ROGERS -- Four-way stops, more crosswalks and parallel parking are a few things city officials are considering to make downtown a better place to walk, drive and bike.
"From an economic development perspective, we know we need to make downtown Rogers feel better for people who are walking from store to store. It needs to be a more comfortable place to be if you're not driving a car," said John McCurdy, Rogers community development director. "If we're to have a vibrant downtown, it has to be a downtown that's really for bicycles, pedestrians and cars."
Jeff Speck with Nelson Nygaard Consulting Associates gave an overview recently of some things to improve. The goal is to make walking downtown safer and more comfortable, interesting and useful, he said.
The city's contract with Nelson Nygaard is $77,000, said Ethan Hunter, planner for the community development department. The city will have a complete design for downtown parking and streets by the end of the year and could almost immediately hire a contractor to restrip streets, McCurdy said.
"If it involves hardscape improvements, then that would take a little bit more time to get those designed and then put out to bid for construction," McCurdy said.
The city has a number of options as to how to pay for the projects, he said. Voters in August approved a $299.5 million bond issue with $180 million for streets. McCurdy said bond money could be used for some of the changes.
Walk, drive and bike
The city could remove unnecessary street lanes, Speck said. A two-lane street can generally handle 10,000 cars a day. Poplar Street has three lanes with about 5,400 cars driving on it daily. The extra space could be put to better use, such as adding trees every 30 feet, Speck said.
While adding trees can be costly, some of the suggested improvements could be done relatively inexpensively, Speck said.
"You have a lot of intersections that don't have crosswalks, and that's weird," he said.
Some cities have crosswalks that are painted mosaics, making for a more interesting walk, he said.
Speck also recommended getting rid of buttons at crosswalks that pedestrians push when they want to cross the street and converting some signals to stop signs.
"People rush to catch signals, and you never rush to catch a stop sign," he said, adding stop signs reduce car crashes. "The signals we looked at with scrutiny were the ones on Walnut Street at Third Street and Second Street."
Springdale added stop signs to four downtown intersections in 2016 to slow traffic, said Patsy Christie, Springdale Planning Department director. The additional signs were also intended to help make downtown more pedestrian- and bicycle-comfortable and make drivers stop and look to see the shops instead of speeding though downtown. Traffic has slowed, Christie said.
A lot of downtowns are moving toward becoming walkable neighborhoods, said Stephen Luoni, director at University of Arkansas' Community Design Center.
Luoni said since World War II, cities have generally been divided into zones such as commercial, residential and industrial. Now, more cities are moving toward mixed-use zones so downtown has more of a social aspect to it and is a place where people live, work and gather for recreational or social activities.
Streets also have been designed to value mobility -- getting as many cars as possible to their destination as fast as possible, he said.
More cities are trying to make downtown a viable option for people to live.
"To do that, you have the make the street interesting again," he said.
Downtowns have a "huge implication for economic development," Luoni said. One of the first things a corporation looks at when it considers moving to a new city is the downtown, he said.
Speck also recommended adding bicycle lanes.
The Razorback Greenway, a regional bike trail, goes through part of Rogers but not downtown.
"One of our major bicycle improvement projects is to complete a loop from the greenway through downtown Rogers," McCurdy said. "Once you get to downtown Rogers, it's important that the entire downtown area is bicycle-friendly. We want people to jump on the greenway anywhere in Northwest Arkansas and be able to easily and comfortably access downtown Rogers."
Where and how to park
The Downtown Rogers Initiative Plan completed in summer 2015 called for reconfiguring some streets, but plans to revamp Frisco Park have served as a catalyst to make changes to streets and parking downtown now, McCurdy said. The city is using a $805,668 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to redesign Frisco Park with the help of Ross Barney Architects of Chicago. Some parking spaces will be converted to park space, so there's a pressing need to add parking, McCurdy said.
One way to maximize the number of parking spaces is to angle the parking closer to 90 degrees -- which can be done with paint, Speck said.
Hillary Hoyt, manager at Iron Horse Coffee Co. on First Street, said, "On a daily basis, there just isn't enough parking for our customers."
Hoyt said Iron Horse employees are told to park on the side streets, but that takes spaces away from other businesses. There is a parking lot across the railroad tracks, but people don't want to walk from there when the weather is bad.
"We have a lot of older customers that won't come on rainy days because they know that they have to walk," she said.
The weekends aren't as bad because most of the downtown offices are closed, she said.
Rhonda Dossett, owner and manager of Savvy Shopper, a home decor and furniture store, said customers sometimes complain about not being able to find parking spaces.
"It would be more open for our customers if the workers had designated areas where they parked. I think that would help," she said.
It could help if there were more designated spaces for people who live downtown, too, she said.
"This one has four apartments above it," Dossett said of her store. "There's only five spaces here, so if they each have a vehicle and sometimes two, then they're taking up all the spaces for the businesses."
Speck said some streets, such as Second Street and Walnut Street, could use parallel parking. In addition to more spots, parallel parking creates a barrier between moving cars and pedestrians, he said.
"I love parallel parking," Mayor Greg Hines said, noting parallel parking helps control drivers' speed and creates a safer environment.
Hines said, overall, not enough parking in downtown is more of a perceived problem than reality. He said people generally expect to park a few blocks away or have to park in a parking lot and walk to their destination in any vibrant downtown.
"If I say, 'Meet me for lunch at Hugo's in downtown Fayetteville,' you're not going to expect to park right in front of Hugo's," Hines said, said of the downtown restaurant on Block Avenue.
NW News on 11/04/2018
Print Headline: Rogers looks to improve downtown streets, parking