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Downtown to get a facelift by next summer

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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G Street. Or Lincoln Boulevard. The first line doesn’t conjure up special images; it sounds like just another generic street name appearing in numerous cities across the United States. But the second line conjures up a stately, historical presence with tree-lined streets, flower boxes, park benches, sculptures, turn-of-the-century streetlights and quaint storefronts. Downtown Lincoln could head toward that scenario, starting next summer, via the city’s new Lincoln Boulevard project. The project encompasses more than a simple name change. Traffic light timing could be reduced from up to five minutes to half that time and informative downtown signs would point the way to parks, parking areas and historical buildings. The project would make downtown Lincoln a location where residents and out-of-towners regularly visit. “It’s an exciting project to transition in for the town from having a state highway basically dividing our downtown to a more pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly, NEV-friendly, retail-friendly environment,” said Mark Miller, the city’s public services director. Miller is looking forward to the Highway 65 bypass completion in summer 2012 that will reduce the heavy traffic loads. Daily average traffic, as of 2004/2005, is about 37,500 vehicles, according to a city study. Miller estimates that 1/3 to ½ of today’s traffic will take advantage of the bypass. As part of the bypass project, Caltrans will relinquish Highway 65 from approximately First Street to Sterling Parkway to the city of Lincoln and provide $588,807 in grant funds for Lincoln Boulevard’s engineering and design project, according to Miller. “The purpose of the Lincoln Boulevard project is to ensure the best use of the transition money to go from state highway to a local street and make it as good a destination for the whole community and beyond Lincoln,” Miller said. Engineering and design funding is from Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant funds, administered by Caltrans, and Transportation Development Act funds, according to Miller. Lincoln Boulevard took a big step forward April 26 when City Council authorized Miller to sign a $540,917 professional services agreement with Mark Thomas & Company, Inc. for professional engineering, environmental, right of way and miscellaneous services. The city’s cost, Miller said, is providing staff time and support. That cost equals $47,890. ”My experience is, when you get rid of excessive through-traffic, you make it easier to make it a destination. I’m optimistic,” Miller said. “That said, we have only limited funds to do improvements. The biggest bang we’ll get is having timing of signals, especially in the historical district, from Caltrans control to city control. We will emphasize internal circulation instead of through traffic.” The model is returning G Street to historic downtown where local businesses and residents are the focus, according to Miller. “It’s not the panacea for all the economic issues facing far greater than Lincoln but it will emphasize downtown area as a destination and re-create a sense of place,” Miller said. The downtown stores deserve foot traffic. “Part of the plan is to make downtown an economic stimulus, to encourage local and regional businesses coming in,” Miller said. “Timing is good because we’re seeing interest in Beermann’s (brewery), the old Rainbow Market, there’s some choice vacant land. The more people you have shopping downtown, the more businesses will benefit.” For at least a year, I’ve been critical of city staff not taking action to make downtown more desirable. I’m glad the city is on top of Lincoln Boulevard. It will help make downtown Lincoln sparkle in the near future. “We want to be sure traffic has a welcoming and clear direction on how to get here,” Miller said, “We want to see a more attractive streetscape, friendly signage and much better pedestrian, NEVS, bicycles and local traffic circulation.” Our downtown deserves to be full of visitors. I’m glad that the area will soon be more accessible. Carol Feineman can be reached at carolf@goldcountrymedia.com