Shared Streets data leads to debate

In a poll, 61% of respondents said they had a positive experience with the Shared Streets program. But the data opened up a debate on the program's virtues and weaknesses. File photo

HUDSON — Peter Spear, of Future Hudson, presented the findings from Shared Streets feedback Monday, which led to a debate about who is targeted by the program.

A resident and visitor survey answered by 62% of Hudson residents, 30% of other Columbia County residents, 5% of residents from surrounding counties and 3% of visitors showed a 61% overall positive experience with the Shared Streets initiative, and 61% wishing to see the program repeated if COVID-19 remains an issue.

If COVID-19 is no longer an issue, 95% of respondents said they want to see the initiative on a seasonal basis. Out of 546 responses, 480 were complete.

A separate business-themed survey, of which 75% of respondents own or manage a business in downtown Hudson and 42% participated in the Shared Streets program, 27% said their business was much better with Shared Streets than it would be otherwise, 19% said it was somewhat better, 33% said there was no impact either way, 11% said business was somewhat worse than if the program had not been implemented and 10% said it was much worse. If COVID-19 is still an issue, 52% of respondents want to see the program continue and 37% want to see it continue with modifications. If COVID-19 is no longer an issue, 75% of respondents want to see it continue on a seasonal basis.

Comments from survey respondents and interviews with people who implemented the program led to various suggestions for improving the program if repeated. Among the suggestions from residents were improving signage, closing Warren Street to vehicular traffic, creating a pedestrian lane by making Warren and Union streets one-way, creating design guidelines and safety requirements for participating businesses, limiting the program to restaurants, defining a safer standard between diners and cars, investing in more public art and safe events and passing a physical distancing and mask-wearing ordinance.

As for businesses, suggestions included developing a plan with more input from local businesses, creating design guidelines and safety requirements for participating businesses, creating more effective traffic control, making Warren Street a pedestrian promenade, designing the program with people with disabilities in mind, making handwashing and masks available to the public, expanding the program location above the 600 block of Warren Street and moving the farmers market to Warren Street.

Implementation team interviews also brought scrutiny to the program from Hudson Hall representatives Tambra Dillon and Sage Carter, tourism board members, Kaja Kuhl from Design for 6 Feet, city attorney Jeffrey Baker, Police Chief L. Edward Moore, Department of Public Works Superintendent Robert Perry, Mayor Kamal Johnson, Columbia Economic and Development Corporation President and CEO F. Michael Tucker, Code Enforcement Officer Craig Haigh and Spear from Future Hudson.

Some of the ideas discussed in the interviews included committing to a week-long schedule to justify businesses investing in implementation, developing uniform guidelines, developing clear safety requirements, setting clear expectations for businesses and residents, clarifying communication to increase participation and safety, expanding to other streets in the city and broadening the vision to become equitable and creating open streets citywide. Most interviewees felt the program did not effectively create space on Warren Street for pedestrians to safely distance from one another.

If the city wanted to reimplement the Shared Streets program, a clear objective, safety requirements, leadership and management, heavy administrative duties, compliance and enforcement, and expanded trash and restroom capacity should be addressed, according to a summary of the implementation team interviews presented by Spear.

First Ward Alderwoman Jane Trombley thinks the Common Council should take a leadership role in the program if it is implemented again, she said Monday.

Allyson Strafella, a former member of the Shared Streets advisory committee, questioned who the survey had reached, saying most of the respondents seem to have come from a privileged segment of the population.

“We pushed out the survey to every channel that we had,” Spear said.

It was sent out through various social media channels and email newsletters, he said.

Shared Streets is geared toward a certain class, Strafella said.

“I don’t know how many people in Hudson, true members of the community, filled out that survey that aren’t maybe people sitting in this meeting now or people affiliated with everyone on the meeting,” she said. “It just unsettles me. I feel like there’s kind of, such a bias to how you assume you’re reaching people in this particular community.”

As someone who has lived in Hudson for 18 years, the initiative seems to favor the privileged, Strafella said.

Strafella said she didn’t think the advisory committee’s recommendations were truly taken into consideration. Others at the meeting echoed this sentiment, but Spear recalls adjustments were made to barriers to address the committee’s safety concerns, he said.

A lack of accountability throughout the initiative led to safety concerns, former tourism board member Sidney Long said. She saw a couple with a baby dining on Warren Street in a parking spot with no barriers, she said.

Tourism board member Chris McManus discouraged differentiating who is considered a Hudson local and who is not, in response to Strafella’s comments.

“I think it’s good to reach out to other communities, but let’s not cast some people as Hudson and others as not,” he said, adding the conversation should bring people together instead of pushing them apart.

Tourism board member Tamar Adler pointed out that dissent was represented in the survey data.

Hudson resident Marc Scrivo said he took offense at Strafella’s comment about privilege. He pointed out the Ambassador program that employed local youth to help oversee and engage with the program.

“My interest in this was always getting the kids, the youth, who live on State Street and on Warren Street, and on Front Street and on Columbia Street, get them involved and get them to take ownership and feel involved,” Scrivo said.

Scrivo also noted the difficulty he faced navigating the narrow sidewalks with three children on Warren Street.

Marianne Courville, a member of the program’s advisory committee and Hudson Wine Merchants owner, noted respondents could answer the survey multiple times.

“I’m just a little curious about that,” Courville said. “I can’t prove that. All I know is someone told me they sent in several surveys. They kept doing it because they were so upset at how it was impacting them.”

But the survey had settings that ensured one response was taken per computer, said George Wachtel of Audience Research and Analysis.

While Shared Streets was a great program, it lacked inclusion for young, poor people, not just the young people who were hired for the Ambassador program, tourism board member Selha Graham said.

“Whatever you guys choose to do and however you implement it, I ask you remember the children,” she said.

She pointed to a lack of authority over the initiative if something went wrong. Kids can’t get involved by being put on an email list, she said.

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