As promised, here’s a bit more readable version of my liveblog.
First of all, there were a lot of people at the Canal District Streetscape Project Hearing. (I would guess at least thirty people in the audience!) I came about ten minutes early, and there were already about ten people there, reviewing the diagrams and chatting with one another.
Second, I was really impressed with the plans for the Canal District. The main elements were:
1) Putting in lights that were more appropriate for smaller streets and pedestrians
2) Nice sidewalks with a colored band on the street side
3) Trees!! With ALB and business signage taken into consideration
4) Crosswalks with curb bump-outs (like you see on Shrewsbury Street), colored for prominence, with thought given to those with disabilities (ADA-compliant ramps, etc.)
5) Bike lane where possible
6) Samples of benches and trash receptacles, to be placed in appropriate places; also, bike racks near public parking lot
(At this point, I should note that I do not live anywhere near this area of the city, though my grandmother, like many other children of immigrants before and after her, was raised on “the Island”, as we refer to it in our family. So I’m approaching this purely from a “resident of Worcester who essentially stays at home because I use my young children as an excuse for my lack of a life” perspective. I have no emotional investment in Green Island/Canal District, and I don’t consider it my ancestral homeland.)
I’m disappointed that the only public hearing regarding this project was scheduled for a City Council meeting night. Not because I needed to hear politicians pontificating on how wonderful this project is, but because I think it would have done well for the relevant city councilors to hear some of the residents’ and business owners’ concerns, and because our news media is so limited that if there is a meeting conflict, as there was last night, there will be no full traditional media coverage of this hearing.
The design phase of the project will go into Spring/Summer 2010 and the construction phase is scheduled to take approximately 18 months, beginning in Summer/Fall 2010. The selected contractor will decide the street order, so they did not have any details about the timeframe for specific streets. The design firm, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, is involved with numerous projects in and around Worcester. Take from that what you will.
Some concerns that should be taken into consideration:
Lighting. Allen Fletcher pointed out that the lighting should be at a human scale (10 feet high or so). (A disclaimer: I am almost as fond of Allen Fletcher as I am of Albert Southwick. Fletcher is an acquaintance of my husband’s, though he doesn’t know me from Adam, and I certainly don’t think that the Canal should be reopened and water should flow down any streets that I drive down on an occasional basis.) Chris Benders’ concerns about light pollution and that the light from lamps should be directed downwards as much as possible should also be taken into consideration. Selim Lahoud had asked whether solar-powered lights would be possible; though it seems like they were considered and the technology was not up to snuff, I think this should be something investigated in other future projects involving lighting.
Side streets will not be touched by this project. Because this project is using federal transportation dollars, it can only impact major thoroughfares (Harding, Green, Winter, Millbury, Temple). Can the city use this as an opportunity to make sidewalk and street improvements so that the side streets don’t stick out when this project is complete?
Sidewalks that have already been improved. Selim Lahoud mentioned that he had made numerous improvements to the front of his property, including plantings and sidewalk improvements. I didn’t get the sense that there was a plan for what to do with these kinds of situations. Personally, I think there’s a benefit to have everything look similar, but I also hate to see money wasted, and perhaps they can exclude those areas that have been improved. More analysis definitely needs to be done on this. (This is also the point where I sadly point out that I now agree with Paul Clancy — see the 7.32 mark — on just about everything.)
Kelley Square is hostile to pedestrians. I know this isn’t a news flash for anyone. Making Kelley Square pedestrian-friendly is not being considered in the scope of this project. As with the side street situation, perhaps this is an opportunity for the city to make improvements to Kelley Square and pedestrian accessibility.
Crosswalk colors. Jo Harte had mentioned perhaps having a distinctive color scheme for crosswalks. I think this might be good (as opposed to the standard red-brick-in-the-crosswalk.) I suppose it depends on the vision – do we look at this as a distinctive district of the city, or as one aspect of a greater whole? Also, if we choose a distinctive color scheme, will that cost more, and will it be difficult to replace if there’s any damage or need to expand onto other streets?
Wayfinders and public art. I have to confess that I have no idea what is going on with the Wayfinder thing in Worcester. But if we’re talking about making this more pedestrian-friendly, the Wayfinder thing makes a lot more sense here than having one tacked onto the end of the cobblestones at Federal Square. But we have a real opportunity here for putting in some nice, human-scale public art. I hope we don’t look at this five years down the road as a missed opportunity.