Does A Tunnel Help Us Put The ‘Park’ Back into the ‘Parkway’?
One upcoming issue that might be addressed at tonight’s Downtown Development Authority meeting, Friday at the Parks and Recreation meeting and, according to the Record Eagle, very soon at a City Commission meeting (behind paywall) is the proposed pedestrian tunnel from Garland St. (warehouse district) to the Open Space. Let’s call it the people-tunnel.
The people-tunnel received a mention in the Bay Front Plan, however, there wasn’t consensus or even a vote on it. In fact, it wasn’t recommended by the traffic engineer tasked with addressing accessibility issues along and across Grand View Parkway. The people-tunnel, however, has been in the long-term plans of the DDA and it tends to have default acceptance by most people, particularly city commissioners eager to see something accomplished and get people out-of-the-way of motorized traffic. I’m afraid, the latter occurs because it’s difficult to imagine anything ever being done to change the characteristics of the 4-lane trunk-line that bisects the City from the waterfront. Making certain we have a nice view of the bay when we drive remains a perceived priority.
Raising The Tunnel Above Ground
There’s no one more interested in providing comfortable and convenient access for people to get to the bayfront than me, however, I’m uneasy with spending $1,000,000 (+/-) on a people-tunnel to channel us underground in a single 15-foot wide place. The concept counters recommendations by the engineering consultant hired for the Bayfront Plan, because it narrowly addresses the overall issue and avoids the goal:
“Putting the Park Back into the Parkway.”
Focus is needed on creating a sense of place along the entire waterfront by ameliorating the negative impacts of motor vehicles by reducing noise, pollution and speeds. There are short-term and long-term at-grade recommendations in the Bayfront Plan that 1) need to be considered a priority before a tunnel and 2) if there remains wide support for a tunnel, at-grade level recommendations need to be considered simultaneously to its design & construction. If we don’t begin implementing the recommendations for Grandview Parkway, 10…20…30-years from now the community we will be asking similar questions that we ask today: why did they put a highway along the bay and why is nothing being done!
There Are Positives To a People-Tunnel, But…
Herding the people underground would separate some from the motorized traffic, namely the hotel clientele & other people already on Garland St. Theoretically, it will also help those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers, if they happen to be near there. However, it is only beneficial in one, very narrow, location.
Despite the risks, people on foot and bike will likely continue to use Union St. and Hall St. to cross Grandview after the tunnel is built, because these direct routes are the most convenient options for most users. The easiest demographic to imagine ignoring the tunnel are teenagers parking on Hall St.: motorized traffic on Grandview Parkway simply isn’t busy enough to make playing Frogger impossible. If the next step is to put up fences, that will only further delay the main goal of calming.
Other efforts to change the character of this section of Grandview Parkway, like enhanced crosswalks, street edge enhancements, and properly designed modern roundabouts support the longer term goal of the community to transform the character of the entire bayfront and allow greater access across the entire route. How far would $1,000,000 go towards this end? (It needs to be noted that the City is planning for a mid-block crossing further west on the parkway connecting Elmwood Ave. to the bayfront–that needs to be commended and supported.)
The cost to build the tunnel well and in a way that attracts people is proposed at around $1,000,000. The City can fund this by capturing the taxes from the new Indigo Hotel. What I haven’t seen are estimates for is how much it is it to maintain the tunnel (lighting, drainage, upkeep and added security) as a year round, unlocked, accessible and inviting hole in the ground.
The question, and its a good one, has also been raised about why the hotel isn’t contributing any direct investment to the tunnel. As well, why is the tunnel a priority when it is bathrooms near the volleyball courts that have been a major community desire. Perhaps a reconstruction of the west side of the Open Space, including new bathrooms, could be funded by the hotel as part of the tunnel package.
Proceed With Intent
I have no doubt that tunnels can be done well and have their place, but I’m not convinced that this is such a place. Grandview, although a state trunk-line, still runs through a city and is next to valuable parkland, parkland that we are trying to make world-class. As such, for the 2-4 mile long section through the city, we can require that it’s character meet our community’s needs. In places, posted speeds already meet our needs, but throughout the corridor the street is designed for speeds above what is suitable for a parkway.
We have an opportunity to begin designing the parkway for efficient, but slower and calmer traffic. Whatever direction the DDA and the City makes regarding this people-tunnel, I trust that the decision makers will keep the larger goal in mind: accentuating and creating an amazing place for people. Above ground.
Comments: we welcome your comments, please don’t be shy. The more questions, perspectives and general participation we have here the better. What’s on your mind?