Aldermen to consider ‘walkable’ Elm Street by closing main drag to traffic

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Alderman Joe Levasseur is championing the idea of closing Elm Street to vehicular traffic. MPTV

MANCHESTER, NH – In what he called a “dream come true,” At-Large Alderman Joe Levasseur announced that there’s enough consensus among his fellow aldermen to open the discussion on ways to make Elm Street more walkable – namely, a proposal to close down the city’s main drag between Merrimack and Lowell streets.

Levasseur noted the success of the recent Hippo de Mayo Taco Tour, which drew thousands to the downtown. A last-minute decision by city officials to close a section of Elm Street in the central business district to allow taco revelers to form lines and stroll from business to business was deemed a success by all measures, including public safety.

Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines, who represents the downtown and operates Mint Bistro on Elm Street, noted that the city’s handling of the taco tour, from managing the crowd to clean-up, was flawless.

He described one of the “cooler moments” he observed, when a clean-up crew received a standing ovation for deftly taking care of the trash.

According to Levasseur, “backroom” discussion prior to Tuesday’s meeting allowed him to make the announcement, that enough board members were in favor of exploring the idea that it would be placed on an upcoming Public Safety, Health and Traffic Committee agenda. The board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

He qualified the measure by noting that the topic is open for debate, and that it may mean testing out the process one day a week during summer and fall to see how it is received by residents and business owners.

Mayor Joyce Craig noted that the timing for such a discussion was ripe, given that the Planning Department is in the process of developing its 10-year plan.

Alderman Dan O’Neil asked if the board could look into how other cities manage things like deliveries to business when streets are closed to traffic. Another consideration would be for those with disabilities who rely on handicap parking spaces.

Levasseur said finding a way to bring more foot traffic to the downtown would help many of the downtown restaurant owners, who he described as “sole proprietors” who don’t often have the financial stability of a corporate or chain establishment. Levasseur operates Theo’s, a restaurant on Elm Street, south of where the proposed road closure would be.

“They are literally the backbone of our downtown,” Levasseur said of the growing number of restaurateurs.

Aldermen serving on the Public Safety, Health and Traffic Committee include Aldermen Bill Barry, Barbara Shaw, Normand Gamache, Keith Hirschmann, and Will Stewart. You can find their contact information here.


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