As many of our readers know, in 2010 Crystal City will be launching the first of a series of major and much needed roadway improvement projects. The first project will be a Surface Transportation Project (STP) for Jefferson Ave from 10th to 4th street and Virginia from 4th to Bailey Road. This project will include road milling and new overlay, new curbs and sidewalks, new decorative street lighting, and the addition of tree lawns in areas with sufficient right-of-way. The grant is an 80/20 split, making this project a phenomenal deal for Crystal City residents. On August 17th the City Council and project engineers held a public comment hearing for input on the upcoming project. The hearing was well attended and all of the comments were very constructive with many good ideas put forward.
We've talked before about the need for adopting a Complete Streets Policy in Crystal City to serve as a design standards document for projects like these. In the meantime, we took a look at other similar road projects in our region and have put together a list of ideas and principles we feel can make the Jefferson/Virginia project (and the next project, 11th & Mississippi) a rousing success!
1. Ensure ADA Compliance
ADA compliance is, of course, being engineered into this project. Its an important component in 21st century design and certainly a moral obligation to be included. We hope that the engineers ensure that all of the curb access ramps are sufficiently graded to allow motorized and non-motorized wheelchairs to go up and down freely. We also want to ensure that all sidewalk ramps are fitted with a dimpled plate to assist our visually impaired residents in knowing where the sidewalk meets the street, and also to help provide traction in wet weather to guard against slipping. These ideas seem simple enough, but the number of projects that include improperly graded ramps or are not fully ADA compliant are many in number and not all of them get fixed.
2. Ensure Compliance with the Bike/Pedestrian Trail Master Plan
We noted that the engineers have included "Bikes Share The Road" signage in the plan, but we'd like to see them go a step further. Crystal City has a Bike/Pedestrian Trail Master Plan in place from a grant project a few years ago. The City should ensure that instead of merely placing "Bikes Share the Road" signage that appropriate "Bike Trail" or "Bike Route" signage is placed. The project should also include a bike trail logo stenciled onto the road where appropriate. Both Jefferson and Virginia Avenues have recommended trail treatments in the plan and we feel that the City and its engineers should follow those recommendations where appropriate. Signage and stencils are cheap and easy upgrades. City officials would do well to promote non-motorized transportation and recreational travel in Crystal City.
3. Watch the Light Pollution!
We really like the planned upgrade in street lights-- they'll match the new lights on the Mississippi Ave bridge. We have a minor concern, however, about possible light pollution from so many of these new fixtures. Rather than project light down toward the ground, the new fixtures are essentially omni-directional. The lights are bright enough, when bunched together, to be extremely bright, (as one can notice crossing the tracks on Virginia and looking east toward the bridge late at night) which has the unfortunate effect of bleeding light into the night sky thus making the stars more difficult to see. The recently passed conditional use permit for the Wings Iron Reduction Facility has restrictions on its types of lighting specifically to combat this issue. Not being lighting experts, we are unaware of whether a lower wattage bulb could be used to dim this effect in the new lights being placed along Jefferson and Virginia Avenues or whether a modification to the light, such as a kind of cap, could be placed to limit or redirect the light. Street and sidewalk lighting is very important for the safety of our residents. A happy balance can definitely be achieved that keeps our streets safe and our skies dark!
More information on this subject can be found at the International Dark Sky Association FAQ
4. Have a Plan for the Street Trees
We were very happy with the announcement of new tree lawns and street trees being planted in Crystal City-- we feel that our community forest is an important and valuable resource to our community. In fact, we openly advocate Crystal City taking the steps neccissary to become a Tree City USA! In the meantime, to maximize the effect of these improvements and new trees we recommend that Crystal City team with the local Resource Forester to come up with a solid plan for our new plantings. Its important to be diverse in tree selection to avoid mass killings from one disease or insect, but its also important not to simply allow people to pick any tree they wish. The result of completely free choice would be a hodgepodge look, trees of varying sizes which would not provide a full street canopy, and trees that would have a root system that spreads too far outward, possibly tearing up our new sidewalks within a few years. A good plan will ensure we get maximum value, aesthetic improvement, enjoyment, and longevity from our new street tress.
More information on Community Forests and Street Tree Planting can be found at the Missouri Department of Conservation site.
In the past these ideas would have been considered extravagant or over the top. Today, they are essential and demanded parts to any public infrastructure improvements. We are excited about these street improvements as they represent a major step forward in Crystal City's evolution into a 21st century, modern community!