Preliminary, preliminary plans are in place for changes on Jackson Avenue. Rick Emmett hosted a meeting which included a presentation by Kassie Holmes of CDM Smith Engineering regarding plans for Jackson Avenue from the eastern end of the viaduct crossing Gay Street to Patton Street just on the other side of the James White Parkway from Barley’s and the Old City. CDM is joined on the project by CRJA Landscape Architects.
The focus of the project, according to Ms. Holmes is to make the area more pedestrian friendly by making the pedestrian experience safer and more enjoyable. In her initial comments she mentioned “traffic calming” and “cleaning up the area.” I’m all for both of those, but I didn’t really hear much about traffic calming, though it’s possible some features address that and I just didn’t understand enough to catch it.
Other concerns will be addressed, as well, such as an evaluation of the parking situation, drainage issues and sidewalk issues such as obstructions and width. Also considered will be pedestrian crossings and landscaping. The hope appears to be that the utilities can be placed underground and mailboxes, garbage cans and other obstructions can be removed. The sidewalk would also be widened in spots where it is unacceptably narrow.
This is all complicated by many variables. For example, developer Jon Clark will soon begin work on his newly acquired properties along that stretch. Formerly housing John H. Daniel, the buildings need to be accessed from Jackson Avenue during the same time frame as the streetscape project. The buildings occupy most of a city block along the improvement route. The two projects hopefully will coordinate well, but it’s a complicated matter. Also, like most city streets, there are mysteries that lie beneath them. What’s there won’t be completely known until it’s uncovered.
The first phase will only include the stretch from the viaduct to Central Street and the hope is that it will begin next year. Interestingly, that is the same time table for the changes set for the 700 block of Gay Street Project. I thought of that during the meeting and it seemed that would be a lot to do at once, then a friend pointed out that redevelopment of the western end of Jackson is set for the same time and that a year later the entire viaduct is set to have extensive rebuilding. It’s a lot to coordinate and get right.
The second phase will pick up at Central Street and go east to just pas the James White Parkway with the same set of intentions. It isn’t clear whether the intersection of Central and Jackson gets the makeover with phase one or phase two.
The next step will be to take comments until late summer and refine the plan and bring it back to a similar meeting Presumably, the next step would be finalizing plans and lining up the work.
A representative of Central Parking was on hand to announce plans – which begin right away – to improve the parking lot on the 100 block of west Jackson – right in the middle of the new streetscape plans. The representative said that drainage issues would be addressed and the lot would be beautified and pedestrian entrances and exits would be improved for safety. She also made a point to note that enforcement changes were coming to their practice of booting. It’s a complaint that neighboring businesses have had for quite sometime, with reports of people being booted when they only left long enough to get money to pay for their space.
Several people made suggestions or asked questions. Additional support for parking bicycles was requested and Rick said that would be a consideration, but that the loading areas needed by the businesses along that stretch would have to be accounted for. Another person asked that the stone curbs be preserved if at all possible as they are historically significant. I’ll admit I think they add a lot to a street. I first paid attention to them in Paris where I though they were beautiful.
One person expressed concern at how long the street might be closed. Very general speculation was six to eight months with the hopes that one side could be open during most of the work. Another person suggested that the roads should be closed to automobiles at night in any case to allow a pedestrian area through the heart of the Old City. This did not meet with much encouragement.
Rick referred to one other concern he’d heard. Apparently some people want to retain the above-ground utilities because it makes the Old City seem a little more edgy. I suppose it was a concern regarding gentrification. Rather than see it as gentrification, I’d rather think about it as restoring the street view to what it might have been before the advent of electricity. A friend and I agreed that if a person wants more edgy, it may be time to consider hanging out in another part of the city because, clearly, change is coming soon to this part of town from every direction.