Street plan hits the ground rolling

Cars and pedestrians, sidewalks and streets. Plazas, benches, storefronts, trees.

Somewhere in the tangle of sometimes-competing components that make up an urban area, there lies a formula for a “livable” Winslow. How to find it – that’s the challenge.

“We study things to death here,” architect Peter O’Connor said, at a roundtable on Winslow planning Tuesday at city hall. “It’s time to stop studying, and get on with it.”

The roundtable was organized by the mayor’s office at the urging of O’Connor and architect Charles Wenzlau. The goal was not to come away with new strategies for a growing downtown, but to build support for a visual representation of current plans that will guide future improvements.

The effort was backed by some council members, squeamish about going ahead with road projects without a coordinated plan for Winslow traffic.

Five of seven council members and most planning commissioners took part Tuesday, joining local land use professionals and several downtown merchants. By the time all participants showed up, the roundtable numbered about 20, as did the gallery.

The freewheeling affair saw discussion of the challenges facing the Winslow core – frequently expressed as traffic and parking – as redevelopment occurs and more residents move in.

Dana Berg, a longtime Winslow merchant, said employees of many businesses continue to take up key parking spaces, she said, frustrating would-be customers. Others said they feared a generic downtown, overrun by franchises and a homogeneous “Anywhere, USA” look.

One model of success: Winslow Way, described as “one big crosswalk” where citizens make random social connections as they transact their daily business.

Angled parking there keeps vehicle speeds down, contributing to a feeling of pedestrian safety.

“Our largest traffic flow is on Winslow Way, and it’s our only traffic-calmed street,” O’Connor said. “And it seems to work pretty well.”

“It’s much better than Kingston, which has the ferry waiting line running down the main street,” Councilwoman Lois Curtis said. “Life could be worse.”

Derided as failures of progress and process, respectively, were Madison and Ericksen avenues.

On the former, the wide design contributes to high vehicle speeds, while planning for pedestrian improvements on the latter has led to an ongoing imbroglio between neighbors, city officials and council members.

O’Connor and others called for the development of “streetscapes” that are inviting for pedestrians, and make roadways and sidewalks part of the community’s social realm. Ideas included more awnings in front of businesses, benches and pedestrian islands.

A more inviting downtown, some argued, could contribute to the success of a parking garage envisioned just off Winslow Way.

“Perhaps by making a street a place where you can socialize, people won’t mind walking as much (to reach businesses),” O’Connor said.

Several attendees were buoyed by the success of the traffic roundabout at High School Road and Madison Avenue. The improvement was backed by pedestrian safety advocates, and approved in the face of widespread community criticism.

“There was an awful lot of controversy and you took at lot of flak,” O’Connor told city officials, “but you stuck to your guns.”

Bruce Anderson suggested that by taking a more “global” approach – looking at all Winslow streets at the same time, rather than piecemeal – residents might be more willing to make compromise in one area if they see benefits in another.

To that end, many envision a series of drawings and designs that would guide future project applicants and city staff the Winslow core fills out.

That, it is hoped, will make future pedestrian and road projects less contentious, as neighbors can visualize what their area will look like.

“It’s hard for lay people to translate these plans into something that ‘real’ in their minds,” O’Connor said.

Also in the works is a review of current planning documents, including the Winslow Master Plan and the new “bike/ped” plan, to find points of conflict.

O’Connor and Wenzlau are slated to meet with city planning and public works officials soon, to discuss the street plan’s next phase.

Review of current plans could be done by city staff or an intern, although sentiment seemed to lean toward hiring an outside consultant.

“The good news is, (a consultant) gets done faster,” public works Director Randy Witt said. “The bad news is, it costs more.”

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