We often talk about how highways are often a blight to cities, but Lowell's connection to the area super-highway network seems like something we just can't give up. She had mentioned putting a linear park in its place. Linear parks to nowhere and near nowhere are not my favorite idea. Sounds like a way to spend a lot of parks money on something that will only introduce crime, but maybe I misunderstood her (I'll get back to this). I mentioned I would gladly see the Connector lose a lane because it is clear, much like Fr. Morissette Blvd, that it was made wider than it needs to be because it was never completed as planned. The width encourages speeding, and the loss of a lane would slow cars down and improve the ramp geometry. Really, at under 3 miles in length, how much better than 3 minutes at 60 MPH do we need to go? Chelmsford Street, I argued, could not handle the extra traffic the city would face, and the Connector really isn't very disruptive to the city. This isn't the Central Artery (thank God!)
Meanwhile, others have argued that Lowell needs a Daniel Webster style shopping district, or perhaps a business district like we see in the suburbs. Along the Connector, they'd argue, would be perfect. While I remain skeptical that we actually need, want, or could support such a thing, Tanner Street is clearly underutilized.
However, in the last few months, I have heard Adam Baacke over at DPD make a pie-in-the sky proposal that is perhaps what Allegra actually meant: Make the Connector a Boulevard. Ok, NOW we're talking my language! This has been done elsewhere. San Francisco boulevardized the Embarcadero Freeway many years ago. My modest proposal tackles many things at once that bother me about Lowell's layout. So, let's do a mental exercise on what we could do here:
- The Connector becomes street level at Howard/Tanner Street at a light, heading inbound. It is two or three lanes in each direction (I imagine three inbound, two out because of the existent Gorham Street bottleneck) with a very small curb-like median. Maybe it's got trees. We allow parking on the side between curb bump-outs near the intersections with Gorham Street and Thorndike Street and the speed limit is 30MPH. The lanes are narrowed to encourage this speed.
- A major intersection with a focus on left-turn lanes inbound from the new Boulevard to Thorndike Street. Maybe we make this a two-lane wide traffic circle, but it would probably have to be pretty sizable and the park in the center, while a nice gateway, would likely be a dead zone without a lot of good uses nearby.
- Remove the massive offramp from the Connector inbound to Thorndike Street. This would allow us a huge amount of room to redevelop the area around Gallagher Square.
- Similarly, the ramp to 3A south being removed and the ramp from Thorndike to the Connector Outbound being removed also opens a lot of space for new construction along Thorndike, The Connector Boulevard, and YMCA Drive.
- A shuttle bus could be run out of the train station, down Thorndike, along the new boulevard, and back up YMCA drive to the bus station. Maybe we'd have bike lanes on the roads if they fit. People would want a trolley but I don't see it working right now.
- The buildings along this stretch would be mixed-use, and shoot for ground-floor uses when possible. Parking is structured or in the back.
- Build a new building with ground-floor retail and structured parking in the parking lot for Comfort Furniture. While one of the MIT plans suggested simply removing the current tenants of that building so that people would walk to retail from the train/bus station, I don't think that's right. There is room for a building right along Thorndike Street there that would encourage people to walk by it and into the new developments further down the road.
- This stretch of road is so short that I don't see it having much effect on total travel time from Gorham Street to Industrial Ave. Besides, once YMCA Drive to Tanner becomes a way to get on the Connector and the ramp near YMCA drive is removed, some traffic will move off of the troublesome YMCA Drive/Thorndike/Connector intersectiony-thing, increasing capacity of the road network.
- The Connector becomes street level at Plain Street. It is two lanes in each direction and it widens to three for places with intersections to allow for generous turn lanes and curb bump-outs at intersections for pedestrian safety. Travel time from Gorham Street to Industrial Ave goes from three minutes to say, seven or eight, to account for the new lights and halved (ideal) speed. Eating up the two-plus lane wide median, the graded banks, and narrowing the lanes by a foot or so each would allow us to fit narrow but usable buildings along the side of the Connector Boulevard. These buildings, which will lag behind the Connector redesign by many years likely (and some will fall into Phase 3) would likely be a combination of offices and apartment buildings. A linear street like this does not really attract too much pedestrian activity so I'm afraid storefronts would be limited, but keep the buildings on the street and parking access in the rear to allow this to change.
- New intersections:
- Lincoln Street, which will get a Y in it so it also crosses over River Meadow Brook to connect to say, Factory St by the old RMV as well as Connector Blvd. Or maybe we do W. London to Parker instead.
- A reconnected Cambridge Street
- Perhaps some of the side-streets off of Hale that dead-end along the Connector are connected to the Connector at stop-signs. Perhaps not.
- Remove the ramps from Plain St inbound and Connector to Plain outbound. This opens up a lot of land for some pretty sizable buildings in their place along Manufacturers Street and across the brook from Tanner Street.
OK, so that's Phase Two. Phase Three after the jump.
Still with me? Good! Phase Three:
- The removal of the ramps from Plain Street would allow us to shift the Connector Blvd away from Tanner Street, making it possible to add a sensible set of lights there.
- Tanner Street is widened to two lanes in each direction, looking much like the Connector Blvd.
- There is a massive amount of hard to access and underutilized land along Tanner Street - add streets here and new car-oriented businesses and apartment buildings. This area is about the size of Lowell's current core downtown - let's not get too greedy pretending that this area is going to look like the Hamilton Canal District. Besides, we want to keep many of the existing companies down there, including the NIMBY L'Energia power plant. However, put the parking lots in back and use garages when practical and affordable.
- One of those streets should be a continuation of Cambridge Street over to Gorham, probably coming out near the Mobil. This would require a large bridge over the rail-yard, but so be it. Another option would be to have it come out closer to Moore St.
- Perhaps some of the large new buildings on Tanner Street cross over River Meadow Brook like the mill buildings are perched over the canals or like Providence-Place Mall - this would allow large buildings to front the Connector as well.
- However, they would have room for a walkway underneath them with access into the buildings. The buildings that do not cross the brook would also have back entrances along the brook, where we would put a walkway with frequent pedestrian bridges over to the Connector.
- Do something to make the brook not the ugly drainage ditch it has become.
- Having a more used Tanner Street with frequent street tie-ins to the Connector would allow people to drive one or the other depending on the traffic. Today, Tanner Street is very underutilized.
- Extend Tanner Street down along the parking lot for the Target to Industrial Ave East. Let's not pretend this will be for anything but cars, but it will improve connectivity. The rail line separating the two streets is long dead and can be built over.
- Narrow the remaining freeway part of the Connector, or at least fix the outbound weave situation from Industrial Ave to Route 3 South some other way.
- Build a bridge over the brook and over the Connector to connect this area to Chelmsford Street by Lowe's. Perhaps we actually put a stoplight on the Connector instead of building a bridge over it. However, this step is probably not worth the trouble. This will remain an area for cars and trucks, and the current street network around here seems to work fine.
- Build the long-ago planned ramp from Gorham Street to 495. It is far too hard to cross the Concord River down there by trekking up to Lawrence Street or over through the Cemeteries to Industrial Ave.
Crazy? Probably. Also unaffordable and likely oversized to meet the current demand. But interesting to think about.