The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced virtually every detail of life in this region and it has led our communities down some strange paths.
Hudson is one example of a city going where few other communities have gone. The Shared Summer Streets program will continue to limit vehicular travel and encourage pedestrian traffic on Warren Street weekdays and weekends all season.
The city approved the program after a successful trial weekend June 26-28 and extended the hours, meaning businesses will be able to expand outdoors into parking spaces on Warren Street until 10 p.m. on weekdays and weekends.
Organizers issued a survey to measure interest in continuing the partial street closures or abandon the plan. About 80% of respondents said the program should continue as is or with adjustments. After reviewing feedback with Mayor Kamal Johnson, organizers decided to proceed with the hope of continuing until October. A total of 431 people provided feedback via the survey.
Of the 106 business owners who responded, two-thirds said they saw more customers or the same number of customers, while one third saw fewer customers during the trial weekend. More than 50% of respondents said the program made their lives more enjoyable, nearly 20% said the program was disruptive and about 30% answered no change.
Some modifications have to be made, including better signage, and the program has its critics who are unhappy with the way the plan was rolled out and strongly disapprove of the overall concept.
Restricting Warren Street may have an adverse impact on public access to businesses and make deliveries difficult, 1st Ward Alderwoman Rebecca Wolff said last week.
“While I appreciate the concept of shared public space, I am not inclined toward the coupling of commerce with that space,” she said. “Restaurants can clearly benefit from having increased outdoor space so perhaps there is some way to provide that, by encouraging the use of city parks for curbside food, without inconveniencing an entire city.”
Organizers have acknowledged that the pilot weekend had a shaky roll-out, given the rainy weather and the fact that businesses had only three days to apply for permits to operate in the street.
But as we’ve noted, modifications will have to be made. The Common Council allocated $82,320 in Tourism Board funding for the program. The money will be used to improve signs and build barriers to restrict access to Warren Street. Local artist Marc Scrivo of Operation Unite designed functional planters to be used as barriers. Scrivo plans to build them with help from community volunteers.
Little has been said about physical safety, so we expect city leaders to have a plan allowing access for emergency vehicles and first responders who may be needed on or around Warren Street at a moment’s notice.
So put on those masks. Social distance always. Make yourselves comfortable in those parking spaces. Walk the closed-off streets. And get set to enjoy an interesting social experiment. If we meet the challenge, sharing the streets will be a success.