Downtown Lincoln becoming the real deal

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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I admit the newspaper front page can be depressing when we report on our city losing half its police force.

Or one of our two library branches and one of three fire stations being closed, due to budget cuts.

Or more gang members moving into the area.

Or the latest, our cash-starved town facing a potentially expensive ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) lawsuit from a resident of 10 months, who said he sues once a month for the last 13 years.

All the above make it hard to smile when talking about city news.

If we had our choice, we would rather be reporting only on positive news. But we have to cover everything.

So I’m happy to focus this week on the Lincoln Boulevard Improvements Project that is helping make Lincoln’s downtown a real destination for residents and visitors. Design work for the improvements project began about two years

Cities with vibrant and safe downtowns can afford a wide array of services, from good public safety staffing levels to fully-operating library branches.

Plus a lively downtown improves the quality of life for residents who like being active and having someplace fun to go.

The city of Lincoln’s public services director Mark Miller also wants to see downtown Lincoln become a nice place to hang out with family and friends. Miller has been a big advocate of the Lincoln Boulevards Improvements Project since he started working here two and a half years ago.

“Residents will see an improved streetscape, with new sidewalks, plantings, striping, lighting and enhanced signage,” Miller said. “The final project will enhance all of downtown Lincoln with improved pedestrian, bicycle and NEV circulation; new landscaping; additional focus on Lincoln’s history; better opportunity for arts and culture; and a renewed celebration of the community’s center.”

Miller said the current phase (1B and 1C) “should be completed over the next two construction seasons, pending Old Highway 65 Relinquishment from Caltrans, finishing the end of summer 2014.”

And, so far, the city of Lincoln has not had any construction costs.

“We’ve expended no construction dollars on the project although we have dedicated a lot of staff hours toward the design,” Miller said.

The project is paid for by federal CMAQ (Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality) funds through the state of California Department of Transportation and Highway Safety Improvement Program funds.

In November, 2011, I wrote about those funds being used within a year or two to shorten the traffic signal timing along G Street; add new signage about parks, parking areas and historical buildings; provide striping on the streets to designate NEV lanes; and landscaping.

We’re currently experiencing the results of Phase 1A, which is the retiming of 11 traffic signals along Lincoln Boulevard (formerly known as G Street).

Phase 1A began simultaneously with the opening of the Highway 65 Bypass last October.

Walking to downtown now is enjoyable. While I used to wait up to five minutes at traffic light intersections, the light today turns green within a minute or two. That makes for a better walk, as I don’t have to dodge a steady stream of cars at all hours of the day. Miller estimates that half of the daily vehicles that used to travel through downtown’s main thoroughfare has been diverted to the bypass. In 2004/2005, daily average traffic was about 37,500 vehicles.

Plus Lincoln’s downtown has attracted new businesses, including a restaurant, fabric/quilting store, gift stores, gym and a bakery. There are now a number of places to visit, once you arrive downtown.

About 40 audience members enthusiastically listened at last Thursday’s community workshop on the next improvements to begin this August. The audience was a mix of downtown business owners, Lincoln Hills residents, Lincoln Crossing residents and downtown residents.

The city of Lincoln’s construction manager Ray Leftovich told the audience that the improvements will make downtown a safe environment for pedestrians and provide access for NEVs (neighborhood electric vehicles) and bicycles.

Phase 1B extends from McBean Park Drive to Seventh Street on Lincoln Boulevard. Streetscape improvements cost $3 million and will be funded with federal CMAQ funds. These improvements include red maple and crape myrtle trees; Gladding, McBean tiles in crosswalks and sidewalks; city-symbol medallions on benches and in the street; bike racks and street lights so it’s not dark at night.

I’m particularly looking forward to the Lincoln Boulevard Improvements Project’s Phase 1C, in which NEV lanes, sidewalk and bike lanes will be extended from north of Seventh Street to south of Sterling Parkway. That cost of $1.1 million will be funded by federal HSIP funds.

There are so many healthy benefits to being able to walk or bike to area stores and restaurants.

But right now, walking or biking from downtown to Sterling Parkway is not a pleasant option when you have to travel on the busy Lincoln Boulevard edge with vehicles buzzing by.

“The NEV/bike lane and sidewalk will be continuous on the east side of Lincoln Boulevard and through most of the west side,” Miller said. “Full completion will be with the replacement of the Auburn Bridge over Lincoln Boulevard, which will take a number of years.”

Downtown Lincoln is growing up. And we get to enjoy it as it becomes a more welcoming destination.

That’s a positive for all residents to relish, not just this week but for years to come.