Tony Collins Talks Shared Streets Andover

by | May 24, 2021

Improving Bike & Pedestrian Mobility in Town

Update: Associate Planner Tony Collins worked for the Town of Andover from 2017 to 2022.

What is Shared Streets Andover

Tony Collins is Associate Planner for the town of Andover. In that role, he sees a growing community desire to make Andover streets more accessible to bikes and pedestrians. Responding to that desire, the Town recently formed Walk/Bike Andover — a resident-led advocacy group working to improve bike and pedestrian mobility in town.

And a Shared Street is just one way to do that. Because a Shared Street prioritizes bicycles and pedestrians over cars, by slowing traffic and discouraging cut-through traffic.

As Town Staff Liaison for the Walk/Bike Andover advocacy group, Tony successfully led the effort to pilot Shared Streets in downtown (see video below). Now, Tony’s mission is to make Shared Streets Andover a reality.

Shared Street Pilot on Punchard Avenue in Downtown Andover

Andover Demographic Shift Makes the Timing Right

Tony and his wife, Rachel, who are millenials, are expecting their first child in June. And they will soon move from Somerville to the Ballardvale section of Andover.

Tony sees his family’s move as part of a larger demographic shift occurring in the suburbs. As more millennials move from urban areas into suburban communities, Tony expects suburban culture to expand. Transforming from a primarily car-dependent community, like present-day Andover. To a community that’s also built around getting to places by biking or walking. Like in Sommerville and most present-day cities.

He points to the Walk/Bike Andover mission as further proof that now is a good time for Shared Streets Andover.

Experience to Make Shared Streets Andover Happen

If the community wants Shared Streets, Tony has the both the Andover and government experience to make it happen here.

Originally from Manchester, New Hampshire, Tony got to know Andover while at Merrimack College. Where he earned both a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Government, as well as a Master of Public Administration (MPA).

Tony earned his MPA while living in Somerville and completing simultaneous internships at both the Town of Andover and City of Lawrence. With firsthand knowledge of two different forms of government, Tony moved into a full-time position in Andover’s Treasurer’s Office. Next was a Planning Assistant position and then his present role as Associate Planner.

Tony is currently enrolled in the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Master’s degree program at Tufts University. The program is focused on social and environmental justice, as well as sustainable transportation.

Shared Streets Andover Creates Equity of Access

Tony sees Shared Streets Andover as a start to creating equity of access to community destinations. He points out that if you don’t live near downtown, Andover’s current roads create a barrier to accessing all it offers — the library, the youth center, the many shops and restaurants.

That’s because the majority of our streets — like in most suburbs — are accessible only to cars. You need to own a car, or pay for an Uber, to get downtown or pretty much anywhere in Andover.

Shared Streets Andover, along with bike lanes, sidewalks, and pedestrian ways throughout town — where appropriate — will make downtown and other community destinations more accessible. Little things, like the newly installed downtown bike racks, also help create equity of access.

Bike Rack at Old Town Hall in Downtown Andover

Tony’s strategy is to show residents what happens when you open a street to bikes, pedestrians, and cars. The goal of the downtown Andover Shared Streets pilot was to do just that. And Tony said that it was received well by the community.

Hyper-Local is Better for Transforming a Community

Tony knows that Shared Streets is not applicable everywhere in town. His approach is to put a hyper-local focus — down to individual neighborhoods — to help Andover transform its roads. And that’s because Shared Streets perform better in compact areas. They require maintenance. Because the planters and signs used to identify a street as shared can blow over.

Tony says that in certain circumstances, the town can maintain them. But when you have buy-in from a neighborhood, the community is motivated to care for traffic interventions that make Shared Streets possible. Especially when simply picking up a sign means less cars speeding through your neighborhood.

Tony believes that getting people out of their cars and into the neighborhood creates a stronger sense of community. Exposing a neighborhood to the positive culture change that occurs when you open its road will drive Shared Streets Andover’s success. He says that it’s a mindset change. Thinking of roads as more than just for getting places. For example, making them safe for kids to play basketball. Traffic interventions help make that possible. The result is a whole different neighborhood vibe.

Bringing a Hyper-Local Focus to Town Planning

Tony brings that same hyper-local focus to town planning. What do Ballardvale, Shawsheen, and so on want to see in their neighborhoods.

Tony says, “A hyper-local focus helps create and maintain neighborhoods with distinct personalities. Somerville and Cambridge have done that very well. Davis Square, Union Square, Harvard Square each have a different feel.”

He continued, “A hyper-local focus amplifies the uniqueness and keeps the character of each neighborhood because it is community driven. What can each neighborhood do to get people out of their cars and into the community. Build sidewalks, bike lanes, pedestrian ways, and implement Shared Streets. Make it so people can get places without a car. These types of changes strengthen a neighborhood’s character and transform the culture by encouraging neighbors to interact.”

Why His Family is Moving to Andover

As seven-year Somerville residents about to start a family, Tony and his wife want to live in a community that is a great place to raise a family. Goods schools were a driver in their decision and they believe Andover has great schools.

They both want to live in a community where they are also working in public service. As Associate Planner, Tony has a track record with the Town. His wife, a teacher in the Chelsea public school system, hopes to transition to the Andover public school system in the future. They both want to feel the impact their work has on their community. And living in the community inspires them to create positive impact.

One of Tony’s goals is to always be able to walk or bike to work — moving to Andover allows him to do just that. He said, “While you presently can bike from Ballardvale to the Town offices, Shared Streets and other bicycle infrastructure would make that a safer and more enjoyable experience.”

And they love outdoor activities. They have a dog Bodie, a rescue mix, that they like to take on hikes. So, Andover’s open space and many trails were a major draw.

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