Editor’s note: For the next several weeks the blog is going to feel different. Some changes proposed for the historic street where I live have me and many others concerned, so this website will function as information central for those who want to hear an alternative plan to the city’s. The tone will be more activist than usual, so please hang with me! Thanks for your support, but of course I have to channel my energy into preserving our historic street.
I live on South Boulevard, and there isn’t another street like it in town. One of the oldest local homes is kitty corner from mine, and Tautphaus Park, the city’s largest park, is within view. Mayday trees line the road, except for a handful of maples and ancient cotton trees. The street was named South Boulevard because it is, by definition, a boulevard, wider than typical residential streets but still clearly residential and filled with historic homes. For years I’ve watched cars roll past with passengers pointing at the houses, and the road serves as location of the Fourth of July parade, arguably one of most well-attended city events annually.
But that might be changing, and here’s why.
In 2018 the city elected to change the striping on our street. Instead of two wide lanes, they added a turning lane. Now there were three lanes for cars. Then in an effort to accommodate people on bikes, they added two bike lanes, bringing the grand lane total to five.
The striping changes had a lot of consequences—no on-street parking for one and tight lanes for another. It’s been pesky but tolerable until a city meeting held June 5 at the Maeck Education Center in Tautphaus Park, when city engineers announced two things:
- South Boulevard will be embraced as an arterial lane—that means funneling significantly more traffic down the street.
- In 2021 the west side of South Boulevard between 18th and 21st Streets will be widened to allow another traffic lane to be added. Ten feet of grass and the trees growing therein will be gobbled up to make way for asphalt.
According to city engineers, there are really two objectives for South Boulevard. One is for it to function as an arterial street, and the other is for it to provide a safe route for bicyclists. But the road simply isn’t wide enough to accomplish both. The city will have to choose one, and folks like me are afraid they’ll value car traffic over everything else.
Including historic value.
Many large cities celebrate historic boulevards. They install medians, landscape these, and post appropriate signage letting visitors know they’re in a unique area. We are proposing the same.
What we would like the city to do is simple: We want to celebrate the historic nature of the boulevard. Here are three easy steps to do it:
- Post appropriate signage. Let’s install signs that say, “Welcome to the Boulevard.” If the city is truly trying to carve out pathways leading downtown, South Boulevard is logistically the ONLY logical road for accomplishing that, but what’s even better is that provides a beautiful backdrop. So let’s embrace its historic nature and celebrate what it alone can offer the community.
- Change the striping back to two lanes. With two wide lanes, cyclists and motorists can coexist without issue (like they did for decades before the recent striping change).
- Drop the speed limit to 25 mph. This road is a scenic route; many drive it to experience the innate pleasure of a tree-lined street. And for those who simply want to use the road as the shortest distance between two points, let them do it! They’ll just have to drive a bit slower (the current speed is 30), and if that’s annoying, they can take another road.
In a couple days, I’ll post more information about the bike lanes and why they don’t function well. I’ll also be posting photos of homes on our street and information about areas affected by street widening. To widen only a portion of the street is a slippery slope to widening the entire street. In a meeting in his office two weeks ago, city engineer Chris Fredericksen told me that widening this portion of the road will likely prevent congestion problems for years, but if it doesn’t, “we can take as much land as we need.” That is a scary thought.
Engineers are conducting studies now and will make a final recommendation to city council in mid-August. That means we’ve got six weeks to rally together and promote an alternative plan—or we can watch South Boulevard’s charm and distinction dwindle away.
But that’s not really an option for me.
Want to hear from the other side? Contact Fredericksen at 208.709.3575 or email@example.com. Alternately, you can contact city engineer Ken Fugle at 208.612.8250. Make sure to request an emailed copy of the presentation made June 5; you’ll find the proposed road widening on slide nine.
If you’d like to sign the petition for our alternative plan, please stop by my place after the parade on July 4. I appreciate any and all support. •