Made for walkin’
In the 1970s, a tangle of transportation problems prompted Lafayette, Ind., officials to begin planning for changes downtown. At the time, Amtrak trains ran down the middle of a central city street, requiring passengers to load and unload on the street, and the local bus station was situated on Lafayette’s courthouse square, causing traffic delays and interfering with nearby business operations.
Officials decided to reposition the railroad tracks and create a junction using the city’s historic train depot, which would have to be moved. The facility would not only serve as a transportation hub, but it also would stand as the centerpiece of a public plaza for Lafayette’s 45,000 citizens.
In purpose, Lafayette’s plans were similar to countless others in cities across the country. Driven by a desire to bring people – and dollars – downtown, local officials are implementing a variety of ideas to beautify their streetscapes, calm traffic and create pedestrian-friendly pathways and venues.
An historic hub The Lafayette Railroad Relocation project included the 1902 Big Four Depot from the start. The building had served as an active railroad station for 70 years prior to its closing, and citizens wanted to preserve it as part of the city’s heritage. The rails were relocated, and the depot was moved four blocks to a spot adjacent to the Wabash River near the heart of the city’s downtown.
In 1996, the restoration was complete, and today the depot provides rail, inter-city and local bus service for more than 7,000 passengers per week. It also serves as the crossroads for pedestrian traffic traversing the historic John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge, which joins Lafayette to West Lafayette.
As the depot underwent restoration, Lafayette began building James F. Riehle Plaza, an outdoor venue directly in front of the depot. Constructed of brick pavers and featuring extensive landscaping and a fountain, the plaza is a popular site for festivals, concerts, art fairs and receptions. A textured concrete wall on the east side screens the plaza from nearby trains and noise.
Since completion of the $7.8 million project, Lafayette residents have embraced the depot and plaza. New development, including retail establishments, restaurants, offices and housing, has sprung up within three blocks of the site. The project also has encouraged redevelopment in West Lafayette, across the Wabash River.
The railroad relocation was vital to business development in Lafayette, but it couldn’t be done at the expense of the riverfront environment,” says Liz Solberg, Lafayette’s manager for the railroad relocation project. “We used the track relocation as an impetus for creating a vital, exciting civic resource.”
‘Driving’ development Lafayette citizens are drawn downtown by the ambiance of the riverfront, open space and the retail surge created by the James F. Riehle Plaza. In Glendale, Wis., officials are creating a similar draw by implementing a new streetscape plan that incorporates pedestrian-friendly, unifying elements.
West Silver Spring Drive, a straight, 1-mile stretch of heavily traveled arterial, is lined with parking lanes and surrounded by vacant properties and underused land parcels. In its place, the city is constructing a gently curving roadway that will produce larger land parcels for office and retail development. The improvements also will slow traffic (which routinely exceeds the posted 35 mph speed limit by 10 to 15 mph) and remedy an accident-prone intersection.
Neighborhoods to the north and south of the new roadway will benefit from additional upgrades to the area, says Glendale City Administrator Richard Maslowski. “The neighborhoods will be united by the new configuration,” he notes. “In addition to traffic being slowed, a number of new features will enhance [residents’] experiences.”
For example, signal light intersections will increase from two to five; green spaces and pedestrian lighting will be added; and benches, bus shelters and rest areas will be installed. Overall, the city intends to produce a safe and inviting place for residents and visitors to stroll and shop.
The West Silver Spring Drive project will be completed this fall at a cost of $24 million. As it progresses, officials are ensuring that subsequent development will create a harmonious character for the area.
A landscaped entrance will open the west end of the project, and the city has established development guidelines that define acceptable architectural materials and building placement. For example, the guidelines specify that front entrances for commercial buildings must face the roadway. Side and rear entrances can be provided to enhance pedestrian access, but they must be less dominant visually than the front entrances.
Concrete continuity While Glendale is reconstructing a neighborhood to make it more attractive to new businesses and patrons, Waco, Texas, is using the streetscape concept to update its image citywide. The goal is to create an environment that offers downtown visitors easy access to an already-developed retail and entertainment base.
“Development came first in Waco,” says Bill Falco, city planning director. “Rather than implementing the streetscape program to spur development, we were focused on enhancing the progress that was already being made.
“We have created a program that links Waco’s various downtown areas,” he explains. “People will be able to travel in a more friendly pedestrian environment between shops, restaurants, hotels, apartments and clubs.”
The $4.1 million project kicked off two years ago, when Waco hosted a four-day design workshop in which city representatives, downtown business leaders and Baylor University staff shared ideas about the new streetscape. The city then analyzed primary vehicular and pedestrian linkages, development characteristics, existing sidewalks and other features.
Measuring 9,600 linear feet, the project incorporates lighting, furniture, paving, signage, landscaping and other feature to help create an attractive and functional pedestrian environment. Work is under way, and residents already are seeing signs of transformation.
For example, as sidewalks are improved or replaced, they are inlaid with brick pavers and Texas stars that establish continuity yet provide some variation among the districts. Streetlights, trees and furniture have been installed, and the city has improved parking areas with the addition of pedestrian pathways and lighting.
Residents have responded favorably to the changes, as have developers. State and federal offices, hotels, loft apartments, restaurants and specialty shops have been added to Waco’s downtown, and even more enhancements are in the works. For example, state symbols may be integrated into the sidewalk design and correlated to a map of key city sites. The city also is installing a bicycle/pedestrian trail along the Brazos River to connect with the downtown improvements.
Finally, Waco residents and visitors will have a new place to relax and play when the city celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding in 2000. Heritage Plaza, which will connect the retail district to city hall, will be completed that year. Spanning 115,000 square feet, it will include fountains and shaded areas.
Waking the waterfront Balancing commerce with a sense of community is a recurring characteristic in local revitalization projects. Although new developments emphasize spaces that will entice commercial interests and the traffic they generate, they also incorporate elements that take the squeeze off pedestrians. As demonstrated in Lafayette, Glendale and Waco, such projects are changing the feel of downtown districts, ensuring that the public does not pass them by.
In Boston, officials are taking the pedestrian-friendly concept and extending it beyond the downtown perimeter to connect urban districts with some of the city’s nearby natural resources. The City of Boston Beach Access Plans will improve public access to the beaches and parks along the Boston Harbor coastline, as well as to the harbor islands.
The plans are backed jointly by Massachusetts, Boston and the Boston Harbor Association. With them, the parties intend to reintroduce the vitality of the waterfront to Boston’s urban neighborhoods.
Key elements of the plans include the Dorchester Project, which will connect and update pedestrian routes in the Dorchester Bay area, and the Long Island Project, which will open access to one of the harbor islands and create a new circulation route. Both projects emphasize convenience for pedestrians and cyclists.
The $5.2 million Dorchester Project comprises an area that is bordered by the University of Massachusetts to the north, an expressway to the west, Boston Harbor to the east and the Neponset River to the south. Existing pedestrian routes are disjointed and difficult to use, and the plan seeks to turn that around by connecting existing arteries and by introducing consistent design elements and signage.
When completed (a target date is not available), the Dorchester Project will provide a critical link in Boston’s HarborWalk, which was initiated in 1986. Extending from east Boston through Dorchester to the Neponset River and Greenway, HarborWalk eventually will connect 43 miles of public and private space via a network of continuous walkways and green spaces.
Along with the Long Island Project, the Dorchester Project ties into “Back to the Beaches,” a $30 million program to develop and restore 8.5 miles of urban shoreline and harbor beaches. Launched in 1993 by the city, Back to the Beaches is a long-term project, like Boston’s other beach-related ventures.
“The Boston Harbor waterfront is one the city’s most valuable recreation, cultural and educational resources,” says Lorraine Downey, director of Boston’s Environment Department. “Boston’s Beach Access Plans are an important component of HarborWalk and the Back to the Beaches programs. Together, these projects are providing access to and linking miles of open space along Boston Harbor.”
Similar to the Dorchester Project, phase 1 of the $8 million Long Island Project specifies enhancements to existing infrastructure. It focuses on a 214-acre island that is physically connected to Boston’s mainland but closed to the public. The project will open access to the island, which offers spectacular views of the city and Boston Harbor.
Additional phases for the Long Island Project call for design and construction of new facilities to create an extensive circulation route along the island’s shoreline. As in Dorchester, consistent design elements and sign-age are included in the plans, as are connections with Boston’s transportation network. Overall, the project is intended to create a direct, efficient intermodal transportation system and to strengthen recreational and cultural possibilities for the region.
There is no single way to revitalize downtowns; successful projects have included everything from streetscaping to reconfigurations of existing districts. However, cities across the country appear to be focusing on a need for pedestrian-friendly elements that create a sense of convenience, safety and community. And in doing so, they are stretching the old definitions of redevelopment and changing the urban landscape.
Chris Dimond is vice president/national director of urban design and planning for HNTB Corp., Kansas City, Mo.
In Ewing Township, N.J., the North Olden Avenue extension has been the economic backbone of the suburban community for years. The popular route connecting Ewing to employment destinations in Trenton has gradually evolved from a largely industrial area to a retail corridor lined with strip shopping centers, automobile dealerships, shops and additional commercial uses typical of old, dualized state highways.
However, in recent years, new highways have siphoned business away from the Olden Avenue corridor, damaging the area’s economy and increasing building vacancies. As a result, in 1997, the township’s economic development commission called for action that would revitalize the avenue and strengthen the commercial and industrial areas flanking the site.
The township’s planning board recommended redeveloping more than 500 acres of underused, commercially zoned property. The area included the town’s long-abandoned incinerator and more than 100 acres of inaccessible land.
In January, the Ewing Redevelopment Agency was created. “Our goal is the successful revitalization of the Olden Avenue area with as little disruption as possible,” says Judith Peoples, agency chairperson and a member of Ewing Township’s economic development commission. “We intend to accomplish this through redevelopment and tax incentive statutes.”
Working with Manalapan, N.J.-based Schoor DePalma, the Ewing Redevelopment Agency created a plan that it will submit to the public later this year. In the meantime, citizens are provided with an informal forum in which they can present development proposals and offer feedback and advice to the township’s planning and zoning board.
“Our plan provides detailed information about the redevelopment potential of the area,” says Dave Rose, chairman of the planning board and a member of the redevelopment agency. “It makes the township an active player in economic development.”
Downtown Parking Made Easy, a publication from New York-based Downtown Research & Development Center, offers case studies, illustrations, a pricing matrix and a list of contacts to assist local officials in implementing urban parking systems. Major points include: * Management options: revamping an old parking system, creating a new parking authority and forming a downtown parking district; * Parking design: creating outlying parking zones and shuttle systems, screened lots and garages, and on-street parking that maximizes space while calming traffic; * Shoppers vs. workers: ways to keep downtown employees from parking in prime spaces; and * Promotion: programs that incorporate parking validation, courtesy cards, free parking and holiday parking. More than 20 U.S. cities provide examples of their experiences in implementing programs that ensure convenient parking for downtown shoppers and other visitors. The publication costs $24.95, plus $5.50 for shipping and handling. Contact the center at 215 Park Ave. South, Suite 1301, New York NY 10003, (212) 228-0246; or fax to (212) 228-0376.
In the Dixwell section of New Haven, Conn., Elm Haven, 30-acre area of outdated, low-income houses is being razed and replaced with contemporary residences targeting low- and middle-income families. When completed in 2001 the revitalization project will provide housing for 355 families.
Planning for the $120 million project began in 1991 when residents, the Housing Authority of New Haven, Yale University and surrounding neighborhood organizations formed the Elm Terrace Development Corp. (ETDC). The group’s objectives were to renew the neighborhood and help public housing residents move toward self-sufficiency, economic independence and home ownership.
In 1995, ETDC received $45 million in federal funds as part of HUD’s HOPE VI program. (New Haven is one of six locations designated by HUD as pilot sites for replacing outdated public housing.) Those funds will pay for constructing a portion of the homes and for social programs in the neighborhood. Private investors and tax credits will provide the remaining money necessary for the project’s completion.
Additionally, the Wexler School, located adjacent to Elm Haven, is undergoing a $12 million renovation, which is being funded through New Haven’s school refurbishment program. Project backers expect the improved educational facilities to attract more working class families to the community.
Elm Haven’s demolition is under way, and contractors will break ground this summer. Bridgeport, Conn.-based Fletcher Thompson is the architect of record, and Boston-based Beacon Corcoran Jennison is the developer, site manager and construction manager.
According to the architect, the homes are being designed with common features, but each will have unique exterior elements to produce diversity in the streetscape. Each of the homes will have a front porch and a rear patio, and first floors will be elevated from thestreet.
New residences will include single-family homes, duplexes and townhouses with one- to four-bedroom configurations. (A three-story senior citizens’ residence will feature single-bedroom apartments.) The project will allow for ownership, rental and rent-to-own options.
New signs in Bethesda, Md., organize the city’s downtown into five districts and serve as parking and navigational aids for motorists. The 283 signs, which cost $265,000 to fabricate and install, are the first phase of “Way-finding,” a program designed to make metropolitan Bethesda more user-friendly.
“Downtown Bethesda is a tremendously exciting and thriving commercial area,” says Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan. “New signage will help strengthen the area’s identity and, most importantly, make it more customer-friendly for persons in search of parking and other facilities or services.”
Created by Bethesda Urban Partnership, the group that maintains and promotes Bethesda’s commercial district, the Wayfinding system consists of four sign types. It includes: gateway signs that greet motorists entering the city; trailblazer signs, which are located at key intersections to direct visitors to public parking and the major districts; parking signs; and street blades, or coordinated street signs.
“Wayfinding gives clear directions to each of the five districts, making it easy for motorists to reach their destinations and find parking,” says Carol Trawick, chairperson for Bethesda Urban Partnership. The second phase of the project, which is still in the conceptual stage, will focus on pedestrian improvements and signage for cultural and historical sites.