Monday, September 14, 2009

A Vision for Main Street

On Friday last, an eager group of downtown merchants, residents, elected officials, and City staff crowded into the east wing of the library to see the preliminary results of MAG's Main Street Vision Study.

And such a vision it was. Poring over the engineering diagrams, the artist's conceptions, and the numerous pictorial examples from other western Main Streets, I felt as though I were actually gazing upon the American Fork Main Street I have always envisioned.

It was like driving down 89 wearing rose-colored glasses.

This, for me, was the truth-revealing paradox of the evening, to think that the traffic-snarled corridor which is widely seen as the greatest deterrent to a healthy downtown could actually point the way to its revitalization. Consider the following morsels of insight gleaned from Friday's presentation:

  • If American Fork does nothing, today's 20,000 daily vehicle trips on Main Street will escalate to more than 50,000 in thirty years. Pacific Drive's counts will number in the 20,000s. This translates to seven lanes of traffic on Main, five on Pacific.
  • Sustainable traffic planning means including more mass transit options and better accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists. This will not only ease the high traffic counts but will also bring life-giving pedestrian traffic to downtown merchants. ("Cars don't shop," we learned. "People shop.")
  • Creative solutions, such as the creation of one-way traffic couplets along Main and Pacific, can reduce lanes to three or four on each street. This would allow the City to preserve the existing parking on each side, add a bicycle lane, and create better conditions for pedestrians.
  • It turns out that bicycle racks are a bigger motivator for cyclists than dedicated bike lanes.
  • It is possible to house a 21st century parking garage in a 19th century facade.
  • Street trees and harmonious landscaping do more than create a happy facade; they play a large part in generating economic prosperity by attracting customers and reducing crime.

Friday's open house, while preliminary in nature, nevertheless represents three months' hard work by a dedicated team of the state's best urban planners. In just three months, team members met with all existing stakeholders and gathered oral input. They surveyed every Main Street resident and business. They analyzed American Fork's business license trends, tax records and leakage reports; they gathered data from North Utah County's tourism destinations. They met with UDOT and UTA and surveyed the City's existing ordinances and budget constraints.

This underlying research will make a compelling case when the City begins to work toward next steps. This is good, because next steps will be difficult. If the City is to launch a new vision for Main Street, it will need to enact a new set of ordinances, the likes of which have never been seen in American Fork -- ordinances for TOD (transit-oriented development) and form-based ordinances.

City leaders will need to lobby vigorously for American Fork's interests with the likes of UDOT and UTA. Leaders must also be willing to sit down with potential developers and help them see a vision for themselves on Main Street.

These will be difficult battles. But if we are to overcome the blight that is overtaking our downtown, this is the fight we must fight.

Please watch for more of the Main Street Vision as it takes shape. I'm told drawings will soon be posted at the City's Web site.

And please, consider the urgent nature of this issue as you follow election debates this season. The full Main Street vision will take thirty years to realize. But the time to make decisions is now.


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