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Planners Outline Vision for Connecting, Enhancing River Corridors

Brent Warren Brent Warren Planners Outline Vision for Connecting, Enhancing River CorridorsThis MKSK concept shows a new park and development at Confluence Park, featuring better connections to both Franklinton and the Hilltop.
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A group of Columbus-based planners were tasked with coming up with new ideas for the region’s five major river corridors. The results of those efforts were presented to the Columbus Metropolitan Club last night, and are also now available for anyone to look at and comment on at rapid5.org.

The project is the latest effort of the Rapid 5 initiative, an ongoing effort to highlight the potential of Central Ohio’s rivers. In addition to raising awareness, leaders of the project are also interested in exploring ways that the rivers could be better-connected, both to each other and to the neighborhoods and towns they run through.

“What we’re encouraging, with Rapid 5, is for our region to think big,” said William Murdock, Executive Director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC). “And to think about…how can we elevate this, how can we, not just have a trail, but how can we really activate and enliven these waterways…and also have it be about equity and access.”

MORPC has been partnering with the Columbus chapter of the Urban Land Institute on Rapid 5, and will likely take the lead on working with local jurisdictions to implement the ideas that come out of the process that end up gaining the support of local residents and politicians.

The response so far from the region’s cities, suburbs and towns has been encouraging, Murdock said; “every community in Franklin County is a part of this and is supporting this.”

The following is a brief look at some of the ideas generated for each corridor. For each one, the planners were also asked by Columbus Underground to pick one item that could be described as “low hanging fruit,” or a more practical (and less-visionary) idea that could be implemented sooner rather than later.

Big Darby Creek

With two premier Metro Parks within its boundaries and lots of natural amenities, the Big Darby Creek corridor should position itself as a weekend-or-more destination, not just a place to drive through or visit for an afternoon, said Brian Bernstein, Principal and Co-Founder of Realm Collaborative.

There are also real opportunities to make it easier for Columbus residents to access the area. The West Broad Street Bus Rapid Transit corridor that is being planned as part of the LinkUs initiative, for example, “terminates just at the edge of this region,” said Bernstein, providing a great place to “pick up a bike and ride to the Battelle Darby Metro Park, or maybe even get on a gondola; one of our crazy ideas is that you need to get up above some of this territory to really appreciate it and see the vastness of Central Ohio.”

Low hanging fruit: Establish a tourism board to promote the region, with representatives from both Franklin and Madison Counties.

Scioto River

Kim Way, Principal and Director of Urban Design and Planning at NBBJ, stressed that the southern end of the Scioto River corridor has not received as much investment as the northern end. One idea calls for a music pavilion and “adventure park” on the Shelly Quarry land just north of Route 104.

Low hanging fruit: Way pointed out that it’s currently quite easy to get into the Scioto River on a kayak or canoe, but getting out can be a challenge. More access points and launches are needed up and down the river, and that’s not necessarily an expensive undertaking.

Olentangy River

Andrew Overbeck, Principal and Planner at MKSK, pointed out that there aren’t many places that trail users can stop and grab a drink or bite to eat along the Olentangy Trail (apart from Milestone 229, which is Downtown, and the Hills grocery store, which is in Worthington). Another area of need is better east-west connections, providing low-stress ways to bike or walk to the Olentangy Trail from Linden and other neighborhoods that lack direct trail access.

Low hanging fruit: The fully-funded plan to build two bridges over the Olentangy River in Clintonville will be happening soon, providing access to a prime development site and momentum for future projects that aim to connect trails on both sides of the river.

Alum Creek

Michael Bongiorno, Managing Principal and Design Director for AECOM, described Alum Creek as a “gem hidden in plain site.” One idea he highlighted is to create a transit-oriented development in Hanford Village, an African American neighborhood that was split in two in the 1960s when I-70 was built right through the middle of it. The goal would be to “restitch the neighborhood back together,” in a way that “won’t lead to displacement or gentrification.”

Low hanging fruit: A partnership between KIPP Columbus and Battelle to build an outdoor science classroom on the creek.

Big Walnut Creek

Timothy Skinner, Principal at Edge, said that the Big Walnut Creek and its tributaries touch over a dozen different municipalities and townships, but there is a “lack of trailways, access and connectivity” that would enable residents to experience it. There are lots of opportunities to fix that and to highlight the region’s rich history at the same time, he said. In Lockbourne, for instance, improved park spaces and trail connections could draw attention toward the remnants of the Ohio-to-Erie canal system locks which gave the town its name.

Low hanging fruit: Existing parks like Gahanna’s Friendship Park or Nfzger Park near Refugee Road are ripe for simple improvements that could really help connect the corridor.

For much more on each river corridor – including lots more renderings, ideas, and maps – see www.rapid5.org.

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