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Citizen Power: How One Town Took On The State And Developed Their Own Streetscape Initiative

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“Bigger is not better”

In the small town of Hamburg, New York — population 10,000 — the residents have a success story to tell: a plan by the state to widen the town’s main street was trumped by locals.

The original plan, proposed by the State Transportation Department in 2001, was designed to improve Route 62 by adding a traffic lane, narrowing sidewalks and removing parallel parking.

When residents reviewed the plan, they took action to develop and promote their own initiatives, which would focus more on a people-friendly development.

Susan Burns, a lifelong resident, told the New York Times that after she looked at the plan she asked, “What are you doing with the trees and the people?” After inquiring with the state, she was told, “We have to get the traffic through.”

Disappointed by the state’s plan, Burns, along with other residents organized a committee to develop an initiative that would create a more walkable and livable streetscape, without the negative effects of the state’s proposed plan.

Route 62 Committee formed with the help of Burns’ friends and quickly attracted the attention of Dan Burden, an advocate for walkability.

You can’t bring back a village, without bringing back a street

“You can’t bring back a village, without bringing back a street,” Mr. Burden told the [Hamburg] villagers, according to the Times.

The committee developed a “community design alternative,” which was voted on by the town’s residents. It received a large majority of the votes. Once the poll results were in, the state agreed to develop the new, more walkable plan.

Following the plan’s completion in 2009, residents have noticed an improvement in safety along Route 62.

With the redesign developed to calm traffic, accidents have decreased by 66 percent and injuries have declined by 60 percent. Roundabouts have had a positive effect on the town’s traffic flow. Ken Kuminski, the Transportation Department’s project manager for the Route 62 redesign told the Times, “We used to have major accidents where drivers were trying to beat the lights.” Now, he says, accidents only need a tow truck, not an ambulance. Kuminski notes that in designing street infrastructure, “bigger is not better.”

Laura Hackathorn, a local business owner, discussed the importance of a more walkable community. She stated that the added crosswalks were helpful in creating a more pedestrian-friendly street.

If you build a place for cars, it will be a gathering place for cars

“If you build a place for cars, it will be a gathering place for cars,” Ms. Hackathorn told theTimes. “If it’s built for people, it will be a gathering place for people.”

This article was originally published on Parksify.