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Mendocino County, CA November 2, 2010 Election
Smart Voter

Improving our Downtown Area

By Ron Orenstein

Candidate for Council Member; City of Willits

This information is provided by the candidate
Our downtown is in need of a major facelift, to create a beautiful environment for visitors and locals alike. Changes also need to be made to enhance pedestrian safety.
The following ideas are not mine alone, however I have worked with various groups in town to develop the vision of a revitalized downtown, and I support them:

Before solving a problem, it's always best to clearly define it, to avoid creating a "solution" that solves nothing. With that in mind, the downtown problem, as I see it is:

· Traffic is heavy and slow.
- Slow is good in the sense that vehicles are forced to drive at a safe speed, making it somewhat safer for pedestrians. However, traffic that is too slow can often create angry, impatient drivers who are likely to take chances, drive through a crosswalk when they should stop, or make unsafe turns; all of which can put vulnerable pedestrians at risk.
- Much of the traffic is trucks, and driving a large truck thru stop and start traffic creates excessive exhaust fumes. In addition, causing a truck to stop in the middle of a block, due to traffic, often results in the long length of the truck blocking a crosswalk. · Parking is a challenge
- There are a few parking lots scattered around downtown, but many drivers prefer to park by the curb, closer to their destination. Some drivers, delivery trucks in particular, will park too close to an intersection, creating an unsafe condition for pedestrians as well as vehicles entering Main Street from the side streets. · Pedestrians are at risk when crossing the streets
- State law mandates that traffic must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Many drivers do not!
- There are still many crosswalks in the downtown district that are not well marked. · The downtown needs an extensive facelift, creating a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that is conducive to strolling in comfort. This would translate to increased window-shopping and visits to our local merchants. This includes planting more attractive trees, creating areas for walkers to sit and rest, and continuing to beautify the storefronts.

As I mentioned above, I have been working with several groups that have been developing a vision for our downtown:

· One group is working with Caltrans to repave the sidewalks in a section of downtown, as a pilot project. In addition to new sidewalks, there will be new planter/benches installed, as well as new trees and other landscaping. · Eventually, bulb outs will be installed at corners to narrow the roadway, further slowing traffic, as well as shortening the distance that pedestrians will be in the traffic lanes as they cross. · In time, this design, with necessary modifications, will be replicated all along Main Street. · The often mentioned Baechtel Road/Railroad Avenue route should help to divert a sizable amount of local traffic from Main Street, and the eventual building of a bypass outside of town should help to relieve even more of the heavy traffic. · Because of the state deficit, the city has lost a good source of funding that would enable us to finance these improvements. However, if and when conditions change, it would be beneficial for the city to reinstate programs such as the Façade Grant Program, providing matching funds for property owners to beautify their storefronts.

Naturally, making these improvements are contingent on one of two things happening: 1) Caltrans would need to relinquish downtown Main Street to the city, or 2) Caltrans would need to join us in a partnership to make these improvements.

Any revitalization of Main Street needs to include South Main Street as well. Again, local groups have created plans to improve this area, but this would be a little more complicated project because there are no plans for Caltrans to relinquish South Main Street to the city, and South Main Street will still be Highway 20, even if a bypass is built. But in the spirit that nothing is impossible, here are some of the plans that have been developed for South Main Street:

· It has been a long standing belief that reducing this section of roadway from four to two lanes would eliminate the bottleneck at the railroad crossing. This is supported by the fact that there is never any sort of backup or traffic jam on the 2-lane road leading into town from the south. · After reducing the roadway, the center turn lane can have islands installed, complete with trees and other landscaping features. These would serve as safety islands for pedestrians crossing South Main Street, as well as acting to further slow traffic, while providing some much-needed shade and design features to this barren landscape. · As with downtown Main Street, bulb outs will be built to shorten the distance that pedestrians will be exposed when they cross the street. · New well marked pedestrian crossing lanes will be created to enhance pedestrian safety.

A long range, focused vision can go a long way to improving the image of our town.

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ca/mnd Created from information supplied by the candidate: October 14, 2010 12:14
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