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Merchant on mission to make downtown Oxford more walkable



Walkability
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Anna Taylor, owner of Pink & Charlie, wants to make downtown more friendly for pedestrians as opposed to trucks. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
October 13, 2010 - Between the deafening noise and speeding traffic, downtown Oxford isn't exactly the most inviting place to take a leisurely stroll while doing some window shopping.

But Anna Taylor is on a mission to change all that and make downtown a safer, friendlier place for folks who aren't traveling via motorized vehicle.

"We've gotten to the point where we have healthy, successful businesses in town and I think that one of the things we definitely need to improve on right now is our pedestrian traffic," she said. "Our pedestrian traffic's not healthy. We need to do something to improve that perception."

Taylor, who owns Pink & Charlie (14 S. Washington St.) and serves on the Downtown Development Authority board, is working to get the village government and DDA involved in the Complete Streets movement.

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Complete Streets policies aim to ensure that when engineers and planners design or renovate roadways, they do so to accommodate all users, not just motorists. These other users include pedestrians of all ages, bicyclists and people with disabilities.

On Aug. 1, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed a pair of Complete Streets bills into law. These laws mean the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is now required to consider all roadway users in all phases of road project planning, development and construction.

Under the laws, cities, villages and townships will be encouraged to consider Complete Streets principles when updating their master plans.

"It's no longer a matter of just pushing motorized vehicles up and down a road," Taylor said.

As a merchant and DDA board member, Taylor believes increasing downtown's walkability is key to increasing economic development and making the business community more prosperous as opposed to simply "surviving."

She noted how the downtown vision plan that the village had done for it back in 2006 clearly stated the community "must 'take back' Washington Street (M-24) as a central component of the village pedestrian fabric."

"Modifications must be made to the cross sections of Washington Street so that traffic is slowed down, pedestrinity ans can safely move throughout the village and shops and businesses can thrive because of a new and healthy village atmosphere," the vision plan stated.

Right now, Taylor said the walkability in downtown Oxford is "quite lacking."

"What I noticed when I moved in here is that people were parking in the back, coming in the store, buying something and leaving (in their vehicles)," Taylor explained. "They're using the back of the businesses and the parking, which is fantastic, however, you don't see a healthy, vibrant walking community in the downtown. And it's really obvious that it's because of the road (M-24). It's not the most hospitable environment."

Between speeding cars and large trucks slamming on their brakes, she said many people don't feel safe walking or crossing the street. On top of that, "the noise is awful."

"People do not treat this like it's a small downtown because it's been designed to move thousands and thousands and thousands of cars and trucks through here a day."

But make no mistake, Taylor is not saying she wants to get rid of all the traffic.

"We don't want the traffic to go away," she said. "The traffic is a blessing. The traffic brings business.

"We just want it safe for our pedestrians. We want it quieter and calmer, so that when they are experiencing the downtown, they're not afraid and they don't feel like they're going to be blown off the sidewalk. We want them to be able to have a conversation with one another (on the street)."

To that end, Taylor and the DDA will be encouraging the village council to adopt a resolution in support of Complete Streets.

So far, nine Michigan governments, including cities and counties, have adopted such resolutions while two communities have passed ordinances.

She reviewed sample resolutions from other communities and Taylor noted "it doesn't lock you into anything."

It merely states that "where feasible" the community will look at how it can accommodate non-motorized traffic. "What can we do to make it more comfortable for that pedestrian to move through the village?" she said.

When it comes to calming traffic, Taylor indicated there are a number of things that can be done from constructing medians and narrowing the roadway to marking crosswalks with different colors.

"It forms a visual perception in drivers' minds that they're moving into an area that is a pedestrian area," she explained. "You're visually giving them the impression that they're moving through an area in which they need to slow down."

Taylor has made a request to MDOT that a walkability audit of downtown Oxford be conducted next year to determine things such as "how and where are pedestrians are crossing" and "how fast is our traffic moving."

In order for all this to work, Taylor wants the community to get involved in the discussion and give their input.

"What is your shopping experience downtown? Would you walk if it was more accommodating? Are you okay with the status quo or does there need to be some changes?" she said. "These are questions we want to ask our community and see how we can improve upon things."

Dan Burden, the nation's most recognized authority on walkability and other road/pedestrian planning elements, will be giving a presentation for the Oxford community from 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10. The location has yet to be determined.

To learn more about Complete Streets, please visit the state website www.michigancompletestreets.org or the national website www.completestreets.org.

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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