Hinsdale Creates Safer Streets for Residents

Categories: Healthy Places

When you have two state roads running through a small town, traveling can be hazardous for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Town officials in Hinsdale (with Routes 119 and 63 traversing its Main Street) have long wanted to address this dangerous problem. Traffic along the town’s Main Street (part of the two state highways) speeds and rarely stops for pedestrians at its four crosswalks.

Town selectman recently passed a “Complete Streets” policy, which will now consider all of Hinsdale’s 4,046 residents — and not just motorized vehicles — when improving its roadways. The Southwest Region Planning Commission (SWRPC) assisted the town in developing the policy as part of their work with the Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH) grant, a collaboration of Healthy Monadnock partners funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hinsdale is the fourth town in the Monadnock Region to adopt a Complete Streets policy; Keene, Swanzey and Troy also have Complete Streets policies in place.

This summer, Hinsdale participated in a Complete Streets demonstration project — a temporary installation of traffic-slowing methods — that inspired town officials and residents to move forward with the policy.

We spoke to the town of Hinsdale’s community development coordinator, Kathryn Lynch, who says that the demonstration project this summer proved that small traffic-slowing changes — such as bump outs and “parklets” or small parks with benches for people to sit and relax — really work. And it had the nice effect of brightening up the Main Street and encouraging residents to linger and chat.

The Hinsdale board of selectman adopted the Complete Streets policy in August. The policy requires that any construction of a new road or alteration of an existing road would take all users of the roadway, including pedestrians and bicyclists, into consideration.

The policy also looks to create traffic-slowing elements to its Main Street; costs will be paid for by grant money. Town officials hope to install seasonal mini-parklets or bump-outs; the installations would be removable decking material with planters and benches that could be stored during the winter months when the area needs to be clear for snow plowing.

The town is also looking to increase the visibility of crosswalks on Main Street to alert motor vehicle traffic to pedestrians. Lynch also hopes to convince the state’s Department of Transportation to reduce Main Street’s speed limit, currently at 30 miles per hour.

Other roadways in town also need improvement, namely School Street where the town’s elementary and middle/high schools are located. Among the problems are gaps in the sidewalk networks, sidewalks that are in poor condition, and a dangerous blind curve used by schoolchildren to cross Route 119 to school. Other discussions among townspeople and selectmen have included utilizing the rail trails for pedestrian and bicycle traffic for those getting to work or school in town. Lynch is meeting with the state DOT and officials at the National Parks Assistance Program to help promote these ideas.

Complete Streets, coupled with Safe Routes to School programs in its schools, and its new 23 bike racks through the Rack it Up! program, are all steps in the right direction to make Hinsdale a more bike and pedestrian-friendly town!