Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spenard transformation controversy continues

I know it may start to become repetitive to our local readers whenever I post an article from the ADN that many of you may have already read earlier in the day, but I like to keep this blog as sort of a record/archive on all things urban related that even I myself can refer to when needed. Besides that, most of our readers actually come from outside. Ex-Anchoragites? Probably. Regardless, the holidays have been keeping me busy, but no I did not miss the extensive Sunday article 2 weeks ago on the long continuing controversy surrounding the transformation of a stretch of Spenard Road. Nothing really new in the article other than some new specifics on what will happen to an arterial road as well as the T-intersection of Fireweed and Spenard. Read the article and graphs here.

As for the Joop editorial, well I'm optimistic that the city learned from the nightmare that was the Arctic project. As a resident of West Anchorage and growing up attending West High, I can tell you that the span of Spenard from Fireweed all the way to Minnesota is indeed a disaster. Many seem to have a hard time believing that a two or three lane Spenard will be good for business, but look at the stretch of Spenard from Northwood to Airport Road in which Spenard goes from four lanes to two. Harley Davidson, Puffin Inn, and Gwennies(sp) Restaurant appear to be doing fine these last 20 years or so since the improvement while numerous new businesses such as hotels, dine-in restaurants, and a couple of coffeeshop trailers have sprung up in that stretch of Spenard over the last 10 years. Unlike lower Spenard however, the area of Spenard currently in question has something going for it that no other part of town has. Call it "hipster paradise" or whatever you want, but there's no question that Spenard has become what the city has long wanted Mountain View to become -- a bohemian district. From the numerous cafes, to the bicycle shops, to the ultra popular (and crowded) Bears Tooth Theater, Upper Spenard is culturally blossoming. What's hindering this new identity however is the 1960s era planning philosophy that puts cars and concrete as priority #1. Bicycle lanes, less surface parking, and mix-use buildings are some of the many solutions that will not get in the way of this new community as demonstrated in cities like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver BC, and other places that are taking smart growth seriously. Check out the visions had for Mountain View within the next 20 years as posted by Clark at his blog. Like 4th Avenue, Spenard and Mountain View can have their own hotdog vendors on the streets along with musical acts playing in a park. Lets not forget that west 4th Avenue itself was at one time a four lane road.

Bottom Line: Enough with the complacency. The Muni needs to reach out and be proactive in building its case for this great road improvement.


clark said...

marcus, thanks for the props, again. i agree with this ADN LTE from spenardian jae shin:
Plans for Spenard Road should be applauded. Spenard has evolved into a dangerous thoroughfare due to our planning based only on the almighty automobile. Like many arterials, sidewalks and trails have been reduced in favor of greater traffic flow. The three-lane solution will be a vast improvement to the current high speed four lane scenario, which has people weaving and dodging vehicles waiting to turn. The proposed middle lane will consolidate the two inner lanes and allow for queuing space for vehicles crossing Spenard into the opposite lane. Wider sidewalks will improve the safety of pedestrians and provide room for temporary snow storage and help city maintenance crews. I only wish that the new plan included intermittent pedestrian crossings at key locations. Currently pedestrians and cyclists are compelled to jaywalk due to the great distances between traffic signals. It seems that the character of Spenard Road wants to be different than that of Northern Lights or Benson. Rather than a high speed arterial it should be a focus and amenity for the neighborhoods that define it. I have experienced a lot of changes to Spenard during the last 30 years, both good and bad. The current plan will make it safer for residents and businesses of Spenard; it's time to heal the wound which slices through the heart of our neighborhood.
and i'm one of those rare people, call me crazy, who thinks arctic blvd. is a success. if the cars find it a little confusing and slow down a bit to navigate it, that's a good thing. riding a bike down arctic, it's night and day different than before. wide bike lanes down both sides, compared to a narrow sidewalk interrupted by fire hydrants and utility poles and curbs before, usually piled with plowed snow in the winter. just forget it!
part of what we're doing here is acknowledging the end of the age of over-dominance of vehicles, and i say, it's about damned time! jae is right, too that spenard needs crosswalks. and it needs other cues, landscape beds and planters and the like to turn it into a pedestrian zone and give it human scale.
i'm not one to say everyone should just trust the muni planners to do the right thing. but i'm really sick of knee jerk negativity when it comes to these sorts of projects. i hope groups like the anchorage citizens coalition can speak with a louder voice and that progressive ideas can get a fair hearing. this is just another case of people resisting change for no credible reason.

marcus said...

I gotta agree on the sentiment of Spenard having some crosswalks in the plan. I've seen plenty of jaywalkers myself on that road more than any other. I also think you're right about Arctic, Clark. For the last few years I've worked at a place in Arctic and I can remember the evening traffic just bustling and having to wait a long time just to pull out of an arterial and join the traffic on Arctic. Now, much fewer cars travel the road and allow for less traffic as well as less noise. The turning lane in the middle of Arctic also helps me because the place I work at is on the leftside of the street while I'm traveling southbound meaning I have to stop in the middle of the road. I always got nervous about having to make that stop for fear of road rage from behind, or worse, someone not paying attention to the road.

mcluvin said...

Geez what a dumbass. Look at what the property owners and business say. The Muni should take care of things that are needed and asked for by the majority. Very few want this project as it is offered. This is a working class business area with people that drive. Get some and walk the walk or move to Portland or Seattle or wherever you think they have done a great job. There are many places that need your help. Spenard is not one of those places. Have a nice day.

mcluvin said...

geez get a life and smell the asphalt. Spenard is a drive area. Get some balls and walk the walk or move to Portland or Seattle or where ever you think is so great. Stop wasting your time here. Someplace else needs your help. But it's not in Spenard. 95% of the businesses and property owners don't like the two lane and suicide lane idea. It's dumb. Look at Arctic. Oh yeah. And please see if you can find someplace on Spenard with high accident rate that can be helped with less traffic lanes. Hmmm less traffic lannes, less traffic, less accidnets. Wow must be a freakin genius that thought up this idea. Maybe it was Mark Bag-Itch and his band of fools.

Anonymous said...

First of all, there has been no reduction in trails or sidewalks by the creation of Spenard Road. Second, the great majority of the people who shop in the area drive the "almighty automobile" to get here and probably always will as long as the businesses remain. Perhaps you prefer to ride you bicycle 12 months out of the year. Kudos for you. But believe me when I say, the great majority of others do not and it's not because there is no "winter bikepath". They drive because it is cold, icy, dark and they want to shop and get home. Contrary to what you believe, that the road is defined by residential...perhaps you might take a stroll down Spenard Road and count the businesses that line the road. There are ways of making Spenard a more inviting place to visit without driving 70% of the traffic to other arterials. The businesses in Spenard rely on that drive by traffic. Yes, let's slow it down, widen the sidewalks, add more lighting, clean up the streets but why does it have to be 3 lanes? If you get the chance to really study the plan, you will see just how much traffic will back up, causing people to avoid Spenard all together. For businesses, out of site is out of mind. In the summer, I walk along Spenard Road to lunch sometimes. I have never been afraid of the traffic. Yes, there should definately be ped-xings...but even the new plan they've been working on for 10 years doesn't show them. I drive Spenard Road also...between 20-25 mph, which is the same speed the drivers beside me travel. I don't see the weaving in and out you're talking about. The City has ROW to make the sidewalks wider already, down most of Spenard Road that's currently up for construction. The areas not in ROW will most likely be purchased to widen the sidewalks. Why can't Spenard Road be friendly to vehicles and pedestrians?

marcus said...

Mollie, thanks for replying.

On your first point, I'm not exactly sure what you're saying. You state that there has been no reduction in sidewalks because of the creation of Spenard. I'm pretty sure the first version of Spenard had no sidewalks to begin with, so I believe we're in agreement on that. I also never stated that Spenard Road is defined by residential zoning.

As for driving Spenard at a speed of 20 to 25 mph, I find that very odd. The speed limit of Spenard from end to end has and continues to be 35 mph. I've never driven 25 mph nor have other drivers I've seen on Spenard. When it comes to traffic weaving in and out, I see it happen when a car going northbound stops in the middle of the road to make a left for the Bears Tooth. Cars stack up behind the waiting car and eventually somebody or more than one driver pulls out onto the right lane and then get back on the left when passing the waiting car. This morning could have been another example as I waited to turn left so I can enter the Spenard Shell. There were no cars behind me on that specific moment, but as a regular of Spenard, I commonly see this happening.

As for why Spenard can't be friendly to both pedestrians and vehicles -- I agree. Unfortunately the current version of Spenard leans way too much in the favor of automobiles. A better example of a street that balances the two out is 4th Avenue in Downtown, or G Street also in Downtown among a few others. Vehicles get where they need to go but in equal proportion to its environment. As a driver, 4th Avenue may be slow compared to 6th or 5th Avenue, but 4th is not meant to be a thoroughfare. 4th Avenue is a place for people and business. A speed limit of 35 mph for 4th Avenue would thus be irrational and dangerous with the large amount of pedestrians around. Spenard was once a thoroughfare, but that title has long since gone to Minnesota Drive which was purposely built as a thoroughfare.