Details of proposal will be available to public soon

By Don Nelson

From broad strokes to intricate details, the “Winthrop In Motion” plan for more-efficient pedestrian, bicycle and motorized traffic through the town is sure to generate discussion if not debate.

And that is the intent of both town planners and the consultants hired to develop the complex proposal.

Hannah McIntosh, one of the consultants hired by the town to help develop the mobility plan, shared a draft document outlining a host of possible options for improved “motion” at last week’s Winthrop Town Council meeting.

McIntosh said the document is still in development but the planners and consultants wanted council members to have a preview of recommendations before they are widely distributed to the public. That will likely occur in late January or early February, McIntosh told the council.

“Winthrop In Motion” is a “multimodal” planning effort supported by a state grant to come up with ways to make it easier for pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists and mobility-impaired people to negotiate downtown Winthrop’s streets and sidewalks. It also includes planning for a more visually appealing “streetscape” and for compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements.

McIntosh said the consultant team’s draft recommendations are based on what they learned from a “walking audit” of downtown by volunteer participants, and feedback from a subsequent public workshop. Major challenges identified were the inconsistent and inadequate boardwalk widths, obstacles such as boardwalk posts, varying pedestrian surfaces (board, gravel, pavement, dirt), driveway interruptions, lack of safe crossing areas, and confusing or non-existent directions for getting to various destination points.

The project’s goals are to provide for safe travel for all ages and abilities, whether walking, biking, using transit or in motorized vehicles; to improve “connectivity” between key destinations in town; to improve access to all locations; to make downtown a good experience for residents and visitors, with more “social spaces” for things like outdoor dining; and to support the town’s economic base.

To achieve those general objectives will require dozens of decisions about specific details. What’s more, whatever plan the town adopts will need to be fully integrated — hence the need for agreement.

Many options

The number of options alone will make that challenging. The 52-page draft proposal that McIntosh shared with the council includes variations on two different conceptual approaches. McIntosh said the elements of the two concepts can be mixed and matched for the desired outcome.

The proposal includes ideas for bike lanes, pedestrian trails, sidewalks, boardwalks, crosswalks, intersections, street rights-of-way, transit stops and shelters, vehicle and bike parking, and other adjustments to facilitate better movement.

Some of the redesigned corridors may be shared-use, but with designated intent. Now, one of the biggest problems is that people are forced to share areas that cars, trucks, bikes and pedestrians may be using simultaneously.

“A shared street could be used when there is very limited space, in the right environment — when traffic is slow, it can be workable,” McIntosh said.

To mitigate vehicle traffic, McIntosh said, the proposal aims to make parking lots at The Winthrop Barn and the Town Trailhead “magnetic and irresistible,” McIntosh said — which means they have to have pedestrian-friendly connections to the downtown core.

McIntosh noted that with increased tourism, there is more demand for parking. “We don’t want people to get so frustrated that they don’t stop,” she said.

The proposal’s conceptual strategies focus on four areas: at the Barn; at the four-way stop; at the north end of Riverside Avenue; and the area around the Rio Vista Hotel, where all modes of movement are squeezed into a narrow strip.

In all instances, McIntosh said, “there’s only so much space in the right-of-way” to accommodate changes. One possibility, she said, is to require back-in angled parking in some areas, and parallel parking in others, to eke out more space for mixed uses.

“There are trade-offs we need direction on,” she said.

Winthrop Mayor Sally Ranzau emphasized the need for planning now. “Winthrop has been discovered, and more people are coming,” she said. “We need to get ahead of the curve before it gets away from us.”