Hale Street Pedestrian & Bike Improvements

Hale St photo 11-15-2017 740pHale Street is an important route connecting the Squires Glen and West End neighborhoods to downtown. It also links to the Coastal Trails network, with a trailhead for the Gloria Braunhardt Bike Path that provides a safe route to the Storey Avenue business district as well as the bus station and the Garrison Trail. However, Hale Street’s high traffic speeds, lack of sidewalks, and narrow to nonexistent shoulders make it unwelcoming for walkers and bicyclists, particularly young people getting to school and activities. 

On February 4, 2020, Newburyport Livable Streets organized a public meeting about making the road safer and more accessible. City Engineer Jon-Eric White presented concepts to make the road safer for walkers and bicyclists getting from the West End and Squires Glen neighborhoods to schools, recreation, and the downtown. About 40 residents and City officials attended the meeting and discussed their concerns and priorities.

Concept

The concept presented at the February 2020 meeting would involve widening the paved roadway from its current 22-24 feet (plus a sidewalk near Low Street) to 30 feet in order to accommodate 4-foot shoulders on each side, making for safer bicycle travel. In addition, the concept called for a 5-foot sidewalk on the north side of the street, separated from the shoulder with a 6-inch curb. Thus, the total proposed width from edge of pavement to the back of the sidewalk would be 35.5 feet. This widening can take place within the existing City right-of-way, which is probably 50 to 60 feet wide throughout the corridor. Environmental constraints such as wetlands can likely be avoided in most areas.

Meeting attendees had a number of comments on this initial improvement concept. The discussion revolved around balancing safety with cost and the speed within which a project could be completed. In particular, there was debate about whether to include a sidewalk along the entire 1.7-mile road, because this would require the addition of a closed drainage system which significantly adds to the total cost. Yet without a sidewalk the road would most likely have to be made even wider to provide adequate lateral separation from traffic.

The next steps are to develop a proposed design with estimated costs and a phasing plan, and to identify potential sources of funding such as MassDOT’s Safe Routes to School Program and Complete Streets Funding Program.

Update (May 2021)

On March 11, 2020, NLS submitted a letter to the City Council (also signed by two dozen other residents) requesting that the Council support an anticipated request by the Mayor for $125,000 to be appropriated for survey, wetlands delineation and conceptual plan development for pedestrian and bicycle improvements on Hale Street. A week later, the COVID-19 pandemic upended normal government functions, and so the public outreach, planning, design and funding processes for the Hale Street project were delayed indefinitely.

The City’s Capital Improvement Plan for Fiscal Years 2022-2026, which presents planned capital spending from July 2021 through June 2026, includes limited funding for pre-planning activities related to pedestrian (but not bicycle) improvements on Hale Street. The CIP shows $75,000 in FY2022 for survey and wetlands delineation for a project titled “Hale Street Sidewalk and Pedestrian Access.” However, no funding is identified for conceptual planning (estimated at $50,000 last year) or for any construction work within the next five years. Without funding for conceptual planning in FY2022 it is unlikely that even a first phase of construction could occur until the spring of 2023 at the earliest. The City Council approved the CIP at its meeting on May 10, 2021.

It is important to recognize that making Hale Street safer and more comfortable for walking and cycling will be expensive. The City’s 2019 Complete Streets Prioritization Plan estimated the design and construction costs at between $2,365,000 and $2,950,000 for the 1.75-mile distance from Low Street to Turkey Hill Road. These planning-level estimates are by no means precise, but they indicate the level of investment that the City will ultimately have to make if it takes the matter seriously. For that reason, it is important to start thinking about how Hale Street fits in with the City’s other infrastructure priorities, and to program funding accordingly.

Newburyport Livable Streets will continue to advocate for the City to plan and construct safe pedestrian and bicycle accommodations on Hale Street.

Resources

A video of the February 4, 2020 public meeting is online at the PortMedia YouTube channel here.

The Department of Public Services, Engineering Division, has a Hale Street project page here. The page includes a link to City Engineer’s presentation at the February 4 meeting.

The Small Town and Rural Design Guide contains examples and guidance for accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians on roads like Hale Street.