The Village of Williamsville “took back Main Street” Saturday evening.
No torch and pitchforks required – this act of civic upheaval was state-approved and 100 percent family-friendly.
Kids played street hockey and couples wheeled strollers in the middle of the usually busy five-lane street during Picture Main Street Live, a block party thrown in celebration of the pedestrian-friendly changes coming soon to the village’s arterial roadway.
In a 54-page plan released this spring, village leaders laid out a detailed vision of how to soften the traffic-heavy roadway’s pedestrian-unfriendly edge. Planned improvements include more visible crosswalks; revamped, more walkable sidewalks featuring additional curb cuts and new paved “bulb-outs” at every corner for added safety; and a string of medians in portions of the central turning lane to facilitate mid-block pedestrian crossings.
Also in the works as part of Picture Main Street: decorative signs, pocket parks, bike racks, electric car charging stations and a village mobile app – all intended to modernize, beautify and otherwise improve the well-traveled roadway. The ultimate goal, village leaders say, is to reclaim Main Street for the good of Williamsville’s residents and businesses – not just its motorists.
Saturday’s block party gave locals an idea of what a repurposed Main Street might look and feel like. For three hours, Main was closed to traffic from Cayuga Road to Mill Street. As several hundred people flocked to the street for a variety of entertainment, including a live band and Irish dancing, Main reveled in the intimacy of a true village. That, said Mayor Brian Kupla, is exactly the point of the planned changes. Closing Main to traffic was a way of reminding locals that the street should be theirs to enjoy, he said.
Kupla, who has a degree in urban planning, praised the “free-form” nature of the block party, which he said was modeled after the neighborhood block parties of his youth.
“We want to give people that same experience,” he said.
Some of Picture Main Street’s component projects are already a reality – the first of two pocket parks opened recently at Main and Evans street, for example. Other additions, which await state and federal funding, were on display in a more temporary way.
In front of Village Hall, Joy Kuebler was busy outlining a new crosswalk and “pedestrian refuge” using a piece of white street chalk. Kuebler heads Joy Kuebler Landscape Architects PC, one of the firms working to reshape Main as well as nearby Spring Street, where a number of improvements also are in the works. She said the block party should help locals get a sense of what these changes are about.
“We figured we might as well draw it where we want it so people can see it,” she said of the as-yet-imaginary crosswalk.
A 48-person committee composed of village officials, business owners and residents spent about a year planning the streetscape enhancements in consultation with the state Department of Transportation, which is responsible for Main Street. Assemblyman Ray Walter, R-Amherst, who lobbied for the project in Albany, said Saturday that the Picture Main Street project has state backing. Walter expects to receive word this fall about the state and federal grants needed to fund the project. Chief among those expected to benefit from the streetscape improvements are the owners of the businesses lining the street.
Tricia Browne, who runs the Eagle House restaurant with her father, said she is looking forward to improved street parking and accessibility from nearby businesses, all of which should channel more customers to her door.
After months of planning, “It’s kind of amazing to see it come to life right in front of you,” Browne said.
On the bridge spanning Ellicott Creek, kids wielding hockey sticks chased plastic balls all over the pavement, the only time in recent memory they could do so without fear of being struck by oncoming traffic. Williamsville resident Tim Meer was enjoying the impromptu hockey rink with his son Nicholas, 7. The block party, he said, was a promising sign of things to come.
“Tonight’s a great example of how much people in the area would enjoy Main Street in Williamsville,” he said.
Of course, like any change, the re-imagined Main Street will take some getting used to.
Kupla pointed out that Main’s total lack of cars did not stop some from not straying from the sidewalks – as if by sheer force of habit.