NEWARK — In a community the size of Newark, it doesn’t take long for the chatter to get around, especially in the age of Facebook.
In fact, it was on Facebook where Mayor Jonathan Taylor attempted to take on questions, concerns and even misinformation about the village’s $10.2 million reconstruction project on South Main Street, which is on track to be completed in November.
Ramsey Constructors of Livonia, Livingston County, is the general contractor of the project, which runs from Union Street to Rose Drive.
“It’s nice to see everything coming together,” said Taylor.
Some sidewalk work is still going on — there were spots that needed to be filled in after NYSEG removed the old streetlights — and South Main Street still needs a final coat of asphalt, he said, along with other punch-list items.
Some new trees have been planted, but many won’t go in until after the fall’s first frost, Taylor said.
While the project is going well, Taylor said that after reading many Facebook posts and listening to residents, it was clear that he needed to provide greater detail on the project, which he believes will set the tone for greater development of a downtown ravaged by Urban Renewal decades ago.
“They (the residents) want a downtown back,” Taylor said, explaining that the street design is geared towards creating a more walkable South Main Street to encourage retail, food and community gatherings.
He also knows the project has sometimes been a test of wills for village residents.
“We just want to thank everyone for their patience,” he said, explaining that the short-term inconveniences will pay off for the long-term viability of Newark.
Among the aspects Taylor addressed:
• Street design: He said the two main thrusts behind the design are reducing village traffic speeds and making the village more walkable and bikeable.
“To meet these recommendations,” said Taylor, “several traffic-calming measures were built into the design.”
They include bump-outs, which slow down traffic by narrowing road lines and making it easier for pedestrians to cross the street because of a shorter distance from side to side.
“A repeated concern was the number of pedestrians that have been hit over the last several years in the road due to the extra wide road that needed to be traversed,” he said.
Taylor noted that the street has been narrowed to reduce traffic speed, but even then, “it still is as wide, and really wider, than most village streets. In addition, South Main has room for parallel parking outside the travel lanes. There are virtually no other streets in the village with this feature. All of our streets have the same width or less, with parking on at least one side of the street and sometimes both.”
• Loss of parking: This, said Taylor “is a huge misconception and is (a) deceiving aspect of the project. The original design called for parallel parking throughout the entire project area. At a public meeting in April of 2017, several members of the Methodist and Catholic churches spoke out against losing the vertical parking in front of the churches. The board agreed to leave the vertical parking in this area.”
Ultimately, he said, only eight on-street parking places are lost.
• Wider sidewalks: Taylor said those wider walks allow the village to add benches, bike racks and other amenities to encourage people to park their car and walk.
“Businesses need foot traffic to succeed in any downtown,” said Taylor. “Hopefully, this leads us in the right direction. In addition, this gives restaurants more area for outdoor living space to offer unique dining options.”
• Snow plowing: Taylor doesn’t envision the new South Main configuration as daunting to the public works staff.
“Our crews have plowed in all types of conditions, including around medians, parked cars, etc., with a lot of success,” he said.
• Emergency vehicles: Taylor said the village asked engineers to accommodate the needs of fire trucks and ambulances.
“Again, South Main is still as wide if not wider than most village streets, including the intersections,” he said.
“As we have always realized, not everyone will love or even like every aspect of the South Main Street reconstruction,” he said. “In addition, we can’t possibly meet everyone’s individual wants or desires. Our hope is that we have taken over a decade of public input and given the community the best project possible including replacing all of the aging infrastructure that residents and businesses for generations will need to grow as a community.”