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Citizen input sought for streetscape



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November 02, 2011 - Citizens from all walks of life are being encouraged to attend an open house and give their thoughts on what they would like to see incorporated into the new streetscape being designed for downtown Oxford.

"This is a big project," said Oxford Village Councilman Kevin Stephison, who also chairs the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board. "We need everyone's input on it, so we can make an informed decision."

The open house will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 16 from 4-7 p.m. at downtown's ArtCapsule Gallery & Frame (5 S. Washington St.). There will be a brief presentation at 4:30 p.m.

"I'd love to come in at 4 o'clock and find people standing on the street waiting to talk to us." Stephison said. "That would make the three hours fun and enjoyable."

Back in July, the DDA authorized spending $52,500 to develop a streetscape design that employs the principles of the Complete Streets concept, which basically means redesigning the downtown to make it more pedestrian-friendly and help slow motor vehicle traffic. The design is also supposed to make the downtown more visually appealing.

Officials hired the Lathrup Village-based Birchler Arroyo Associates and Grissim Metz Andriese Associates, of Northville, to design the street and sidewalk improvements, which include things like street furniture, lighting, landscaping and other various amenities.

"What can we do to make it more comfortable for people to walk around downtown and be able to patronize the businesses that are there," said Rod Arroyo, vice president of Birchler Arroyo Associates.

Stephison stressed this open house "is just pure information gathering."

"There is nothing that has been set in stone yet," he said. "This is the beginning stage. This is step A. We want to collect as much data as we can."

DDA officials met with streetscape planners Oct. 26 to discuss where they're at in the process and where they're headed.

The planners presented officials with a draft report detailing the findings of the walkability audit they conducted in downtown Oxford on Sept. 22. The audit was basically an assessment of the current pedestrian conditions downtown.

"We talked about what's working and what needs work," Arroyo said.

A copy of the draft audit report is supposed to be available for viewing on the DDA's website at www.downtownoxford.org.

Overall, Arroyo indicated the audit revealed the downtown area has some "really good bones" and "great historic buildings.

"But like any community, there's always things that maybe need a little bit of work and can be done a little bit differently," he said. "We're trying to identify some of those things."

Some of the things identified as "needs work" in the audit report include:

Washington St. between Broadway St. and Stanton/Dennison St.

n The lack of street trees, benches and other streetscape amenities.

n Several businesses have signs suitable for high speed vehicular traffic as opposed to signs that "more appropriately suit the context of downtown."

n The maintenance of the sidewalks and rights-of-way varies in this area; many portions are poorly maintained.

Washington St. between Stanton-Dennison St. to Burdick St.

n Many of the street trees are in poor condition, offering little in terms of shade or color.

n Curb cut on the west side of Washington St., likely intended for deliveries, leads into the street and is unsafe for pedestrians.

n Street furniture is showing signs of age, particularly rust.

n Some of the brick pavers are lifting, resulting in uneven pavement and detracting from the downtown appearance.

Washington St. between Burdick and East streets

n Curb damage at the major intersection highlights the problem with heavy truck volumes in this area.

n Some sidewalk areas in poor repair.

n Several parcels that could draw many people to this block are underutilized, including the museum and vacant land.

n Several ground floor businesses in this block, while filling needed services downtown, would be more appropriate on an upper floor so as to allow for additional retail and restaurant use.

Burdick St. between Mill and Washington streets

n There are several parking lots on Burdick that should be screened to improve the appearance of this streetscape. Parking lot trees should also be added.

n There is no pedestrian crossing at Mill St., although the sidewalks on Mill empty into Burdick.

Burdick St. between Washington St. and the village offices

n The parking area north of Burdick has no landscaping to soften its appearance and absorb stormwater runoff.

n The rear entrances of some businesses are worn and unattractive.

One of the most critical elements that needs to be added to the downtown streetscape are landscape barriers (or buffers) that separate pedestrians walking on the sidewalk from the traffic in the road.

"If you've got a physical barrier there, you'll feel more comfortable than you do right now and it will be more inviting," Arroyo said.

"That is the Number One focus we should get the most out of," said Sue Grissim, of Grissim Metz Andriese Associates.

In order to maximize available space on the sidewalks to accommodate the installation of landscape buffers, the planners recommended not constructing a center-median along Washington St. as had been previously discussed and getting rid of some, not all, of the on-street parking on M-24.

"Let's gather every inch we can and make this beautiful environment on the streetscape," Grissim said.

Arroyo noted there are areas where the on-street parking is under-utilized and "cuts into the pedestrian experience" (i.e. the sidewalk narrows at these points).

"This may be a case where, in certain areas, it may make sense to do that if you can enhance that landscape experience and provide a wider area and a safer area for pedestrians to experience," he explained. "We found, based on our observations, that your on-street parking isn't being used very heavily. Sometimes there's little peaks, but there's a lot availability there because people, I think, prefer to park behind the buildings because of the influence of the truck traffic."

Ron Rolando, who owns Great Lakes Mercantile and serves on the DDA's Economic Restructuring Committee, didn't like the idea of eliminating on-street parking.

"I'm very pro on-street parking," he said. "I think it shows people that there's people downtown. When it's hidden behind the stores, I don't think it shows that."

Utilization of the on-street parking depends on a number of factors from the time of day to the time of year, according to Rolando.

"It ebbs and flows," he explained. "Sometimes you can't find a single parking place on main street, whereas you go to the rear and find all kinds of them."

"I don't think we're suggesting that all on-street parking is going away," Arroyo responded. "Rather, it's strategically finding the locations where we can add the landscape buffering where it's needed. It's a balancing act."

The planners also identified several potential locations to install additional traffic signals including where Stanton and Dennsion streets intersect M-24; the intersection of East St. and M-24; the intersection of Mill and Burdick streets; and the intersection of Pontiac and Burdick streets.

There was also talk of a potential pedestrian signal to help folks cross W. Burdick St. in front of the village offices.

"It's important for pedestrians downtown to have a number of different places to feel safe crossing the major roadways," said Arroyo, noting ideally, such signalized pedestrian crossings should be no more than 200-400 feet apart for convenience.

"I know typically road agencies want to have signals spread apart as far as possible because it provides for a better continuity (for vehicles)," he said.

However, Arroyo pointed out that downtown Rochester has signals at every intersection "and traffic flows through there."

"You can time the signals, coordinate the signals, so that they work," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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