The Town of Amherst received a grant of $129,427 from Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) as part of the Shared Streets and Spaces Program to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, expand outdoor dining space and the outdoor dining period, promote bus ridership, and create a more inviting streetscape – all in Downtown Amherst. Specifically, the grant money will be used for the purchase of outdoor heaters for restaurants, new downcast street lights to better illuminate pedestrians, two new heated bus shelters, ADA improvements to curb ramps, handwashing stations, planters and plants, and picnic tables for the North Commons.
As part of efforts to enhance outdoor dining, the Town will be adjusting North and South Pleasant Streets to accommodate bike lanes and expanded outdoor dining space. The right turn lane on the southbound side of North Pleasant Street will be removed and all lanes will be moved westward to create more space for a bike lane and dining on the eastern side of North Pleasant Street. Town staff in the Planning Department worked closely with Stantec, a planning and design firm, which provided technical advice in development of these plans for free as part of the MassDOT program.
While outdoor dining in the street will need to be removed prior to the first major snowstorm, the goal of this project is to extend the outdoor dining season as long as possible into 2020 by providing heaters and make it as safe as possible by providing more space and handwashing stations. As Spring 2021 comes around, the Town will be well equipped to again provide outdoor dining space in the public right-of-way as we will likely still be in the pandemic and under orders to social distance. Furthermore, while the COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense hardship in Town, the enhanced and expanded outdoor dining setup has allowed the Town to pilot a longstanding vision of reinvigorating the streetscape in the Downtown area with wider, safer sidewalks and upgraded street furnishing to create a more vibrant downtown and a stronger sense of place.
Town Manager Paul Bockelman stated, “Town Planning and Public Works staff have worked with the Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) and Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce to develop creative new options that will sustain our local businesses this Fall and next Spring. These changes have the potential to make a permanent improvement to the streetscape in our Downtown.”
“The Amherst BID is very pleased and excited to have worked with the Town in securing the MassDOT grant. COVID-19 has really taken a toll on our small businesses throughout Amherst. The relationship between our offices, the local Chamber and the Town has proven invaluable in our success to assist and sustain these businesses during these difficult times” said Amherst Business Improvement District Director Gabrielle Gould.
This grant builds on previous efforts the Town has taken to accommodate and support outdoor dining in the Downtown and around town. Early in June, the Town mobilized quickly to place jersey barriers along North and South Pleasant Streets to carve out room for outdoor dining in the parking spaces. Also in June, the Town and BID received a $10,000 grant from the Solomon Foundation to purchase umbrellas, plants, and paint the jersey barriers in an effort to liven up this area. Since then, outdoor dining areas were setup along Main Street and Amity Street to support restaurants in these areas and the Town placed tables in the Boltwood Garage, Cushman Common, and North Common to provide places for people to eat and gather outside. Businesses in Town have been supported by a Temporary Zoning Article 14, passed by the Town Council on June 15, which provides expedited review for businesses seeking to expand outdoor dining and retail throughout Town.
The Town will continue to be proactive and responsive to re-opening efforts consistent with the Governor’s orders.