The Town of Amherst received a grant of $192,600 from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) as part of the “Winter Shared Streets and Spaces Program” to improve pedestrian access around the Bangs Center and to activate the plaza in Boltwood Garage. The project is anticipated to begin very soon.
Specifically, the grant will be used to construct a new, fully ADA-compliant ramp and walkway system which connects the Boltwood Garage to the entrance of the Musante Health Center and improve the safety of a crosswalk in front of the Bangs Center, both of which serve to enhance access to the health center and to downtown for the hundreds of seniors who live in this area.
Secondly, funding will enable the Town to work with the senior population downtown to identify and promote walking routes used for exercise through signage and programming.
Lastly, grant funds will be used to make improvements to and purchasing furniture for the Boltwood Garage plaza in an effort to activate this space into an area that can be better used for people to gather, eat, enjoy performances and public art. Taken together, these improvements will enhance pedestrian mobility for seniors and people of all ages downtown and to activate the Boltwood Plaza into a more inviting and active space.
Town Manager Paul Bockelman said, “This significant investment in the core of our Town Center, and the center of our senior population, will make then entire area accessible to those with mobility issues. We have been seeking funds for these improvements for several years and are grateful to MassDOT for recognizing the importance of this work for our community.” This project builds on previous efforts to enhance access to the new John P. Musante Health Center. Opened in 2018, the Musante Health Center is located in the ground level of the Bangs Community Center and provides primary health and dental care for underserved populations. Access to the rear entrance of the health center has been an issue since the center opened due to the slope between the Boltwood Garage and entrance to the health center. The new ADA ramp and walkway will provide an accessible route to the health center and link downtown to the hundreds of seniors who live in nearby apartments.
This project also builds on recent efforts by the Town to promote outdoor dining and enhance public open spaces downtown, a focus of the Town’s first Shared Streets grant of $129,000 received in October. The restrictions on indoor dining from the COVID pandemic caused many restaurants to serve patrons outside this past summer and fall. To enable this, the Town, working closely with the BID and Chamber of Commerce, re-purposed on-street parking spaces for outdoor dining and added picnic tables to many public open spaces, including North Commons, Sweetser Park, Kendrick Park, and the Boltwood Plaza for people to eat, gather, or relax safely outside. The 2020 outdoor dining season was a great success and saw many people enjoying meals outside and gathering in outdoor spaces. While the Town had to remove outdoor dining space during the winter for snow-clearing, outdoor dining will be back this spring and this grant will allow for more permanent changes to the Boltwood Plaza area.
Background: Amherst was included in MassDOT’s fourth and most recent round of funding for the Baker-Polito Administration’s Winter Shared Streets grant which provided a total of $2,805,194.22 to 17 municipalities across the state. The program, which was launched on November 10, provides technical and funding assistance to help Massachusetts cities and towns conceive, design, and implement tactical changes to curbs, streets, and parking areas in support of public health, safe mobility, and renewed commerce, with a special focus on the particular challenges of winter. Since the inception of the program in June of 2020, the Commonwealth has invested $21.1 million in municipal Shared Streets projects.