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Twinsburg hosts Congress for New Urbanism, workshop on walkable urban thoroughfares

by Conner Howard | reporter Published: May 9, 2013 12:00 AM
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Twinsburg -- Guest speakers, city planners, local business owners and more gathered at the Kent State University Regional Academic Center April 26 to discuss making urban centers more pedestrian-friendly, with Twinsburg's town center at the forefront for two administrators.

Organized by the Chicago-based Congress for New Urbanism, the workshop hosted roughly 50 people, including Planning and Development Director Larry Finch and Mayor Katherine Procop, and explained the principles of "Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares" through a manual published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

The manual describes techniques to create urban areas that welcome pedestrians and bicyclists -- as well as motorists, said CNU project manager Chris McCahill.

"A lot of the time, the design guidelines and land-use patterns that are the status quo -- they would prioritize to a great extent the movement of vehicles and access for vehicles, including parking and things like that," McCahill said. "So this manual takes the perspective that those design practices should also support social activities and economic activities. This manual sort of provides a blueprint for doing that."

Finch said the workshop provided city officials with a fresh perspective on urban design and how it can be made to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists while creating shopping and dining destinations for them.

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"It's a little bit different of a way of looking at streets," Finch said. "It's not so much oriented for getting traffic moving through your city quickly ... you compromise speed for the ability to move things safely and in a multi-modal manner. It might include a street lane that's shared by cars and bicycles both with the same level of importance or on-street parking on a busy roadway, like downtown Hudson has."

Finch added that the urban thoroughfare idea meshes nicely with the city's comprehensive plan for the Township Square area, which envisions pedestrian destinations and mixed use zoning throughout the town center area.

"Right now, the way that traffic is around the Square, it's not a very pedestrian-friendly environment," Finch said. "Not only that, there aren't too many destinations for people who are walking to shop or have dinner or something on the edge of the Square."

The city's comprehensive plan proposes a dynamic and walkable urban center with residential space combined with stores, restaurants, bars and other downtown fixtures, which requires investment and involvement on the part of the area's business owners, according to Finch. He said this can be an issue, as business owners are not always willing to invest in new infrastructure projects.

"Right now, investment in that area is languishing because some property owners are satisfied with the way their property is and they don't want to put any money into them," Finch said. "That's just the way it is from an economic standpoint. So, we're looking for ways to stimulate investment and do something that's compatible with the long term goals for that area."

Currently, the comprehensive plan for the downtown redesign is entirely conceptual, Finch said. The city will need to determine the cost of individual phases and how to implement them before an overall time line or budget can be formed.

The city is also in the process of creating a Community Improvement Corporation, a separate entity with oversight by city officials that would manage property development in certain areas of the city, with a particular focus on Twinsburg's central square area. Finch said in March that the CIC would be a tool for the city to encourage the development of businesses in the central area that would contribute to the creation of a dynamic, walkable urban center. The ordinance to create the CIC is currently under consideration by Council.

The comprehensive plan is updated every five to seven years by the city's comprehensive plan committee, which meets once a month.

Email: choward@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9423

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