Separating Purpose & Need - By Leslie Ludtke
The purposes for building Langley Parkway have remained unchanged since 1989 when the City adopted Resolution #6036, and included the then Northwest Bypass in its Capital Improvement Program (CIP). Each year since 1989, Langley Parkway (the successor to the Northwest Parkway) the City has designated Langley Parkway a priority in the CIP Budget. This year, the City Council again designated it as a council priority for 2023.
Three purposes have consistently been identified for building Langley Parkway:
relief of traffic congestion and enhancement of pedestrian safety in older, dense residential neighborhoods;
enhanced access to major employment and service centers in northwest Concord; and
improved access for emergency vehicles to Concord Hospital. Designating these purposes as the reason for constructing Langley does not mean that if constructed, Langley Parkway will achieve these purposes.
Nor does it mean that Langley Parkway is the best or only option for accomplishing these purposes. Simply stated, the yearly thirty year recitation of these purposes does not establish that these purposes still exist, nor does it mean that constructing Langley Parkway is the only way to accomplish these purposes. Reciting the same purposes for thirty years and according them priority each year is not proof or even evidence that constructing Langley Parkway is warranted. The legacy of Langley is just that, a legacy. It does not establish that the purposes for building the road in 1989 still exist, or that the road is the best option or even a feasible option for achieving the purposes.
Before deciding that Langley Parkway should remain a priority, the City should first determine whether the three stated purposes for the road still exist, and if they do, whether constructing Langley Parkway is the best way to achieve these purposes. To show that there is a present need for constructing Langley and that it deserves to be in the CIP budget, each of the three purposes should be evaluated based on present circumstances and data to assess whether they still present problems that require some type action to be taken. If they do warrant action, the City should consider what action or actions would achieve or best accomplish each of the three stated purposes.
In looking at the three purposes through today’s lens, it is evident that two of the three original purposes no longer are reasons for building the road. Presently there is no problem with accessing the Lincoln Financial site or other businesses in northwest Concord that would be improved by building a limited access road from Clinton St. to No. State Street. In fact, at least one of the developers of the Lincoln Financial site has stated unequivocally that he doesn’t care if Langley is built, but what he does care about is getting rid of the existing alignment for Langley to allow development of the portions of his property that would otherwise be taken by the road. In working with developers of properties in northwest Concord on infrastructure improvements, there is no advantage to the City in including Langley Parkway, which by definition is a limited access road, in the discussions.
As for the third purpose, improved access to Concord Hospital, the modernization of ambulances and training of emergency medical technicians have eliminated the need to reduce transport time to the hospital. Ambulances are rolling intensive care units. The critical metric for emergency medical services is response time to the scene, not transport time to the hospital. Data shows no meaningful relationship between transport time and mortality. Recognizing the importance of response time, the City has included funding for an additional ambulance as well as additional emergency medical technicians in this year’s budget. Funding ambulances and emergency medical technicians will accomplish far more at a lower cost to reduce mortality than constructing Langley Parkway.
The remaining purpose of reducing traffic congestion in residential neighborhoods and improving pedestrian safety is less clear due to the lack of specificity regarding which city neighborhoods are affected by traffic congestion and what type of and where pedestrian safety issues are posed. If the City truly believes that traffic congestion poses a problem in certain residential neighborhoods, it should consider the problem more specifically and determine what specific traffic flow issues are contributing to the problem and evaluate the feasible options for mitigating that congestion.
In 2022 traffic congestion is a very different problem than it was in 1989. Since 1989, the state has developed a state office park on the previous New Hampshire hospital grounds with over 4000 employees now situated there. The development of this office park has changed traffic flow throughout Concord. Given that Langley Parkway would be located well to the northwest of the state office park it would not substantially reduce or change existing traffic flow to it. If the City believes that traffic congestion in residential neighborhoods is a significant problem, it should address this problem by looking at recent traffic data, analyzing that data, and evaluating feasible options for changing or reducing traffic flow through specific residential neighborhoods. It is not reasonable to assume that if Langley Parkway is built that traffic congestion will simply vanish.
The same point applies to the problem of pedestrian safety. Instead of constructing a 22 plus million dollar road, the City could consider adding sidewalks or crosswalks to neighborhoods. Since 1989, the City has already done this in a number of neighborhoods. However, despite the City’s efforts, additional pedestrian safety issues exist now that did not exist in 1989. Those pedestrian safety issues would be exacerbated, not remedied by building Langley Parkway. As built, Phase 1 of Langley Parkway poses significant pedestrian safety concerns due to the secondary development that has occurred along the road corridor. The pedestrian safety issues along Phase I are now so severe that the Concord Hospital has posted a 5 mph speed limit on Phase 1 of Langley Parkway. This is one reason why it is critical to understand the current traffic date. Without understanding the current data, it is impossible to know what would happen if Langley Parkway were built. Continuing Langley Parkway as a priority in the capital improvement budget as a legacy project without asking these basic questions of purpose and need is neither reasonable nor responsible governance.
The three purposes, reducing ambulance response time, accessing businesses in northwest Concord, and reducing traffic congestion and improving pedestrian safety in older residential neighborhoods, no longer present problems that would be solved by building Langley Parkway.
Ask yourself,”Is Langley Parkway needed to reduce ambulance response times?” Answer: No. Modernization of ambulances and trained emergency medical technicians have eliminated the need for reduced transport time.
Ask yourself, “Is Langley Parkway needed to access businesses in northwest Concord?” Answer: No. We have a ring road in Concord (I-89 to 1-93 to I-393) that provides high speed access to northwest Concord. Recent improvements have been made to Fisherville Road to improve access from the north. Developers of properties in northwest Concord have stated that they do not need Langley Parkway, which by definition is a limited access road.
Ask yourself, “Is Langley Parkway needed to reduce traffic congestion in older residential neighborhoods and improve pedestrian safety?” Answer: No. With the changed traffic patterns in Concord due in part to the development of the state office park, Langley Parkway would have a minimal impact at best in improving traffic congestion in older residential neighborhoods. As to pedestrian safety, building Phase 3 of Langley would have a deleterious impact on pedestrian safety in Phase 1 of Langley. In other locations, pedestrian safety could be better addressed by constructing sidewalks and putting in crosswalks.
Phase 3 of Langley should be removed from the capital improvement budget. Removal would allow the City to rethink transportation and land use issues in Concord by focusing on current problems and solutions to those problems.