May 14, 2012 | Rod Hirsch
The ongoing transformation of Somerville’s emerging Arts District ramped up considerably April 27 with the arrival of a cement mixer that helped put the finishing touches on the facelift.
The transit mix truck inched along Division Street between Main Street and South Street, dumping freshly-mixed concrete down a sluice as crews wielding rakes, shovels and trowels worked quickly to smooth over the new decorative road surface.
Work continued over the next two weeks with a deadline looming for the official “unveiling” of the new-look Division Street, a pedestrian-friendly gateway to downtown Somerville that will play host to the third annual Arts on Division celebration May 17-20.
Downtown Somerville celebrates the cultural arts for four days with a wide range of fine art exhibits, music, dance, theatre, visual and literary performances through a series of ‘pop-up’ art galleries on Division Street, Main Street and the Somerset County Jurors Assembly Room inside the historic First Dutch Reformed Church at the county complex on nearby East Main Street.
Arts on Division kicks off a busy two weeks of events that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the borough: Somerville Sampler Day May 19; Somerville Restaurant Week May 19-26 and the 2012 Tour of Somerville Cycling Series May 25-28, four days of world-class cycling events in Somerville and nearby towns that culminates with the Kugler-Anderson 50-mile race in downtown Somerville.
The cycling series is expected to attract over 600 professional and novice cyclist participants and more than 20,000 festival-goers throughout the Memorial Day weekend, with competitive cycling and family festivities taking place May 25-28 in downtown Somerville.
The completion of the Division Street project will impose a new traffic pattern; it will be a one-way thorough-fare between South Street and Main Street, according to Colin Driver, director of Economic Development for the borough, who explained the design of the “new” Division Street is unique.
“There’s not a street like it in New Jersey that we are aware of, or in the region,” Driver said. “We had some unexpected discoveries as you’d expect that’s always the case when you’re doing road work on old road,” Driver explained. “We had to get utilities involved more than once. We had discovered stuff that to the best of our knowledge wasn’t there; we found an old telephone conduit made out of wood that had to be for the original phone lines. We had to check with Verizon to make sure it had been abandoned so that we could remove it and we had a leaking sewer line that took three days to resolve.”
Replacing the blacktop is a pressed concrete road and walkway surface, each a different color to distinguish one from the other. The curbs on both sides of the street have been eliminated.
Replacing the curbs and bordering the pedestrian walkway is an 8-inch wide domed strip, described by Driver as a “visual demarcation” that is lined with black bollards, vertical waist-high posts designed so that they can be removed. The pedestrian walkway lining both sides of the street is 16 feet wide beginning at South Street, narrowing to 12 feet wide moving northward to Main Street, according to Driver.
The removable bollards will enable a transition to a broader pedestrian walkway for special events like Arts on Division. Bollards can be installed at either end of Division Street to prevent traffic, according to Driver.
The new look will also introduce a new traffic pattern. No longer will Division Street be two-way. All traffic will now be one-way towards Main Street.
The intent is to create a pedestrian-friendly corridor from the train station through to Main Street, according to Driver. Some owners have already begun remodeling and restoring building facades.