The community is invited to join urban planning expert Dan Burden for an event June 6 that is in part an open-air, on-foot assessment of an evolving commercial-residential district, the Heights.
Through what is known as a walk audit, City of Hood River officials hope to glean ideas on how to make the Heights a better place. “The Heights Walkshop” is scheduled for 5-8:30 p.m. at the Hood River Armory, 1590 12th St.
Walking audits are reviews of street corridor conditions, downtowns or neighborhoods for walking, bicycling, safety, traffic flow and speed.
Burden’s “Walkshop” will provide input to the City of Hood River and Oregon Department of Transportation on ways to make the Heights a safer, more pleasant place to walk, shop, live and work, according to organizer Heather Staten.
“This event will help get all the right people in the room,” said Staten, executive director of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee. The “Walkshop” is being made possible by an $18,000 grant from the committee and The Oregon Community Foundation.
“For residents and business owners who know the neighborhood well, this is a chance to view familiar streets through a new lens, and share the experience with others who are passionate about creating and maintaining a safe, walkable, bikeable and healthy community in the Heights,” Staten said.
Burden, director of inspiration and innovation for Bluezones, was recognized by the White House as one of the top ten Champions of Change in Transportation, and leads the company in reinventing streets, neighborhoods and towns with walkability and bikeability solutions. He is the nation’s most recognized authority on walkability, bicycle and pedestrian programs, street corridor and intersection design, other people first city planning elements, according to Staten.
Starts at 5 p.m. on June 6 at the Armory. Spanish translation will be available and food and drinks will be provided.
The “Walkshop” will begin at 5 p.m. with a presentation showing best practices for a people-friendly built environment, followed by a walking tour of the Heights, led by Burden, doing a loop of 12th and 13th streets between Belmont and May Street. Following the walk audit, participants will divide into table groups to identify opportunities to transform local streets so they better support businesses and people by foot, bike, transit or vehicle.
The “Walkshop” is designed to “advance City of Hood River efforts to improve community health through infrastructure improvements that support walking and biking,” according to Staten.
Hood River planning goals for the Heights seek to transform the district into a place that not only serves the needs of people in vehicles, but also better meets the needs of people walking and biking, and neighbors such as residents and local business, emergency responders and freight movement, while infusing health, economics, sustainability and community building into the 21st century city-making process.
The concept of taking human scale, hands-on planning to the street was first made popular by Burden in the early 1980s. Burden was then working as the state pedestrian and bicycle coordinator in the Florida Department of Transportation. He had learned that engineers designing streets and intersections that would impact the health and well-being of people who lived or walked through these areas had often never walked the corridors they were designing. Some admitted they had designed dozens of intersections without once trying to cross the street themselves. Early walking audits focused mostly on how to make places more traversable by foot or bike. But today the same tool explores block form, street connectivity, building placement, building transparency, edges, gateways, maintenance, snow removal, parks, open space, on and off-street parking, security and dozens of other town-making topics.
The City of Hood River created an Urban Renewal District for the Heights in 2011 to create a source of funding for projects to improve the streetscapes, livability, economy and beauty of the Heights.
Crash data from the Oregon Department of Transportation show that intersections in the Heights are the most dangerous in the City of Hood River; 12th and 13th streets also double as State Highway 281, which leads to some real challenges, according to Staten.
In addition to the Heights Walkshop, Burden will also be working with Hood River County School District to produce Safe Routes to Schools Action Plans for May Street Elementary, Westside Elementary and Hood River Middle School.
For more information on the Walkshop, contact Staten at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-490-5225.
The Oregon Community Foundation seeks to improve lives for all Oregonians through the power of philanthropy. The foundation makes grants through a competitive application process that involves local citizens in the review and evaluation of requests for funds.
TWO-WAY TRAFFIC AGAIN? HEIGHTS DISTRICT VISIONS
Over the past year, the Hood River Urban Renewal Advisory Committee (URAC) has been formulating recommendations for prioritizing improvement projects that could be done within the Heights Urban Renewal District.
Last month the URAC presented to city council its recommendations, developed after a series of public meetings in 2017, on priorities for projects to consider in using URD property tax revenue that has been accruing since 2011 (currently at approximately $622,000).
URAC chairman Jack Trumbull stressed that no decisions have been made, and that the proposals are intended as a launchpoint for further discussion.
The recommended priorities are:
Evaluate re-establishing two-way traffic flow on 12th and 13th streets. The committee stated that “to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety and enhance a more local business-friendly atmosphere, (the city) is requested to work with ODOT to evaluate a possible return to two-way traffic.”
Develop a project, or projects, to place utility lines underground. The main focus would be on 12th and 13th between Belmont and May streets.
Develop a series of related streetscape improvements to include various traffic calming features that enhance pedestrian and bicycle friendliness.
Suggestions under item include bump-outs at street corners for pedestrian crossings, decorative features, improved street lighting, improved decorative building facades, diagonal parking on side-streets.
Traffic was two-way on 12th and 13 up until the early 1980s.
City Manager Steve Wheeler acknowledged that item 1 is “a big ask, and not something that can easily happen, but there’s a lot of interest in it.”
URAC members are Trumbull, Jody Behr, Abby Capovilla, Kelly Emerson, Patricia Gates, Tina Lassen and Pat McAllister. They developed their priorities after working with consultant Elaine Howard.
URAC’s next meeting, open to the public, will be June 21 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. Trumbull said he expects that the two main points of discussion will be the “Walkshop,” which he and other URAC members will participate in, and a recap of the recommendations presented to city council.
— Kirby Neumann-Rea