Last week the process of making Grand more sustainable, pedestrian friendly and giving it a unique identity started with a design workshop.
“The point of this project is to come up with a street-scape design for Grand Avenue that supports the economy of the street,” said Leslie Dornfeld, an Environmental Protection Agency consultant. “We want to ensure all modes of transportation are workable and we also want to make it more sustainable, reduce temperatures and provide shade.”
The EPA, the city of Phoenix, the Grand Avenue Merchants’ Association and community members from the area gathered at Bragg’s Pie Factory last Tuesday through Thursday to produce potential design plans for the avenue.
The Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Phoenix submitted an application to the EPA’s Greening America’s Capitols program to have a team of consultants come to Phoenix and talk to the community to create design plans.
“They help communities start to develop new green concepts for the city,” said Lyssa Hall, Greening Lower Grand Avenue project manager at the City of Phoenix. “The EPA provides funding to hire consultants to do public outreach and provide feedback.”
The design workshop was mostly focused on hearing community members’ opinions about what they want and don’t want for the street. The EPA consultants pitched ideas and observed the reaction. They then made a document for the city to use to find funding.
“The initial phases of the process include asking the community what modifications they would like to see. The scope is fairly small — how can we change the street scape?” Hall said.
The project will focus on four areas of intervention: mobility, economy, sustainability and a combination of community, culture and design. The project is also interested in creating a unique identity for the area.
“On Grand, the buildings are built up to the sidewalk, which creates a different feeling, but I think it’s a feeling most people are interested in preserving,” Dornfeld said.
The community is interested in conserving historic buildings, providing better lighting for safety and identity, providing opportunities for public art, harvesting rainwater and planting appropriate plants for the climate and space, Dornfeld said.
Beatrice Moore, steering committee member for the Grand Avenue Merchants’ Association, thinks an identity can be created without making major modifications to the street, she said.
“You don’t need to make big changes. If you do something too dramatic, it can ruin (the street) because it makes it fake,” Moore said.
Dornfeld said the community could put a gateway portal over the roadway that is some sort of celebration to say “Hey, we’re coming into a different place.”
The consultants received positive feedback when they suggested creating hubs of activity along Grand where people could have patios and places for art, Dornfeld said.
Because the project currently has no funding sources, the community probably will not see anything built for 10 to 20 years. But from the preliminary workshop, Hall said she hopes they can start doing small, simple things with the community to start changing the street.
“If the community decides they want more of a complete street and urban core, the changes for that to happen can take a long time,” Hall said.
Keeping people engaged in the project when it might last for an extended period of time is one of the difficulties Hall said the city might face. But before construction starts, there will be another set of public meetings.
Hall said the modifications will be limited because they have to cater to the high volumes of commuter traffic on Grand Avenue.
“Phoenix is still a car friendly city,” Hall said. “If we go to a more walkable area, how successful will it be?”
Large construction projects can make it difficult to keep businesses successful because they often lose street traffic. But the EPA consultants suggested small modifications like changing the chain-link fencing to something more visually appealing to transform the street, re-striping to give the street a whole new disposition, adding permanent parking, continuing to host events so people will come and see the changes and approaching property owners about landscape solutions.
“The idea is that we would work with what’s existing and do small design modifications. The hope is the improvements would help spur economic development while not hurting existing businesses,” Hall said.
Community members are not sure how most of the industrial businesses feel about the project because they often do not stay involved in the community. Some of the industrial businesses are only on Grand because they have always been on Grand, Moore said.
“The industrial (businesses) aren’t really against it but probably don’t care. They would get more business if people felt safer,” Moore said. “Some property owners fear if it’s more fixed up, they’ll get pushed out or they’re afraid of their rent going up or their property tax going up.”
The EPA consultants also sketched designs for a three-lane roadway with bike lanes and parking on both sides, and a four-lane roadway where the center turn lane would be eliminated. There would be bike lanes on both sides and parking on the south side.
Hall said the community is pushing for a trolley line that would go up and down the street with the trolley museum at the end of line, which would work best with the three-lane road option, but could also work with the four-lane option. Everything will just be tighter and closer together with the four-lane option, Dornfeld said.
Bob Graham, principal architect and owner of Motley Design Group, said the process of the design workshop was “fabulous” but wanted more emphasis on the trolley line.
“I am almost speechless that no mention in any of the presentations included trolley transit. This is not really what I was looking for. Please, let’s at least recognize and show one plan with some tracks in the street,” Graham said.
Hall said the concepts and ideas from the design workshop will be shared with similar programs throughout Phoenix, including the Reinvent Phoenix Program, which, according to the City of Phoenix media center, will promote development along the light-rail line.
The Grand Avenue area used to be part of the federal Weed and Seed program, Hall said. According to the program website it removes violent criminals and drug abusers and then introduces human resources and neighborhood-restoration programs.
“(The Greening Lower Grand Avenue project) can continue to seed the revitalization of the community and see it reach its full genetic potential,” Hall said.
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