper Valley. Hartford Planning and Development Director Lori Hirshfield said that her department was considering head-out parking for White River Junction but has since “sort of pulled back on that” because concerns over the plan was hindering a proposal for a broader parking redesign.
“The concept is different enough that people had a lot of concerns about it, and we really don’t want the project to get questioned because of that feature of it,” she said.
Hirshfield said that unlike motorists in more urban areas, drivers in the Upper Valley aren’t used to backing into spaces.
The fact that Lebanon’s downtown square was originally designed in an era of fewer people and far fewer cars, often comes up as an undercurrent to the discussion of pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist safety downtown.
Killmer, who grew up in Lebanon and just recently moved back, highlighted the development of the city as a factor that was complicating traffic in the square.
“I used to walk these roads all the time, and I have never seen such a jumbled mess as I have now,” she said. “And I think the problem is that there’s a higher population now.”
According to city data, an average of about 6,700 cars pass daily through the Colburn Park area, where routes 120 and 4 converge. The cars are clocked at an average speed of 21 mph.
In December 2002, an 85-year-old Lebanon man was struck and killed while attempting to cross East Park Street. In March 2003, a 62-year-old Lebanon woman was hit by a car as she crossed South Park Street, and suffered a fractured tibia in her knee, an injury that forced her to use a cane to walk.
Steve Allen, a veteran of the city’s fire department who serves as regional public health coordinator, paused on his way through Colburn Park yesterday to talk about the changes being proposed. He pointed to the various spots where he remembered accidents occurring that involved pedestrians and cars. He chalked up much of the trouble to driver bewilderment.
“Everybody goes, ‘What are you supposed to do when you drive around this circle?” said Allen, “It’s very confusing.”
Allen, too, harped on the way the city has evolved in recent decades, which he pinpointed as the source of the befuddling layout of the streets there.
“This is a typical New England village ... there are photographs of (Colburn Park) with sheep grazing here, and it was designed for horses and buggies to go around,” he said.
The Pedestrian and Bicyclist Advisory Committee, tasked with improving the safety of the city square, will formalize its recommendations for the City Council on Tuesday.
The council is slated to discuss the committee’s recommendations on May 1.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.