July 29, 2012

Federal grant will help restore Douglas to ‘postcard’ street

The remake of Douglas downtown will begin next spring, after the city of Wichita landed a $1.08 million federal grant last week to launch the transit piece of the project.

The remake of Douglas downtown will begin next spring, after the city of Wichita landed a $1.08 million federal grant last week to launch the transit piece of the project.

The grant is from the Federal Transit Administration’s Bus and Bus Facilities Livability Initiative, with a $270,000 local match. It will fund the installation of eight high-tech bus shelters along Douglas, the first step in a $6.4 million plan to remake the city’s “postcard” street and bring more people downtown, said Scott Knebel, the city’s downtown revitalization coordinator.

The shelters will begin at Main and proceed east, with the last one in front of The Wichita Eagle, 825 E. Douglas.

“We think it’s a key component of the downtown plan,” Knebel said. “The biggest piece of downtown is providing connections among the various destinations and districts, and this project goes directly to that.”

Jason Gregory, vice president of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp., said the project targets one of the major goals of Project Downtown, the downtown master plan: walkability.

“If you look at the master plan, this is one of the major focus points,” he said, “calling for Douglas to regain its former status as the postcard avenue of downtown.”

Knebel said the goal of the Douglas renovation is a return to downtown’s past: more pedestrian and less automobile traffic.

“We’re seeking a higher-density development pattern downtown than we’ve seen since the 1950s,” he said. “People move around downtown by automobile today, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s difficult to develop downtown at any kind of high density.”

The bus shelters will include electronic informational signs, including a real-time GPS look at where buses are in town and how long waits will be. The shelters will include handicapped-accessible curb extensions with handicapped parking, benches, trash cans and streetscaping.

Parking for 175 bicycles will be installed along the street, and a signaled pedestrian crossing will be installed between Mead and Rock Island, Knebel said.

When the shelters are installed, angle parking along Douglas will be eliminated to allow the buses to stop. Replacement angle parking will be installed north of Douglas on Emporia, and likely south, Knebel said.

Last summer, the public weighed in during several workshops with its choice for the future of Douglas: A broad, market-driven remake of downtown’s major commerce street from McLean to Washington, featuring 1950s-style medians tailored to the street’s various districts, including Century II, the financial district and Old Town. Design Workshop, a Denver firm, held the workshops and developed the tentative Douglas plan.

The plan also eliminates one of the most controversial traffic elements along Douglas: an eastbound chokepoint from two lanes to one lane of traffic in front of the Eaton Plaza.

The city will seek other federal grants to help with the remainder of the Douglas project, Knebel said, depending on availability.

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