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A new look and safer sidewalks for downtown

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Villagers will encounter changes downtown this summer, as a village sidewalk renovation project on the eastern side of Xenia Avenue that aims to make downtown safer and more attractive moves ahead.

Along with sidewalk repair, the project includes adding more space for bike parking and community interaction, replacing streetlights and street trees, and more clearly delineating the informal crosswalk between the Emporium and Tom’s Market.

“The idea is to create more public space,” Village Manager Laura Curliss said in an interview last week. “It will be exciting.”

The project is an expansion of a project aimed at repairing village sidewalks. While Village Council already approved funding for sidewalk repairs, Council will likely discuss funding for the expanded project at its June 18 meeting, Karen Wintrow said this week.

Wintrow is also excited to see the changes.

“This is something I’ve wanted to happen for years,” she said this week. “There are improvements that need to be made. Parts of the sidewalk are dangerous, and improvements in the visual landscape will be a positive for business and the town.”

The project will probably begin next week, and will start on Glen Street and work north, with about 50 feet of sidewalk at a time closed off, Curliss said. Local landscape architect Roger Beal is working on a design.

The additional public space will be created with a new “bump-out” in front of the Emporium, a concrete area in the shape of an eyebrow located in what is now a parking space, where the table currently on the sidewalk in front of that business will be moved, and an additional table added. The goal is both to create more public space and to move the current table out of the way of people using the sidewalk, Curliss said.

While the bump-out will replace one current parking space, the project aims to end up with at least one parking space more than is now available, according to Curliss, since current Village parking spaces are about six feet longer than the standard size. The Village plans to re-stripe the parking spaces so that spaces are shorter than they are now, thus creating space for the bump-out and on-street bicycle parking next to the bump-out, as well as one additional parking space.

Trees replaced

The re-striping of parking spaces on the eastern side of Xenia Avenue means that the cut-outs for street trees will be moved to align with the new parking places, so that people getting in and out of cars aren’t blocked by trees. While making this change, Curliss plans to replace some of the Bradford pears that have lined downtown streets for several decades. While Bradford pears were considered favorable street trees years ago, they are now deemed too large for street placement, and are also considered an invasive species, Curliss said. Because of their size, some of the trees on the eastern side of Xenia Avenue have heaved the sidewalk, which now needs extensive repair.

It’s not been determined which Bradford pears — which were placed downtown by the Tree Committee in the late 1960s — will be removed, according to Curliss, who emphasized that the trees removed will be replaced by a different species, or several species. Wendy Van Buren, an urban forester with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, will advise the Village on the selection of the trees, Curliss said. The replacement trees will initially be about 10 to 15 feet high, but that smaller height should not affect the shadiness of that side of the street, because most of the sidewalk shade comes from buildings, Curliss said.

During the renovation, the electrical lines that currently skim the tops of the street trees will be removed and buried underground.

“Railroady” streetlights

Also as part of the project, Village streetlights on that side of Xenia will be placed with smaller lights. The current lights are too tall, and out of proportion to the downtown space, Curliss said. The new lights will be black, with a gooseneck, “railroady” look.

“They will definitely be more attractive,” she said.

Of course, sidewalks will also be repaired during the project, which is part of a Village-wide repair project that various Village Councils have considered over many years and never acted on. The barrier was that previously, sidewalk repair expenses were considered the responsibility of property owners, and were sometimes difficult to collect. However, a year ago Council decided that sidewalks should, like streets, be considered part of Village infrastructure and therefore the financial responsibility of the Village. About $50,000 for sidewalk repair has been set aside in the Village’s general fund in 2012, and for the downtown project that amount will likely be supplemented by revenues from the Electric Fund, which has a significant surplus.

The current project is more ambitious than originally envisioned, Curliss said, because it makes sense to do as much as possible to address problems when extensive repair work takes place.

“When you’re bringing a backhoe out, a village manager thinks, is this all we need?” she said. “It’s too painful not to solve the problems you’ve got.”

Specifically, the problems addressed will be, besides faulty sidewalks, a need for more bike and car parking downtown and the need to bury electric lines.

This summer’s repair project on the eastern side of Xenia Avenue is the first stage of the project. Next summer, renovations to the western side of Xenia Avenue downtown will be made, Curliss said.

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2 Responses to “A new look and safer sidewalks for downtown”

  1. Kathryn Hitchcock says:

    Unfortunately, David, the trees have heaved the sidewalks and people have stumbled and fallen, some with more than superficial injuries. These trees are now considered invasive. I don’t like the idea of cutting down trees, but having helped several people who have tripped on the uneven sidewalk, I support this plan.

  2. David Kowalski says:

    Is there an alternative to this plan? This publication conveys the message that all are in unified agreement that cutting down these trees is a good idea. I find this astonishingly hypocritical in a town that portrays itself as a guardian of nature.

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