Downtown Keene: Pedestrian-Friendly Ideas That Can Work for All of Keene

Categories: Community Engagement, Healthy Places, Physically Active

By Jodi Clark

Downtown Keene, N.H. is one of my favorite places to meander for “shopping,” i.e. chatting with one of my best friends while sipping coffee and wandering in and out of stores. There are many reasons I love it: It has huge sidewalks. It has shady areas and sunny areas. There are lovely stores. I can cross the widest Main Street in the U.S. with ease via the many well-marked crosswalks. And … there is excellent coffee.

Plus, I am mere minutes from well-kept, easy access trails where I race walk with the above mentioned friend in order to continue our many epic conversations. I know I’m definitely not the only one who shares this opinion of downtown Keene.

An intentional community

So why does Keene look and feel like this? Because someone — or rather, group of determined, smart “someones” — put their collective wisdom and efforts together to design, advocate, raise funds and awareness, and pass ordinances so that downtown Keene could be a wonderful place to walk, shop and hang out.

It was intentional. It was a group effort. And it was done out of love for both the place and the people in it.

So, how does this all happen? It is a beautiful, generative process that continues to inspire and amaze me. When like-minded folks share a love of something, combine their respective skills, wisdom, connections … then voila! … an intentional, well-thought-out place is transformed!

Of course, it is not instant. Downtown Keene is still in need of attention, care, planning, and more of us who continue to love it in order to keep it beautiful, accessible and vibrant.

Room for improvement

As much as Main Street is lovely, if you step off of it just half a mile in any direction, things are not as easy.

If you are a pedestrian heading down West Street toward The Colony Mill, it can be a challenge when you get past TD Bank, particularly on the right hand side near Elm City Bagels and that plaza. The sidewalk ends inexplicably at the Mobil gas station. The crosswalks are less frequent. And where there are crosswalks, it is a little mysterious at times how the lights actually work. They seem to, but it does take a long time or sometimes it can feel as if the pedestrian’s turn got skipped, even if you press the button.

What to do to make Keene more pedestrian-friendly?

So what are we — the folks who love this place — to do?

Let’s remember how downtown Keene got to where it is today: like-minded folks banded together and created an intentional, pedestrian-friendly place. The same can happen outside of downtown Keene, if enough people who share a love of place and are concerned can find each other and make our voices heard.

A great place to start is simply talking to your neighbors or co-workers. For me, since I actually live across the river in Vermont, I have been chatting with folks online about making ALL of Keene as pedestrian-friendly as downtown.

In fact, it was online where a possible action idea occurred!

Making connections to make things happen

I was on Twitter when I saw a tweet from Monadnock Local and Monadnock Co-op that said: “Wouldn’t it be great to have signs like this in the Monadnock Region?” with link to the article, “Nashua Aims to Give More Power to the Pedestrian” (you can read the story about the signs Nashua is posting for pedestrians here: http://healnh.org/index.php/newsroom/news/465-nashua-aims-to-give-more-power-to-the-pedestrian) To sum it up, the city of Nashua now has colorful signs for walkers that draw attention to parts of the city that often get overlooked.

So I answered the tweet with: “Yes! Which is the right group to make this happen? City Planning? Transportation Committee?” The answer came back: “MRTMA may be interested!” That is, Monadnock Region Transportation Management Association http://www.monadnocktma.org/.

So, I’ve forwarded the article onto them. From here, I plan to check in and see if there is anything I can do to help spread the word about this great idea.

What places do you love in this region? Are there specific places you know of that could be made even more beautiful, safe, accessible, sustainable, etc? Do you need help in figuring out the next steps to make that happen?
Send in a picture and/or comments to Healthy Monadnock 2020 either via Facebook or to Twitter with the hashtag: #MonadnockLove and let’s continue this conversation!