City Talks Eighth Street Design, Fireworks, Pot In Parks
By Beth Milligan | March 12, 2019
A majority of property owners along Eighth Street have agreed to key concessions that will allow the reconstruction of the corridor to go forward as planned this summer, including providing the city with easements for widened sidewalks and cycle tracks and allowing excess driveways to be closed to eliminate curb cuts.
That update was one of several provided by project consultant Gourdie-Fraser to city commissioners Monday, with the project set to go out to bid Thursday and commissioners working through final design tweaks and selecting a contractor by mid-April. Also at Monday’s meeting, commissioners expressed their intention to limit the days on which fireworks can be set off in the city – a move that’s in line with new state legislation – as well as to ban marijuana use in city parks.
Support and cooperation from a majority of property owners on Eighth Street for the road’s redesign this summer is paving the way for the project to proceed as envisioned, with three travel lanes, dedicated off-road cycle tracks and widened sidewalks, green space, and mid-block crossings.
Project Manager Brian Boals of Gourdie-Fraser told commissioners the firm has spoken in person with 70 percent of the property owners along the corridor to obtain easements for the project, with “positive feedback from pretty much everybody” along Eighth Street. “We’ve not had anybody say no on an easement,” he said. The firm also eyed the potential closure of up to 15 driveways along Eighth Street to reduce traffic conflicts on the road; while five of those driveways were later determined necessary to keep open, only two owners of the remaining 10 driveways have opposed closing them. Those driveways are located at Verano Tan and Bay Vision Family Care, according to Boals, who said he hopes to keep negotiating with the owners. For a large section of the middle of Eighth Street, however – from Family Video down to Bay Vision – multiple driveways will be closed to reduce turning motions onto the road and to provide uninterrupted cycle track and sidewalk.
Other design elements that have been refined since Gourdie-Fraser last presented on the project to commissioners in January include the planned mid-block crossings at Wellington and Franklin streets, which will have flashing pedestrian signals and a potential audio cue for visually-impaired users. Pedestrian islands in the middle of those crosswalks are envisioned to have a “softer look” with vegetation that can be cut back during the winter, and will be low enough to the ground to be plowed or driven over by emergency vehicles.
At the Railroad Avenue intersection, the section of Railroad on the south side of Eighth Street will be closed to prevent people from cutting across the road (pictured). Instead, southbound drivers on Railroad will only be able to turn right onto Eighth Street, with the alignment altered so that drivers coming from Woodmere Avenue also turn more slowly onto Railroad Avenue, reducing dangerous conflicts with pedestrians. New green space next to the sidewalks and cycle tracks throughout the corridor will allow for the planting of native, salt-tolerant, and drought-tolerant trees on both sides of the road, with smaller decorative trees on the north side (due to conflicting utility lines overhead) and larger canopy trees on the south side.
While commissioners were generally supportive of the design refinements, they plan to further debate next Monday (March 18) the exact widths of the green space and the adjacent pavement that will be divided between cycle tracks and sidewalks. Several commissioners expressed a desire to reduce some of the green space to make more room for wider sidewalks and cycle tracks, citing concerns about pedestrians and cyclists sharing the same concrete in too tight a space – even with painted signage delineating the different pathways. In order to stay on schedule, city staff will still put the reconstruction project out for bid this Thursday; however, an addendum can be added to the bid description at a later date if commissioners decide to further tweak the design. The sealed bids will be opened on April 4, with a recommendation presented to commissioners on April 15.
Boals said he believes the entire reconstruction – which will require the closure of Eighth Street between Boardman and Woodmere avenues for several months starting in July – can be finished by November 1, with no work carried over to 2020. “Especially given the fact that it’s a full detour, we’re not attempting to do it in any kind of stages…I think we can get this finished,” he said.
Commissioners expressed their support Monday for limiting the number of holidays on which residents can shoot off fireworks, a move that would mirror state legislation passed late last year.
Under the new rules – which will come back to commissioners for an official vote at a future meeting – fireworks would be banned on some national holidays on which they’re allowed now, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving. The new rules would only allow fireworks to be used on December 31 until 1am on January 1, the Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding Memorial Day, June 29 to July 4, July 5 if that day is a Friday or a Saturday, and the Saturday and Sunday immediately preceding Labor Day. Anyone found in violation of the ordinance would face a civil fine of $1,000. The legislation also allows the fire chief to ban fireworks during periods of very high or extreme fire conditions. Commissioner Amy Shamroe said she believed many residents would be supportive of the new restrictions.
“I know I hear about that a lot at neighborhood association meetings, that they’d love to know what we can do about having fewer fireworks, especially during the summer,” she said.
Pot In Parks
Finally, commissioners expressed their support Monday for officially banning marijuana use in city parks. While recent voter-approved legislation legalizing recreational marijuana included the caveat that pot can’t be used in public spaces, City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht said vagueness around what constitutes a public space means the issue will likely be litigated. To make the city’s position “very clear” to residents, she said, the city can amend its ordinance to state that marijuana use – like tobacco use – is prohibited in city parks. The resolution will return to commissioners for an official vote at a future meeting.