By Dave Kiffer
October 13, 2008
Michael Spence raised a very interesting point on the SITNEWS
candidates forum right before the election and I didn't have
a chance to answer it, but I would like to do so now.
Mr. Spence asked about plans to improve the sidewalks and make
things in safer in Downtown and Newtown.
I have been the executive director for a local non-profit, Historic
Ketchikan, for the past decade and since the early 1990s Historic
Ketchikan has been addressing just the subject that Mr. Spence
expressed concern about.
It was pretty apparent by the early 1990s, that Ketchikan's narrow
little sidewalks and crowded streets weren't going to be able
to handle the 500,000 in projected visitors we could expect each
year. And then the cruise industry exploded and suddenly the
projections reached 1 million and the actual numbers topped 800,000.
Unfortunately our streets and sidewalks remained the same size.
In 1993 and again in 1995, Historic Ketchikan hired local architects
to come up with proposals for (a) widening the sidewalks wherever
possible and (b) building curb bulbs at important intersections
so visitors (and anyone downtown) wouldn't find themselves being
pushed out into the middle of the street while they either waited
for the traffic to pass or made up their mind where to go.
Historic Ketchikan also worked with both the city government
and the state Department of Transportation to implement these
plans. Not surprisingly, it took several years to get much forward
movement on it. The sidewalk widening stalled because it usually
involved removing some of the parking on the narrow streets and
everyone knows that removing parking in Ketchikan is considered
political suicide. But the DOT - which controls things on Tongass
Avenue - did agree to a pilot curb bulb project on the corner
of Mission and Front streets and that was installed in 1998.
The DOT also came up more than $100,000 for the city to do a
similar curb bulb project at the intersection of Mission and
Main streets. Unfortunately in 1999, after initally agreeing
to the project, the city, - for a variety of reasons - chose
not to implement it and returned the money to the state.
Historic Ketchikan has certainly not given up on that project
and recently met with members of the Downtown Steering Committee
to see if there is interest in lobbying the city to complete
it. Of course, now it will cost more than $100,000 and there
will be no state money to pay for it. Meanwhile, the intersection
remains one of the most congested ones in town each summer.
Two years ago, the city commissioned a study by a consulting
firm for "uplands" pedestrian flow improvements that
would make things safer for visitors and residents alike in the
Downtown area. Historic Ketchikan was happy to cooperate with
the consultant and even passed along some of our earlier work.
We were very pleased that two of the highest recommendations
on the final report were more "wider sidewalks" and
"curb bulbs." We are continueing to encourage the city
implement the recommendations of that report because Downtown
is just getting more and more crowded each summer.
The issue of wider sidewalks in Newtown is also one that Historic
Ketchikan has been very interested in since the city made it
clear that port development would head in that direction several
years ago. Actually, I have measured the sidewalks in Newtown
and there are at least two locations where they only 17 inches
wide! Newtown also has numerous locations where telephone poles
and fire hydrants sit right in the center of the sidewalks. We
have asked the city numerous times to put the utilities underground
as they did in the Downtown area years ago. We have heard several
different figures for that cost ranging from $750,000 to $5 million.
It was a shame that that work couldn't have coincided with one
of the numerous state highway projects on Water Street in recent
years but it didn't.
Anyway, the good thing is that the state and the city have finally
agreed on a project that would widen the sidewalks in the Newtown
area between the Shoenbar Bypass and the tunnel. Sadly, as I
write this, all the meetings and discussion have run together
in my mind and I can't remember how much the sidewalks on either
side will be widened. I believe it is two feet on the water side
and one foot on the uplands side. Or it might be just the opposite.
Honestly, that's probably not enough of an expansion, especially
in light of the fact there are no current plans to move telephone
polls or the fire hydrants. But, at least it is a start. There
is $1 million dollars in the city budget for the sidewalk widening
and the city and the DOT are hashing out final details.
In conclusion, Historic Ketchikan continues to lobby the city
government and the DOT to do what they can to improve pedestrian
flow in the Downtown, Newtown and Old Town areas. Simply building
more docks does not help the local economy if the passengers
find themselves in a snarled up mess of pedestrians and traffic
the minute they try to get off the docks.
We welcome the efforts of anyone else who also would like to
see wider sidewalks and better pedestrian flow!
Historic Ketchikan, Inc.Ketchikan, AK
Received October 10, 2008 -
Published October 13, 2008
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