WATERVILLE — Residents got a first look Monday at what the downtown would be like if two-way traffic were returned to Main and Front streets and improvements were made with landscaping and sidewalks.

Vehicle traffic on Main would move through downtown more slowly, there would be areas for pedestrians only, such as on Silver Street, sidewalks would be wider and paved with brick-like blocks, “bumpers” would be installed so that vehicles could see pedestrians better and vice versa and greenery would be more plentiful.

Commuter traffic would be diverted more toward Front Street, and it would be easier for motorists to get through town because they would no longer have to follow the one-way streets. For instance, to get from Chaplin Street to Front, a driver would no longer have to travel south on Main; he could merely drive south from Chaplin to Front.

Main Street would be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, everything would move more slowly, and people would be more inclined to stop, shop, linger and eat in restaurants. Some diagonal parking on Main would be changed to parallel and a few parking spaces would be removed altogether.

That was the scenario sketched out for residents Monday by officials from Gorrill Palmer, a consulting firm from Portland that has been working with the city and Colby College for about a year on a traffic and parking study to improve the downtown as part of revitalization efforts. The state Department of Transportation also is working on the project. The city, Colby and the DOT shared equally in the $102,000 cost of the study.

Officials Monday emphasized that any changes to streets would have to be approved not only by the City Council, but also by state and federal officials.

It was standing-room only in the City Council chambers as more than 100 city officials, downtown merchants, economic development advocates and others packed the room to watch a presentation by not only Gorrill-Palmer, but also by officials from Mitchell & Associates, also of Portland, who spoke about landscaping and other issues, and a BFJ Planning official who discussed downtown parking.

Mayor Nick Isgro thanked the crowd for turning out on a snowy night to take part. He also thanked Colby and DOT officials for the financial resources and many hours they put into the study. He said Monday’s meeting was the culmination of a series of public meetings and input from downtown businesses and building owners on what they want to see downtown, such as possibly two-way traffic.

“I think it’s important also to remember that this is just one piece of the overall downtown revitalization process,” Isgro said, adding that he realized it has seemed like a long time to get to Monday night.

“It’s actually the beginning of a new chapter of what happens next and how do we turn theory into action,” he said.

Don Ettinger, a principal of Gorrill-Palmer, said the purpose of the effort was to revitalize downtown, improve aesthetics, encourage economic growth, maintain businesses that are in existence, improve pedestrian and bike activity, maintain adequate parking in downtown and maintain vehicular and traffic safety.

Randy Dunton, Gorrill-Palmer project manager, said the study was aimed at determining whether two-way traffic would work for Main and Front streets, and if so, what it would take to make that happen. How the change would impact the downtown also was part of the study.

He presented several scenarios for two-way traffic and what it would mean for three primary locations — Colby Circle, Post Office Square and the Front, Spring, Main and Bridge street area.

City Councilor Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, asked Dunton where, if someone were entering Front Street from the south, he would first be able to cross west to Main Street.

Dunton said there would be several spots where that could happen. One could travel from Front to Main via Common Street as well as Temple Street, as that street would be two-way. Appleton also would be two-way, he said.

“There’s numerous locations where you can go back and forth,” Dunton said.

Janice Kassman asked if there would be bicycle lanes on Main and Front streets. Dunton said there would not be, but traffic would move so much more slowly on Main Street and with less congestion that a bicyclist could take a vehicle travel lane and feel safe.

“The idea is that the street is not going to be a high-speed route,” he said.

Nick Champagne, chairman of the Planning Board and a city councilor-elect, said he is concerned about deliveries being made downtown.

“How do we get deliveries to Main Street, and I guess, in my mind, it would involve a reorganization of The Concourse.”

Georges Jacquemart, a principal of BFJ Planning, of New York City, said an architect and urban designer did an inventory of all buildings and how loading occurs. In many cases, the buildings have the flexibility of being loaded from The Concourse, he said, adding that buildings also were identified that must receive deliveries from Main Street.

“That’s one reason we lose some parking spaces on Main Street,” he said.

Isgro said businesses must really enforce that employees should not park in short-term parking spaces, where customers ought to have priority.

“There is some relevancy to the enforcement factor and how the city is going to have to push back,” he said.

Bill Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance Agency, who has 30 employees at his business on Main Street, agreed.

“If an employee chooses to park short-term in downtown, there should be a consequence,” he said.

Jacquemart, addressing parking, recommended that the city manage its parking system in the future more than it is managed today; continue the practice of municipal-shared parking; enhance and encourage walking; designate more desired parking for short-term, two-hour parking; and use The Concourse for two-hour parking as much as possible.

“This doesn’t have to happen right away,” he said.

He also said paid parking should be considered in some areas to help promote turnover and people should be encouraged to park at Head of Falls, where improvements can be made. Parking regulations should be enforced in the future, he said.

Bob Metcalf of Mitchell & Associates described landscaping improvements that could be made downtown to help draw people there to spend time.

Main Street traffic was changed from two-way to one-way in 1957, according to Waterville historian Bill Arnold. At the time, Arnold was chairman of the merchants division of the local chamber of commerce, which was made up primarily of downtown merchants. Many merchants opposed making Main Street one-way, but the City Council voted for it anyway.

The traffic study was launched in February. Colby bought five buildings downtown and has torn down the former Levine’s clothing store on Main Street and the former Elks building on Appleton Street.

A boutique hotel is expected to be built on the Levine’s lot, while the Appleton site is now a parking lot.

Colby plans to demolish the former Waterville Hardware building and will build another structure in its place, which is expected to house offices and other uses.

Now the former Hains building at the corner of Appleton and Main is being renovated, and Collaborative Consulting is expected to move to its upper floors when the work is complete. Colby also plans to build a residential complex on the northeast corner of The Concourse.

The revitalization effort is expected to bring more people to live, work and shop downtown. With all the planned development, the city wanted to review what effect those changes would have on vehicle and pedestrian traffic, parking and bicycling.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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