Nip, tuck revives central city

Beverly Hills, Calif.

Even the world-famous Beverly Hills, Calif., shopping district is not immune to competition. So, when faced with the increasing popularity of nearby retail complexes, city officials worked with property owners along five streets in the city's business triangle to create pedestrian-oriented enhancements that make the area safer and easier to navigate for shoppers.

The revitalized business triangle encourages a park-once shopping style in which visitors leave their cars in a parking garage and move through the shopping area on foot. To improve navigation, designers assigned a different color palette to each of the three main roads, extending the palette to the trees and plants that now grow in planters in medians and on sidewalks. For example, Rodeo Drive features white-blooming agapanthus, dwarf philodendrons and king palms, which have gray-toned trunks and red fruit.

Sidewalks in most areas were widened to facilitate pedestrian traffic, and new crosswalks in the middle of the 600-foot-long blocks allow shoppers to cross the streets safely and more easily. New lighting in public spaces, particularly at the crosswalks, promotes safety and creates an evening ambiance more conducive to nighttime activity. The light poles are designed for both roadway and sidewalk lighting in a modular format so additional lights or signs can be added as needed. New street trees, landscaping and street furniture also were added.

The city created a special community facilities district and tax to pay for the $18 million project. “Getting the property owners to agree to revitalization took some time, but by giving them a design that emphasized and improved on what was already working — walkability — they were willing to put in the money,” says Deputy City Manager David Lightner. “The result has benefited the entire community. The city's residents are among the area's best customers, and now they are out walking to the stores and enjoying outdoor dining as much as visitors. Business in the revitalized commercial area is booming.”
Cathy Dombrowski

Agencies/companies involved: Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Fong Hart Schneider and Partners; Pasadena, Calif.-based Moule & Polyzoides; New York-based Se'lux; Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Landscape FX; Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Griffith; West Los Angeles, Calif.-based Psomas; Los Angeles-based Lighting Design Alliance

Plan prevents future flooding

Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

When Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, was devastated by floods in 2003 and 2004 and declared a disaster zone by the Federal Emergency Management Agency twice in two years, Mayor Don Robart initiated the Cuyahoga Falls Flood Prevention Initiative to prevent future problems for the city's 50,000 residents and 23,000 homes. Through research and site inspections, the city discovered that the floods resulted from stormwater entering the sanitary sewer system, overwhelming its storage and treatment capacity.

In October 2004, the Cuyahoga Falls City Council approved legislation allowing free voluntary home inspections through the Project Partner Storm Water Inspection Program. City inspectors look for problems on private property — including downspouts, drain and sump pump connections and sewer laterals — that are allowing stormwater to infiltrate the sewer system. Inspected homes receive a pass or fail certificate of inspection; those that fail must make repairs within 180 days or pay fines. To date, 348 inspections have been completed, and more than 70 percent of homes have passed.

Cuyahoga Falls also passed legislation requiring home sellers to make potential buyers aware of the inspections. Forty-six percent of buyers who purchased a house in the past year had it inspected for stormwater issues, says Valerie Wax Carr, director of public service. “Residents are working with us and are seeing that we have a commitment to get the stormwater out of the sanitary [sewer system] to prevent future backups,” she says.

To complement the inspection program and resolve flooding issues throughout the city, Cuyahoga Falls created a stormwater utility and implemented a $2 flat fee for residents. Commercial customers are charged $2 per 3,000 square feet of impervious area. The utility, expected to generate around $6 million over the next 10 years, will help the city implement U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program, operate the stormwater management program and continue to maintain, repair, improve and extend the storm drainage system, as well as target existing stormwater problem areas.
Nikki Swartz

Agencies/companies involved: Cuyahoga Falls; Akron, Ohio-based McCoy Associates

Permit center fulfills promise

Henderson, Nev.

Henderson, Nev., officials took a gamble last year when they promised to improve services as a precondition to raising fees for construction permits. That risk has paid off with a user-financed construction oversight program that has a 99.4 percent on-time rate for plan review.

The smooth flow of construction permits in the Las Vegas suburb is a far cry from conditions in 2003 when the Development Services Center's (DSC) Enterprise Fund was running out of money and a permit backlog could delay projects for months. Having lost credibility when it previously raised rates and failed to improve services, DSC worked with an industry advisory committee to define on-time service and devise a new fee structure based on the cost of evaluating each permit type. But before raising its rates, DSC pledged that during a three-month demonstration period — January 1 to March 31, 2005 — it would be 90 percent on time for plan review and inspection services.

To meet that goal, DSC received a one-time infusion of $4 million from the city's general fund to hire staff and to eliminate the permit review backlog. It also developed a checklist of permit requirements and began prescreening applications so developers could submit plans ready for review. DSC modified its development software to allow online tracking and began issuing a monthly industry report card to maintain dialog between the agency and developers.

Those improvements allowed the city to meet its review goals and increase fees in May 2005. In addition to faster reviews, site inspections typically have become a next-day service. The positive changes in DSC's operations inspired a new state law requiring local governments with development enterprise funds to have an industry advisory board. “Our staff has done a phenomenal job of implementing the changes needed to improve service, and city developers are more than willing to pay higher fees in exchange for timely plan reviews and inspections,” says Ron Patterson, DSC manager.
Cathy Dombrowski

Agencies/companies involved: Henderson, Nev.; Reston, Va.-based Maximus Consulting Group; Dublin, Calif.-based Accela; Las Vegas-based Willdan Consulting; Las Vegas-based P&D Consultants; San Diego-based Esgil; Darrell Duty, Fire & Life Safety Consultant; Las Vegas-based Advantage Civil Design Group; Las Vegas-based Poggemeyer Design Group; locally based Rim Solutions.

Bikeway ensures safe travel

Portage, Mich.

Already home to a nationally recognized system of bike paths and multi-use trails, Portage, Mich., leveraged a public/private partnership and a federal grant to add another two miles of trails to its parks this past spring. The new Northwest Portage Bikeway (NWPB) winds through a primarily residential portion of the city of 45,000, providing off-road access to city parks, elementary schools and a major retail center.

“On any given day, you can see bikers, mothers pushing strollers and others walking along the path. For a relatively low cost, the city has created a facility that promotes a healthy lifestyle, encourages non-motorized transportation, adds recreational opportunities and enhances quality of life in a heavily populated area,” says Director of Community Development Jeff Erickson, a roller blade enthusiast who regularly uses the trail network.

The bikeway is a 12-foot-wide paved path that winds through a swath of land cleared for Jackson, Mich.-based Consumers Energy's power lines. To allay residents' concerns about privacy and safety, Parks and Recreation Director William Deming held public meetings and met with nearby residents to show how the path would be kept away from private property, trees retained and decorative fences installed to clearly delineate the trail. Where the bikeway crosses residential streets, signs and stripes warn motorists, and on a major artery, a landscaped island was built midway in the road so pedestrians can wait safely as traffic passes. A $276,000 federal Transportation Enhancement Activity grant covered more than half of the $456,000 price tag for the project.

Because of its safe and comprehensive system of trails, the Washington-based League of American Bicyclists has named Portage a Bicycle Friendly Community, one of only 44 in the United States. “No other community in the area offers as much opportunity for biking. Even in the winter, a portion of the trails is kept clear of snow because of demand from bicycle commuters, walkers, marathoners and others,” Deming says.
Cathy Dombrowski

Agencies/Companies involved: Portage, Mich., Department of Community Development; Jackson, Mich.-based Consumers Energy.

Traffic education saves lives

San Jose, Calif.

Traffic accidents are responsible for almost two-thirds of the deaths of children under 19 in Santa Clara County, Calif. To address traffic safety concerns, the San Jose Department of Transportation (DOT), the San Jose Police Department and other community groups launched “Street Smarts,” an educational program designed to change driver, pedestrian and bicyclist behavior.

San Jose identified the most frequent causes of accidents — red-light running; speeding; and school zone, stop sign and crosswalk violations — and designed presentations and advertisements to reduce their incidence on city streets. “Education overall is more cost-effective than engineering and enforcement,” says Linda Crabill, community relations manager for San Jose DOT. “When you put up a traffic signal, you might invest anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000, depending on the intersection and what the needs are, and yet you'll still have people that will run red lights.”

Street Smarts materials are presented in English, Spanish and Vietnamese to schools and neighborhood groups. Neighborhoods that adopt the program receive three hours of education, as well as kits containing lawn signs, driving quizzes and bumper stickers. Pedestrian and bike “roadeos” are held at schools to teach safety, while parent education seminars encourage safe driving, walking and biking practices in school zones.

Using a $230,000 grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety, San Jose DOT expanded the program in January 2005 to teach elementary and middle school-aged children traffic safety principles, such as how to cross the street safely and the proper way to wear bike helmets and ride bikes. Once a school is scheduled for the program, the instructor reviews the school's pick-up and drop-off patterns and customizes the presentation to address its specific challenges. City officials plan to reach all kindergarten through eighth grade students with the program by the end of next year.

Since 2002, the number of injury crashes in the city has dropped from 3,739 with 40 fatalities to 3,129 with 32 fatalities. Also, the number of reported pedestrian and bicycle injuries for children traveling to and from school has decreased from 44 in 2002 to 37 in 2005. The city attributes those reductions to traffic safety education, engineering improvements and increased enforcement. Street Smarts was designed to be re-branded for other communities, and for a $2,500 design consultant fee, originals of all materials are available.
Nikki Swartz

Agencies/companies involved: San Jose Department of Transportation and Police Department; Northern California Offices of AAA; San Jose Unified School District; Walk San Jose; California Highway Patrol; San Jose Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee; Traffic Safe Communities Network; Metropolitan Transportation Commission; Caltrans; Valley Transportation Authority; Van Nuys, Calif.-based Safe Moves; Santa Clara, Calif.; San Jose-based Liquid Agency; Los Gatos, Calif.-based Barnestorming

Facility restores clean water

Wichita, Kan.

In the late 1980s, Wichita, Kan., discovered contaminated groundwater beneath a six-square-mile area near downtown. The contamination stifled real estate development in the area and threatened the values of thousands of properties. Facing possible Superfund intervention, the city decided to take control of the environmental investigation and remediation efforts, and complete the $22.6 million Gilbert and Mosley Project, named for a major intersection near the contaminated site.

The project included construction of the Wichita Area Treatment, Education and Remediation (WATER) Center — located in a park near downtown — that includes a 3,000-square-foot groundwater treatment building and a 6,300-square-foot environmental education center. “This city felt that it was very important to teach the community that we don't want this to happen again and to help people understand that it's really important to protect our natural resources so that they don't become contaminated,” says Kay Johnson, director of environmental services.

The treatment system cleans 1.2 million gallons of contaminated groundwater each day and may need to run constantly for up to 50 years to finish the job. After treatment, the water passes through a fountain-filled plaza and is then pumped into an 11,000-gallon outdoor aquarium showcasing native fish. It is reused in the WATER Center's fountains, creek, irrigation system and water truck fill station before flowing into the Arkansas River.

To fund the project, the city identified the sources of the pollution and then sued the corporate entities responsible. The remaining costs were covered by a tax increment finance (TIF) district. That reallocation of existing taxes required the approval of the city, county and school district, and also entailed changing state law because a TIF had never before been used for a Kansas environmental project.

The city and local lenders issued certificate and release notices to downtown property holders, releasing them from cleanup liability for existing contamination and allowing the continued sale and development of downtown sites. According to the city, the project, which began construction in 2001 and was finally completed in February 2005, has sparked more than $300 million in development in Wichita's “Old Town” area.
Nikki Swartz

Agencies/companies involved: Wichita, Kan., Department of Environmental Services; Kansas Department of Health and Environment; Cambridge, Mass.-based CDM; Hazleton, Pa.-based Hazleton Environmental; locally based Gossen Livingston Associates; locally based Dondlinger & Sons; locally based Professional Engineering Consultants; locally based Professional Mechanical Contractors; locally based Total Electric; locally based Shelley Electric