The plan for making downtown more pedestrian, bike, and business friendly will be presented and voted on at the Board of Supervisors meeting this Thursday April 18, at 6:30 PM, in the Carson City Community Center’s Sierra Room. Your attendance at this meeting is vital to ensure that this project moves forward!
The plan for putting our main street on a Road Diet (see my previous post) has turned out to be quite controversial. The estimated cost of the project is only $30,000, but it will bring big changes to the look and feel of downtown. If approved, the half-mile stretch of Carson Street through the downtown area of Carson City between Fifth Street and Ann Street would re-striped to reduce travel lanes from four to two, add on-street parallel parking, and the fences along the sidewalks would be removed. The sidewalks, median, and turn lanes would not be altered.
Opponents of the project seem to have mixed fears, not really knowing what to expect from the outcome. Some think there will be traffic bottlenecks. Others think the opposite, that traffic will drop, go to other streets, and hurt business. There are also a few that simply fear they will no longer be able to speed through downtown unimpeded, arguing that an extra 30-60 seconds of possible drive time is unacceptable. If the reaction at the last Public Works Department workshop is any indication, the opposition will be at the Board of Supervisors meeting en masse to share their fears and doubts.
Thankfully, the Downtown Action Advocacy Group 20/20 has formed with a clear vision of our city’s future. Business owners, property owners, and other citizens have joined together to not only support the project to be presented to the Board of Supervisors this week, but to continue working together to make our downtown a better place to walk, park, shop, bicycle, work, and drive. A place to live, and not simply drive through. Muscle Powered, Citizens for a Walkable and Bikeable Carson City also supports this project to help make our city more bike and pedestrian friendly.
Creating a vibrant downtown Carson City sets the stage for bigger and better events. At the last 20/20 meeting I attended, Tim Healion, chief of the Tour de Nez-Vada was there to talk about bringing a leg of the popular Tour de Nez-Vada race to our downtown. It would be a criterium style bicycle race, a loop course of less than a mile through downtown, with high speed action. This event would attract thousands. It was a very inspiring meeting full of innovative ideas and discussions on how to overcome the challenges we face.
Remaking the Public Realm
What makes the 20/20 group so confident the plan will succeed? Because what we’re doing here in Carson City is nothing new. Many other cities around the country have already done the same thing and are seeing good results. There are many successful case studies and documented best practices.
Here are the Five Principles of Urban Street Design from the National Association of City Transportation Officials. NACTO believes that designing world-class streets begins with a restatement of the problem and the means by which to understand that problem. These five principles establish a clear understanding of the primary goals, ideals and tenets of world-class street design.
- Streets are Public Spaces – Streets are often the most vital, yet underutilized public spaces in cities. Conventional highway design standards tend to look at streets as thoroughfares for traffic and measure their performance in terms of speed, delay, throughput and congestion. In reality, streets play a much larger role in the public life of cities and communities, and should be designed to include public spaces as well as channels for movement.
- Great Streets are Great for Business – Cities have realized that streets are an economic asset as much as a functional element. Well-designed streets generate higher revenues for businesses and higher values for homeowners.
- Design for Safety – In 2010, 32,885 people were killed in traffic crashes, which are also the leading cause of death among children aged 5 to 14. These deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries are avoidable. Traffic engineers can and should do better, by designing streets where people walking, parking, shopping, bicycling, working and driving can cross paths safely.
- Streets can be Changed – Transportation engineers can work flexibly within the building envelope of a street. This includes moving curbs, changing alignments, daylighting corners and redirecting traffic where necessary. Many city streets were created in a different era and need to be reconfigured to meet new needs. Street space can also be reused for different purposes, such as parklets, bicycle parking and pop-up cafes.
- Act Now! – Implementing projects quickly using temporary materials helps inform public decision making. Cities across the US have begun using a stepped approach to major redesigns, where temporary materials are used in the short term, to be replaced by permanent materials after the public has tested the design thoroughly.
One of the best ways to learn about downtown design is to travel and walk other city’s downtowns. My family recently had the opportunity to visit a few cities similar to our own: Moab in Utah, and Durango and Grand Junction in Colorado. I’ve included a few photos from these cities in this article. Like Carson City, these small to medium sized cities are centers for exceptional outdoor recreational opportunities, and all have vibrant downtowns. Durango is an official Bicycle Friendly Community, and Moab is applying for BFC status (Carson City received an honorable mention for our last BFC application). Grand Junction has a very pedestrian friendly downtown with wide sidewalks, short pedestrian street crossings (courtesy of narrow traffic lanes and curb bulb-outs), outdoor cafe seating, planters, sculptures, and other artwork throughout. Common to these three cities were easily accessible businesses and lots of bike parking everywhere. Carson City can definitely do better in this area.
The only real difference between these three cities and Carson City is that they are a few steps ahead of us. Where we currently favor thru-traffic, they have made their sidewalks and streets more bike and pedestrian friendly. Their businesses are easily accessible with parking instead of barriers in front of them. Because of this, they have attracted a wider variety of businesses, and the customers have responded. Carson City can get there too by following their examples. We are almost there.
Like the 5th principle of urban street design states, we must Act Now! This is a cheap fix to our main street. By only re-striping the road, the design can be tested, studied, and refined with more permanent alterations in the future. Once again, the Board of Supervisors meeting is this Thursday April 18, at 6:30 PM, in the Carson City Community Center’s Sierra Room. Show up early. Come say a few words or just be present in support of the project. Be a part of history in the making. You can really make a difference!