Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Do We Let This Go On?

I read recently where Council member Doug Martin was extolling the good times that he had on the latest CommerceLex trip to San Antonio, Texas. Many good ideas are attributed to these “investigative”trips. Some of which we have actually implemented and some are still on the sidelines.

That a number of those ideas remain just that, ideas, is somewhat explained by a Business Lexington article  which questioned our local taxing abilities and even our local commitment to pursuing an idea imported from other cities.

Both of these articles do well to help understand the confusion and frustration of all our residents who complain that we don't have a good array of urban amenities. I still read about those who ask “Where are the free museums?” or “Where can we go to do something fun with a family?” and “Why are the amusement parks so far away?” , but I don't have an answer. The thing is, the ideas which come back from these trips don't have the answer either.

I seem to be looking at finding the answers to, what I consider, a much better set of questions. Of all the ideas that our leadership has attempted to implement, all the civic improvements which were started (and “finished”), there is a mostly unperceived gap in our vision and our sense of finality. We get things kicked off and basically hope that folks will consider them complete.

My first case in point is the Fifth Third Cheapside Pavilion. The following thoughts come to mind: 

1) I keep hearing that there is more to do in terms of booth space along the old court house side of the space. Be it temporary or permanent stall space, it should complete the current space correctly. 

2) I remember the old arrangement, which had shade trees and plenty of well used public seating. Any seating now is reserved and controlled by the adjacent retail establishments and without any shade at all during noontime usage. 

3) The tree wells, ostensibly for the proper watering and feeding of the small trees, have become packed earth and a materials storage site during Thursday Night Live performances and smoking litter receptacles the rest of the time. One would have thought that they would compliment the rain garden planters of the new Main Street streetscape.

Speaking of the streetscape project, case in point number two. Since this was a project which included Federal funds, there had to be a definite end and we have seen it. But, to me, it looks like some unnecessary short cuts were taken. All of the decorative street lamps were taken down and reinstalled, some with extensive damage to the green enamel paint job. Simply reinstalling these 'less than beautiful” lampposts tends to detract from the finished look of the job.

There is also a portion of the decorative stone wall separating the sidewalk from a rain garden on West Vine which has been struck and damaged. Since it is outside of a building full of attorneys and generally they tend to care about appearances, should this not have been attended to before now? The law does say that the adjacent property owner is responsible for the sidewalk maintenance, even in the downtown area, does it not?

The way-finding signs, which I have complained of before, should have been installed during the streetscape project but followed by a good deal and there are places where it shows. There should have been a coordination of the contractors on locations of the bases which hold these signs but many time it just looks like the posts were jammed in helter-skelter. Even some other post completion construction work looks to mar the fine job done by the original contractors.

Case in point number three, an ongoing commitment to the status quo when there are massive changes in the surrounding area. For the most part, our downtown situation has changed for the better and that change has been well accepted. But some of the older, less noticed traditions apparently need to be retained. One of those recent traditions is that of delivery vehicles and where they may park.

Delivery vehicles used to have designated curbside locations for certain times of the day and, in general, many of the vehicles were small to moderate in size. They delivered to a handful of places and a somewhat limited quantity of products. There was a flow of vehicles moving down the primary streets, from block to block and taking up just so much space as necessary, then moving on.
Not so today. They use much larger vehicles and at times they tend to take much more room, whether there is available space or not. The vehicles are allowed to block crosswalks and pedestrian curb cuts or even entire lanes of the street during some peak travel times. Now that we have so many more bars and restaurants in the downtown area than in recent memory, can they be of greater number than during downtown's heyday? In my opinion, delivery vehicles are service vehicles and in performing their duties, should NOT be doing a dis-service to all else. I cannot understand why we continue to allow it.

One more case of “finish it and forget it” could be the Court House Plaza. Ten years or so after completion and multiple festivals where we have been tramping allover the grass, the smooth transition from grass to pavement appears to be fraying. Good sized metal or concrete junction boxes rise above the ground level and the irrigation heads stand quite proud of the grass in some spots. Here too, the tree wells are quite bare and are quick to accumulate trash and cigarette butts. A regular morning cleaning currently does some good, but is that the most efficient use of personnel?

Finally, the case of overall pedestrian movement in a downtown that is given high marks for walkability. Just having sidewalks, and especially new sidewalks, should not equate into high mobility scores. There are two other important factors to consider. One is to look at the ease of movement past the sidewalk landscape and furniture as well as the other pedestrians out there with you. The other is to look at the ease of locating your destination if you are a relatively new resident or a first time visitor.

Now that we have all of these new sidewalk amenities, we should be able to use them without impedance. There are three, possibly four, new segments of sidewalk and two of them intersect. Four if you count the renewed sidewalk of Triangle Park between Main and Vine. Any other pedestrian connections to these new segments are definitely showing their age with cracks and wrinkles.

I fully understand about the CentrePointe block and can overlook that since I expect something to change there soon, but all the other streets tend to need some sort of work. I also have pointed out that with the growth of Short St, that main and Vine are not the only, or major, walking areas of town. The Cheapside Park and Court House pavement seem to be the only well maintained walkways on the north side of Main. 
When we add in the sidewalk dining spaces, which can become a sprawling intrusion at times, and the attendant umbrellas dipping to just over six feet high, making your way through the required 4 foot pathway can become difficult for taller folks.

Not all restaurants will place their tables either next to the building or next to the street in order to leave this 4 foot space, some will occupy the full center of the walkway. I would like to see a consistent pattern here and some way of enforcing it. I believe that we used to somewhere in our 200 year past, why not now?

Other street furniture and its proximity to the tables is a consideration to reduce certain “pinch points”. Perhaps some of the parking kiosks could be rotated 90 degrees so as to have the customer standing closer to the curb rather that blocking the walkway when crouching to read instructions or complete his transaction. This is further complicated when it takes a committee to make it work.

Finding ones way as a pedestrian is sometimes a different matter. I think that it is a good thing that downtown Lexington is as small as it is. Most of the downtown attractions are not so far from each other as to make it impossible to get there, therefore we have no posted maps of the area and a “you are here” arrow. Still, there seems to be a need for better signage at the pedestrian level, particularly some signage which is not dependent on facing in the direction of the flow of traffic.

It is interesting, if not ironic, that two short years after the current automobile oriented signage was decided and installed, that the Legends ballpark took a new moniker and the Lexington Visitors & Convention Bureau - a place tourists want to go - moved to the opposite end of downtown. Each of these means that a change in signage has to occur and while the ballpark change has been made, the other has not. I'm betting that another change will occur next year come spring. Will the Distillery District or some other growing attraction make it to the importance of being included on more signs and is there enough room?

So, where is all of this going? Instead of looking for the next big idea that we can import on a shoestring or without bringing all of the supporting public interest and funding, why not find a way to enhance the last few big ideas with proper finishing touches and real support of the downtown property owners and tenants? Why is sidewalk maintenance the sole purview of the city when, I believe, the law says otherwise? When did the delivery of goods to our “service industry”supersede the accommodation of those being served? When did the appearance of our downtown start to take a backseat to expediency and the dwindling fiscal year coffers?

Maybe we can do it all. Lets find some new ideas – AND – build us a good financial foundation with which to accomplish them – AND – make sue that we follow through with the real finishing touches, gild the lily, and live with some design excellence.

Update:  As of earlier this week there looks to be improvements to the tree wells in Cheapside Park.  Sometimes progress can take so long to occur.

No comments: