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Redesigning Boston’s North End

Six Northeastern University civil engineering seniors say they have the answer to solving traffic problems and pedestrian congestion that plague Boston’s North End: seasonal, portable sidewalks.

The student-researchers redesigned the neighborhood’s Hanover Street as part of their “Engineering Essentials” capstone project. The team presented the plans to the North End community during a public meeting on April 20.

City Councilor Sal LaMattina, State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, and Boston’s Commissioner of Transportation Thomas Tinlin were in attendance and commended students for their work.

The plan — created by students Matt Walsh, Oliver Nowalski, Rodrigo Alonso, Matt Ford, Steve Leeber and Steve Curtin — calls for installing modular units similar to those that have also been used in New York City and San Francisco.

“They add seven feet of sidewalk space to both sides of the street for pedestrian and business use, allowing for a mixed use of the space, which is key for the Hanover Street area,” said Walsh, the team’s project manager.

“Our project took a pedestrian-focused approach, adapting to seasonal demands that show an increase of pedestrian traffic in the summer,” he added.

The students said the portable sidewalks would improve traffic flow and increase usable space for pedestrians and local businesses. In the winter, when foot traffic decreases, the sidewalks would be removed so that drivers could once again use the space to park.

The students’ plan, which includes re-allocated space that is more user friendly for all modes, could help Hanover Street become a more “complete street” as civil and environmental engineering professor and capstone advisor Dan Dulaski said. Part of the capstone’s goal of a more “complete street” is a better balance of space for the movement of people and goods which impacts economic development, and creation of a place in which people want to stay.

Students also created special commercial zones to discourage delivery vehicles from double-parking; proposed more accessible bike racks; and suggested reorganizing parking spots on Commercial Street to allow for the creation of more than two-dozen extra spots.

Last year, Dulaski’s capstone students tackled Broadway Street in South Boston.

“The students are set up as essentially small consulting firms,” he said, adding that the capstone projects allow students to respond to the challenges of real-world situations and develop some of the “softer” skills of engineering, such as writing proposals, interacting with clients and making presentations to elected officials.