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ODOT Seeks Feedback on Downtown Bridge and Street Designs

Walker Evans Walker Evans ODOT Seeks Feedback on Downtown Bridge and Street Designs
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The Ohio Department of Transportation held a public meeting on January 19th to solicit feedback on the designs for Phases 2 and 3 of of the Downtown highway split fix. While the build out of these phases was recently pushed back due to funding, the design work is still being completed, and feed back is due by Monday, February 6th. You can submit your feedback directly via mail to [email protected].

Your input on this project is very important, and these phases will have a large impact on how residents commute throughout this area, and how visitors will be welcomed into our city. Below are some the renderings and images presented by ODOT, along with a few comments worthy of note. You can view the entire presentation in PDF format, HERE.

Let’s start with the design of Fulton Avenue, which is being reconfigured as a one-way “urban avenue” that will service east-bound traffic getting on and off I-70. Below is a rendering that was presented by ODOT several years ago. Notice the large green dividers between the roadway and the highway, creating a nice visual and audial buffer between the city street and the highway trench. Also, notice the inclusion of crosswalk bump outs and on-street parking spaces on both sides of the street:

Below is an updated design that ODOT is currently proposing. The street trees have been moved to the building-side of the street, and the buffer between the highway and Fulton has been reduced to a very narrow grass strip. Half of the on-street parking has been removed, as well as the sidewalk access on the highway-side of the street. Additionally, the decorative bricked-crosswalks end on the street and will not carry over to the bridge deck, making for a disruptive visual look. The same type of treatment is being proposed for Elijah Pierce Avenue and most of Lester Drive:

Next, we move to the new Broad Street bridge, which overall looks fairly nice. This is being treated as a “signature” bridge, with plenty of street trees, flower planters, a solid decorative fence that will mask the highway trench and cut down on wind and noise, as well as unique decorative lighting and wide sidewalks for pedestrians:

Next, we have the Town Street Bridge, which connects from Bryden Road in Olde Towne East. Some of the decorative elements have been removed, such as the street trees and unique lighting. Some planters remain, but have been scaled down. The solid fencing also remains:

Further down the rung is the proposed design for the Oak Street Bridge. This bridge includes no greenery at all, as trees and planters have all been removed, even though in July 2010, ODOT gave a presentation to Columbus City Council that included landscaped medians on Broad, Oak and Parsons (all three are gone)). The sidewalks here are narrower, and the solid surface fencing has been replaced with “iron gate” type fencing that will not mask highway noise or wind:

The 18th Street Bridge is getting a similar bare-bones concrete treatment with no greenscaping, narrow sidewalks and fencing that allows wind and noise to make for an unpleasant pedestrian experience:

Grant Avenue is nearly identical to 18th Street, but contains more car travel lanes. This street is a vital connection between Downtown and German Village, and could serve as a gateway connector between residential neighborhoods to the south, and the collection of colleges to the north. This proposal contains few design elements that go beyond basic functionality. An additional element proposed to Columbus City Council in 2010 was that all bridges would have curb bump-outs, which has been removed on Grant Avenue in favor of a wide-angle continuous turn curb cut that is less safe for pedestrians:

Main Street is another signature street in Columbus, and one that is heavily utilized between neighborhoods on the East Side and Downtown. Similar to Broad, the Main Street Bridge contains street trees and planters, but remains a very wide road to service nearby highway onramps and offramps:

The new highway configuration means that Parsons Avenue will now pass underneath Interstate 70, rather than have a bridge going over it. The bridge deck looks somewhat similar to the treatment giving to Neil Avenue as it passes under I-670 between Victorian Village and The Arena District. The underpass for pedestrians looks quite dark in this rendering, and decorative/functional lighting should be a must. Street trees are minimal (and many have been removed from the design on Parsons north of Main Street) while medians will receive no landscaping at all, as previously presented. The “Parsons Avenue” signage looks incredibly generic, and more like a functional street sign rather than a gateway entry, or a point of pride. Also, note the lack of curb bump-outs for pedestrian crossings, replaced by the more car-centric wide-angle turn radius that encourages a steady flow of “right on red” traffic:

Overall, many of the design elements proposed in the past by ODOT are gone. Corners are being cut on design to keep the overall price tag down on this project, but many of these design elements are relatively cheap when compared to the overall scope and size of the project. So my questions to you are:

  1. Do these renderings satisfy your expectations of what 21st century infrastructure should look like?
  2. Do these bridges look like gateway entrances into our historic urban neighborhoods?
  3. Do these bridges and streets look like gateway entrances into Downtown Columbus for visitors?
  4. Does this infrastructure improve all forms of transportation for all types of commuters?
  5. Do all of these streets fit the criteria of “Complete Streets” designation, as adopted by Columbus City Council?

Again, you can voice your opinions to ODOT directly be emailing [email protected]. Comments are due on Monday, February 6th, but continued submission of comments beyond that due date are still encouraged.

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  • I understand the need for ODOT to cut costs but this is disappointing. I feel like this project is our one big chance to undo what was previously done and reconnect Columbus neighborhoods.

  • Asch

    What the hell? Do it right or wait until you can do it right. The LAST THING this city needs is more ugly built environment, and most of those bridges are awful. They do not seem like an improvement at all, so why waste so much money now for crap, instead of waiting and making it actually look good? I’m truly asking. Is it structural issues that need fixed ASAP?

    I wouldn’t want to walk around a single one of those renderings. The first, maybe. It’s certainly better than what they replaced it with, though I much prefer high street style caps than grassy ones. But better grassy ones than concrete ones!  Few people want to live in a mediocre city, and no matter how awesome your community gets- if your city still looks mediocre, that’s probably all outsiders will ever consider it.

    I will definitely be emailing. And crying into my I <3 Cbus pillow tonight. Let me love youuuuuuuu, Columbus. Stop being ugly!

  • At least the gate/fencing looks prettier than was just put up on the 4th street bridge at Goodale.

    Agreed on the ugliness of them though. For some reason, the Parsons Ave bridge reminded me of an ugly high school stadium entrance.

  • JRemy

    While I applaud the designers incorporating green space on the bridges, I question the practicality of it due to the root systems of trees.  Will these bridges be deep enough to support the root structures of perhaps smaller trees?  I also agree with the changes made on Fulton Ave.  Before I saw the updated rendering, I was thinking to myself, what good does that large bank of trees do that side of the road?  While it looks pretty, it is doubtful anyone would make the effort to occupy and actually enjoy the space.  The updated version allows for people to actually occupy the shaded space created by the trees.  Also, this will be good for store fronts,  creating occupy-able space for cafes and other shops.  For the other bridges, such as Broad and Main, how about placing the planters on the other side of the sidewalk, creating a buffer between pedestrians and car traffic.  As for the other ‘lesser’ bridges, at the very least they could have hanging planters on the light posts and maybe ivy growing on the fence like barriers overlooking the freeway.  Would it be possible to at least give Main St a grassy median to help break up its vastness?

  • JRemy

    Also, Columbus prides itself on a public/private partnerships.  Perhaps ODOT and the city could hold a competition to see which business and design firm partnership could design the best bridge.  ODOT could simply supply the basics, such as engineering, road, pavement, support columns, etc.
     

  • Asch

    No one goes downtown to stand under the trees, JRemy. The trees should be used to keep the sound and uglyness of the highway away from those who are walking around. It’s inappropriate for there to be small lawns in front of buildings (or to the side or whatever) downtown. That’s a waste of space and not what the CBD is for, that’s what suburbia is for. And we all know how much people love to walk around the suburbs! We have parks and boxes-O-trees where they need to be for shade (and I’m all for lots of those kinds of trees.) To just let the highway sit there in it’s ugliness and be ugly (and loud, and sending exhaust up at the pedestrians) while the trees hide a perfectly fine building is a terrible idea.

  • Well I guess that answers the “what would happen if you put an asphalt industry lobbyist in charge of a state transportation department” question.

  • No trash/recycle bins anywhere

  • I agree with Asch on the use of street trees. They are both an aesthetic element for softening the visuals of the concrete hardscape, and a functional piece for dampening highway noise. People aren’t going to picnic under these trees like they would at Goodale Park, so clumping them all to one side of the street makes no sense. They need to be positioned along both sides of the urban avenues, and *always* included as a divider between the street and the highway trench.

  • jpizzow

    1. No
    2. No
    3. No
    4. No
    5. No

    6. How much do trees cost again??

  • JRemy

    I’m sorry Asch… I was wrong, you are right.

  • JRemy

    But I figure the latest version would provide both a shaded promenade for people to walk under in the middle of a hot summers day and not only dampen the sound of the freeway but the cars on Fulton Ave. as well.  Also, I wouldn’t mind standing under a tree on my lunch break enjoy my pb&j sandwich that I packed earlier in the day  :-)

  • Pickerington_Kyle

    Wow half the bridges look like Cement models that can be easily graffitied.

  • jpizzow

    ^^They would probably look better than those renderings with graffiti on them.

  • Asch

    I agree, I think I even mentioned in my letter to them that they were screaming to be graffitied, and if the taggers used bright colors they would almost be doing a public service. So plain.
    jRemy, I love street trees too, but trees should be in sidewalk cutouts (what are they called? I should know this) between the pedestrians and the road, not the pedestrians and the buildings. They would stop some of the sound from echoing against the building, but wouldn’t be blocking the noise or fumes or ugliness from the people in the first place.
    Being able to see a highway from where you are walking is a really weird and uncomfortable thing. Pedestrians are very sensitive to psychological stuff like that, so by not even trying to hide the highway they are definitely making sure that street will never see much foot traffic. Every single thing we do downtown should be trying to enhance foot traffic, not squashing it like all of these renderings.
     
    That they didn’t do something to make a true connection between downtown and German Village really surprised me. If they don’t want to get those wealthy folks and all the visitors walking and riding to the downtown from so close by, then all the other neighborhoods are definitely screwed.

  • 1.  Noise models show that trees have very little effect on highway noise.
    2. I think JRemy is right about the root systems. Trees on bridges will need to be in raised planters, as shown on the Broad Street rendering.
    3. If we’re starting from scratch on some of these streets, would it make more sense to have protected bike lanes, cycle tracks, or buffered bike lanes instead of a bike lane between parked cars and moving traffic?

  • ^ 3 was one of my first thoughts.
     
    Anyone know how much collaboration there is between the various plans, proposals and what not? I mean you have something like this which seems at odds with plans like the Bikeways and COTA’s long range plans.

  • columbusmike

    Eek.  I agree the trees won’t provide much noise protection; however, they will provide physiological protection from the highway trench.  It would be a damn shame if the trees are not located on both sides of the street, at minimum.

  • kandrews

    The green spaces are going to be a very important element of downtown as our city grows to help assist with the balancing of car emissions and increased business. Especially since the street car isn’t happening anytime soon (my fingers are still crossed that it will happen sometime within my lifetime though). I do hope that rain gardens are incorporated in some fashion just as they are along Gay Street.
     
    Anne – thanks for mentioning the trashbins and recycling containers. I added that to my comments, too. Bike racks should be a no-brainer, as well.

  • @columbusmike,
    Agreed

  • columbusmike

    It’s unfortunate how many of our government entities function in this country.  There are tremendous social issues involved in transportation planning, low-income housing, etc….however, we often just look at budgets and issues within that specific agency and ignore a host of other related issues.

  • The solid (plexiglas?) screening as seen in the Broad Street rendering is what will cut down on noise and wind for pedestrians. The greenscaping then provides some aesthetic masking to that type of wall structure.

    Both elements should be present on all bridges.

  • Asch

    columbusmike, do you have any links that say they aren’t very effective with noise? I’ve not heard of any modeling done. They certainly don’t block all the sound but everything I’ve ever read (/experienced) says that they do make a noticeable difference, how much depends on the types and density.

  • columbusmike

    Asch,

    I don’t have any specific links….but I do know from design experience that they do very little sound masking (they certainly help, but not tremendously).  The only thing that really helps is increasing distance….I believe every doubling of distance results in a doubling of the reduction of sound….I’m sure there is someone out there with all the formulas and graphs to back me up…
    This is why sound walls constructed on the sides of highways also do very little in masking sound.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe there should be trees – I actually believe they physiologically reduce noise…but I don’t think they’ll do much to reduce the actual volume.

  • Pablo

    +1 for trees on both sides of the street.  When the street shifted closer to the freeway, did the lawn strip become too narrow for trees per ODOT standards? ODOT is basically against trees from a liability standpoint.
    What’s the point of finishing the roadway designs for a project 16 years out? The plans will be obsolete by that point.

  • Pablo, the street didn’t shift close to the highway… the sidewalks and trees were simply shifted closer to the buildings. They can be easily reconfigured back to the way they were.

    Also, I believe the design phase was already budgeted for, even though construction has been delayed.

  • have to agree …… if you can’t do it correctly, wait until you can.  i don’t even see how they leave room for improvement

  • @Asch,
    From the FHWA:
    “Can Trees Be Planted to Act as Noise Barriers?
    Vegetation, if it is high enough, wide enough, and dense enough that it cannot be seen over or through, can decrease highway traffic noise. A wide strip of trees with very thick undergrowth can lower noise levels. 30 meters of dense vegetation can reduce noise by five decibels. However, it is not feasible to plant enough trees and other vegetation along a highway to achieve such a reduction. Trees and other vegetation can be planted for psychological relief but not to physically lessen noise levels.”
    http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/noise/noise_barriers/design_construction/keepdown.cfm

  • columbusmike

    @johnwirtz
    I knew someone had to have some sweet graphics to illustrate that! Nice dig!
     
    30 meters of dense vegetation would be a lot of trees.  Is it too late to propose capping the entire I-70 split?? :)

  • stephentszuter

    I sent them my two cents. I hope they’ll have it.

  • FCR

    If ODOT decides to plant trees along the bridge, I think they should look into planting a wall of arborvitae trees.  If nicely landscaped, the trees can look great while blocking out the entire view of the highway.  Best of all, they are evergreen, so it will look good year round.  Just my two cents.

  • Jeftrokat

    The only thing I like about these renderings is the abundance of bike lanes, but those will probably be phased out in the next design review.

  • gmcsoccer

    personally i would swap the upgrading of the Main St bridge for the Grant St bridge.  with the possible future exception of High St which technically enters Brewery District, GV gets a really hideous set of entryways across the moat that is the highway system.  i walked that bridge every day along with a good number of other people before moving to MV, and it was a wasteland. impossible to pass in the winter when plows came through.  no one walks across Main St that i have ever seen.
    i agree on the tree location on Fulton, but it does look like a bike lane was added (did not see that in previous renderings). the thing that is the most disappointing is the lack of awareness that pedestrians need safe passage. bump outs at street corners make a huge difference in safe crossing, especially on these busy streets.

  • I agree that Grant is going to be even more important for pedestrians with the removal of the pedestrian bridge adjacent to Africentric. I used to use the pedestrian bridge often when walking from an old apartment in German Village to classes at Franklin, as it was more pleasant than Grant. But that will be no more once this project moves forward.

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