Sunday, July 15, 2012

Streetscape -- The Big Picture

The following is an excerpt lifted from Village Council member Karen Wintrow’s weekly pre-meeting review of Council’s agenda for the next Council meeting (July 16). She goes into detail about the Streetscape discussion which will be a part of Monday’s meeting. I have Karen’s permission to post this on my blog and to Facebook.

Streetscape Discussion
It is often surprising to me how great passion and debate can arise unexpectedly for what is a very standard project and this is one of those times.  The question has been asked why we are moving forward with this project so quickly when the question should be how we could have considered sidewalk repair in downtown Yellow Springs without considering it as a holistic streetscape project.  We should be appreciative of having a manager with experience in this type of project who came in and immediately recognized that the situation we had with downtown trees, sidewalks and lighting was much more involved than simply removing a few sections of badly damaged sidewalk and being done with it.  Most infrastructure projects involve a number of components that are closely tied together and should be looked at holistically rather than as small individual projects.  For too many years we’ve been approaching projects in a piecemeal fashion and not considering the inter-relatedness of the individual components or the economy of scale of packaging projects so that we get the best project possible and don’t have to go back year after year to repair/replace individual items or worse, tear up work that we just paid for.

One of the major opportunities with the Xenia Ave. project is that the individual issues/problems are all tied together so the resolution is best handled as a single coordinated project.  It all starts with the trees that have become such a point of debate.  The tree roots are causing sidewalk upheaval to the extent of actually pushing on building foundation walls.  In fact, the tree root system is so extensive that they will need to be surgically removed to prevent damage to water and gas lines.  This is a situation that will only get worse if the trees remain.  The trees are misshapen because they’ve been topped to accommodate the overhead electric wire and over-trimmed to accommodate vehicles on the street side and buildings on the sidewalk side.

As a result of everything I’ve read and my own observations, I believe the Bradford Pears on Xenia Ave. are totally inappropriate as street trees and should be removed.  Beyond the structural reasons I’ve already identified, there is extensive research provided by staff in this and last meeting’s packet and an excellent piece written by Master Gardener and Tree Committee member Macy Reynolds in the Yellow Springs Blog.  A follow-up by blog author Virgil Hervey supports the removal of the trees.

To spot repair egregious sidewalk deficiencies without getting to the root of the problem (pun intended) is short-sighted and not cost effective.  To prevent the need to top trees in the future and to prevent the line from being damaged by falling limbs, we are burying the overhead wire and providing individual conduits to the trees for future lighting opportunities.  To make it easier to access the buried wire, the use of a 24” band of permeable pavers along the curb edge makes sense and will provide better drainage for the new trees that will be planted in the fall.  The Village is looking to professional arborists and the Tree Committee to make recommendations on the new street trees.

Treating this project as an inter-related system also allows us to replace the very old, damaged highway-scale lighting fixtures through our downtown.  They are of a height and design that might do a good job lighting the street but not the sidewalk.  There is nothing attractive, distinctive or eclectic about these fixtures and replacing them with fixtures that are pedestrian-scale, distinctively styled and provide better lighting to both the street and sidewalk only makes sense.
Another inter-related part of the project involves the adjustment of parking spaces north of the Emporium that are now 3’ longer than the rest of the spots in town.  By developing a uniform standard of 21’, we’re able to gain a spot and develop a consistent pattern to the parking.  We won’t be changing the size or location of any of the HC spots.

Continuing on with how this all works as a system, the striping of the parking spots determines the location of the trees and lights so that we have them located at the end of the spaces rather than in the middle where they can damage cars and make it difficult for folks to get out of their cars.  A further point on the location of the street lights is that they are being placed at important connection/access points such as Kieth’s Alley and the Emporium/Senior Center open space.

This work will also provide an opportunity to do some other infrastructure improvements like the upgrade of the sewer line at Glen and Xenia serving Town Drugs, the IOOF space and Sunrise Café.  This will resolve an issue that has been troubling and costly to both the Village and these businesses.

If other opportunities present themselves as the work progresses, we will be able to tackle them at that time providing a valuable benefit to both the Village in terms of being able to replace underground infrastructure when the space is open and for the businesses who will be getting improved infrastructure for a fraction of the cost and problem of an emergency repair.

We will also be getting new trashcans to replace the outdated, non-functional and just plain ugly aggregate ones we have.  There are hopes that we can intersperse some art cans like the one done by Beth Holyoke and Kathi Seidl in front of Current Cuisine and they’re looking for individuals or businesses to sponsor them.  Street furniture and bike racks will be addressed with individual businesses.  There is also a plan to add at least one bike rack for on street bike parking.

Regarding the bumpout(s) that received some attention at the last meeting, clarification was provided by the contractor and landscape architect that bumpouts are not possible because of engineering issues with the street.  The crown of Xenia Ave is so high that if a bumpout was added, the street edge of the bumpout would nearly die into the pavement without an adequate curb presenting a dangerous situation.  Additionally, the bumpout would present drainage issues as the water would be prevented from flowing down the street to the manholes and would cause a dumping place for leaves and debris.  Because bumpouts are more tied to street engineering than sidewalks, they can be considered at the time of the next repaving of Xenia Ave.  Regarding Street Fair, with bumpouts the layout would need to be changed.  Street Fair is laid out with the booths in the middle of Xenia Ave. for a very specific reason, to make the local shops more visible and accessible to fair-goers.  With bumpouts, the booths would be moved to the edges of the street to allow proper passage of vendor and safety vehicles which would eliminate the wide pedestrian access to local business.

Regarding input into the process, this isn’t a complex project and I believe there have been adequate opportunities for input.  Local businesses have been visited, many several times, two presentations have been made by Laura at Merchant meetings and she has been available for meetings when called.  I have had several discussions with local businesses that has helped to inform my position and while there might not be unanimous support for this project, I believe that a majority understand the rationale for the project and support the end result as being positive for downtown and their businesses albeit the temporary inconvenience of construction.  And this will have been discussed in at least four Council meetings before adoption providing several opportunities for citizens to have input.

In conclusion to a very long explanation, this project is long overdue.  A streetscape plan was recommended by Eric Swansen 6 years ago and I’ve asked for it to remain in our budget but with no real wherewithal to complete it.  I appreciate that we have a manager with the insight, drive and commitment to recognize a problem, identify the solution and move to get the work done within months of starting the job.  This holistic and forward-thinking process is how we should be tackling all of our projects as it will result in more comprehensive and cost-effective solutions for the community.  This isn’t about design standards or creating a cutesy downtown, this is about enhancing the streetscape and allowing the storefronts to be the focus.  The Village has a responsibility to maintain our infrastructure in a safe and functional manner and I can’t think of a project that is more connected to economic development than improving the appearance, function and safety of our signature central business district.