Highways for Habitats #23: Route 62, Hamburg New York

Route 62 HamburgTransportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

Twelve years ago the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) planned to improve Route 62 in Hamburg by adding another traffic lane, removing parking and narrowing sidewalks.  Route 62 serves as the town’s Main Street, and while NYSDOT was focused on moving traffic through Hamburg residents were concerned the changes would have negative effects on their downtown.

“If you build a place for cars, it will be a gathering place for cars; if it’s built for people, it will be a gathering place for people.”   -Ms. Hackathorn, Hamburg resident, from a New York Times article

Community members acted quickly: they formed a citizens’ group, the Route 62 Committee, to oppose the road expansion.  They invited walkability expert Dan Burden to assess potential outcomes and offer advice.  They then created a ‘community design alternative,’ which was voted in by Hamburg residents – over the state’s proposal four to one.  The citizen’s task force and NYSDOT then worked together, held workshops to engage residents, and composed a community-valued vision.

The Route 62 result, completed in 2009, was focused around traffic calming and downtown revitalization.  Traffic calming helps provide for all of the other desired social and economic activities of streets.  The road downsized to two lanes, and lane widths were narrowed from twelve feet to ten – narrower lane width makes cars drive slower.  Four roundabouts were constructed in place of stop signs and traffic signals.  During the first two years of completion, car accidents on the new road dropped by 66% and injuries by 60%.

Pedestrian systems were improved with midblock crosswalks, sidewalk extensions and human-scale lighting (versus the tall highway lights) to make for safer and easier pedestrian crossings.  Space was made available for “safety lanes,” which allow for safe parked car door opening and double as bike lanes (but cannot be officially labeled a bike lane because bike lanes must be six feet wide).  Parking spaces were preserved to continue bringing people downtown to socialize and visit stores and restaurants. Since sidewalks were not narrowed, space for outdoor dining along Main Street was maintained.

A focus for residents was strengthening the businesses and character of Hamburg.  Because many of the main street businesses had been there for decades or longer, attracting large new business was not an objective.  Instead, principles aimed at creating a pedestrian friendly place to draw people to the shops and restaurants already there.  Building restorations required large storefront windows to bring back the main street feel.  Builders are encouraged to provide housing above stores to keep the street alive after business hours.  Streetscape improvements extending beyond the streets have created outdoor public spaces.

Route 62’s redesign sparked a renaissance in Hamburg with a renewed sense of place.  Since completion property values along Route 62 have more than doubled.  $7 million has been privately invested in 40 new building projects, and the area has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Civic activity has grown, providing community events throughout the year.

The Route 62 Hamburg Project was a Top 10 Nominee for America’s Transportation Award Innovative Management Small Project category in 2010.


Photo from Complete Streets on flickr.com