Last month we hosted “Making the Most of Main Street: Complete Streets & Walkable Communities”, the fourth installment in our monthly webinar series, Implementation & Equity 201: The Path Forward to Complete Streets. A recording of the webinar is now available above. You can also download the PDF of the presentation, or read the brief recap below.
A discussion recap
“Making the Most of Main Street” featured the stories of walkable main streets around the country. Ian Thomas, State and Local Program Director at America Walks, began the webinar by exploring how walkability can catalyze economic development in small, rural towns. He presented a case study of Batesville, AR, where a project to revitalize Main Street brought its downtown back to life. Previously, Batesville’s Main Street had high vacancy rates and a dangerous speeding problem. Under the leadership of Mayor Rick Elumbaugh, Batesville launched an initiative to make Main Street more attractive for businesses and residents alike. The city launched a zero-interest loan program for building improvements, organized community events, and implemented a road diet on Main Street, including widening sidewalks and adding landscaping, clearly marked crosswalks, and angled parking. As a result, Main Street’s vacancy rate dropped to 0 percent, and its downtown is now the thriving site of new restaurants and apartments as well as renovated theaters, libraries, and other community centers.
Next, Brigid Reynolds, Director of Community Development at the City of Langley, WA, and Lorinda Kay, Program Manager of the Langley Main Street Association shared the story of revitalizing Langley’s downtown. They first held community workshops to come up with a Complete Streets design for Second Street, one of the town’s main commercial avenues. To keep the street activated during the lengthy construction process, Langley held community events including prize drawings, gardening events, and “Monsters on Machines” where kids were invited to climb on and learn more about the construction vehicles. The project was so successful that now First Street is now undergoing a Complete Streets redesign as well, including making crosswalks more visible, widening sidewalks, improving lighting, and adding bike facilities to the street. The Washington State Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets grant program helped make possible much of Langley’s work to improve the character and vibrancy of their village with these ambitious corridor redesigns.
Learn more in St. Paul in September
To learn more about the many benefits of walkability and build skills to transform your own community, join America Walks and the National Complete Streets Coalition at the 2017 National Walking Summit this September in St. Paul, MN. This year’s topic is “Vital and Vibrant Communities: The Power of Walkability.”
We had so many great questions during the Q&A section of the webinar that we couldn’t get to all of them. Here are the answers to a few of the questions we missed.
Did you hold community meetings to gather support prior to the decision to make street changes that made these main streets more walkable/bikeable?
Ian Thomas: Yes, absolutely. It is important to have as broad as possible a community engagement process in order to get the design right and head off possible opposition later. Community meetings are a very important component, especially if you can be thoughtful about the time, location, and format to make them as accessible and inviting as possible for the stakeholder you want to engage. Other strategies include social media campaigns, online surveys, and having a presence at events organized by other groups.
Brigid Reynolds: Langley held several community meetings to gather input for the project. As Ian said, this is one of the most important steps to gain support for a project. Business and building owners as well as residents were invited to the meetings to learn more about the benefits of the project, including case studies of other areas and how it improved the economy by creating more visitors. We also held door-to-door meetings with business and building owners and posted information on the City website with updates and schedules.
What were the greatest challenges you faced when engaging the community and how did you overcome them?
BR: The biggest challenge from the community was the loss of parking spaces with the new design for Second Street. To overcome this the city planner completed a parking study illustrating the number of spaces available and several underutilized parking spaces that were off Second Street. Education on the benefits of creating a more walkable community were offered in several public meetings, from safety, better quality of life and enhanced sense of place to boosting the economy, helping local businesses and creating a more beautiful town and more use of public space.
Who is responsible for maintaining the additional streetscape landscaping?
BR: The town of Langley has a non-profit organization called the Langley Main Street Association (LMSA), which is part of a state and nation-wide organization. One of the missions of this organization is to help lessen the burden on the City, and create a vital downtown. LMSA has taken on the responsibility of landscaping and maintaining the streetscapes through a large volunteer base and hired summer interns. In other cities, volunteers maintain the streetscapes. For example, Ellensburg, WA has a plaque at each section of the streetscape with the name of the volunteers who take care of that section. It could be business owners nearby or just citizen volunteers.
To what extent did the tourist economy play into your planning and work?
BR: Tourism is a significant part of Langley’s economy, and making improvements to the streetscape was as much about making it attractive to visitors as for residents.
What are the demographics of Batesville and Langley?
IT: The population of Batesville was 10,248 as of 2014. Its median household income is $37,150, and 17 percent of households are below the poverty line. About 9 percent of the population is non-white, and the main employment sectors are food processing, health care, and education.
BR: Langley is a small town, only one square mile in area. The average median age for Langley residents is 59 years. This is older than Island County at 43 years and the state of Washington at 37 years. The estimated median income was $53,097 as of 2015, which is $11,032 less than the state median household income.
Ian you mentioned a cultural vitality index. How is that calculated?
IT: The cultural vitality index looks at occupancy rates for commercial buildings (retail/restaurant/office), occupancy rates and rehabbing or new construction for residential units, number of employment positions, and (over longer time periods), sales, property and income tax collections, etc.
BR: For an example, here’s a snapshot of Langley’s cultural vitality index.
Join us for the next webinar
Thank you to our presenters and to everyone who tuned in to “Making the Most of Main Street: Complete Streets & Walkable Communities”. Our Implementation & Equity 201 webinar series will continue on June 29 with Rethinking First & Last Mile: Transit-Driven Complete Streets. Registration is now open. We hope you’ll be able to join us.