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Work Begins on Major Short North Streetscape Improvements

Brent Warren Brent Warren Work Begins on Major Short North Streetscape ImprovementsPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Work started this week on the first phase of streetscape improvements along North High Street in the Short North. A three-block stretch of the street in front of the Convention Center is the first to undergo the transformation, with construction scheduled to continue through the end of September.

The improvements will be both above ground and below — new street trees, decorative crosswalks, and bump-outs (meant to shorten the distance that pedestrians need to travel to cross High Street) will be added, and a new water line and storm sewer will be installed under the street.

Work is scheduled to start soon on the stretch of High Street between Seventh and Ninth avenues, with construction on that portion likely to continue into 2018.

The streetscape project comes at a time of intense construction activity along High Street — many new buildings are going up, with most of them taking out a lane of traffic in the process. Although the short term pain will be great, city and neighborhood officials say that it’s best to get it all over with as soon as possible, rather than drag the construction timeline out over the course of many years.

“We all recognize that we are experiencing a lot of development right now,” said Betsy Pandora, Executive Director of the Short North Alliance, “so pairing this type of project with those is a good thing – it helps to minimize some of the disruption, by doing them in tandem with each other.”

She added that, in order to minimize the impact on businesses, “the city is trying to be very deliberate in how they do the infrastructure.”

Two later phases of the project will tackle the heart of the district. Construction is scheduled to start in the spring of 2018 on the stretch of High between Poplar and Second avenues, and in 2019 for the last remaining section, south of King Avenue.

The goal is to upgrade the look of the corridor, with new street lights, trees, and landscaping, as well as a standardized approach to infrastructure like utility poles, traffic signals, signage and newspaper boxes.

Sidewalks will also be widened between Hubbard and Fifth avenues, bringing that section of the street more in line with the current condition of the streetscape south of Hubbard.

“If you are in the neighborhood on a Thursday evening, even compared to four or five years ago, there are an incredible amount of people,” said Pandora, “so, creating that additional space, along with clearer crosswalk markings and road markings, will make for a safer environment.”

“The experience you have now walking on the sidewalks can be somewhat unfriendly, really,” she added, citing buckling sidewalks caused by growing tree roots as one example. “The intent is that everyone can have a great and safe experience at all levels of mobility.”

The project will also clear the way for the city and the Short North Alliance to begin planning for a new wave of permanent public art, to be located within the public right-of way after the streetscape improvements are completed.

“We’ve been waiting for this effort to get underway to take a more strategic eye toward public art,” said Pandora. “The sidewalks have not been places where we could build anything new, because we knew this project was going to happen.”

The focus in recent years has been on temporary murals, in addition to a handful of new permanent pieces that will be installed directly onto buildings.

The city is currently seeking bids from consultants to develop a “Strategic Public Art Plan” for the corridor, which would include an extensive public planning process.

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