Increasing the safety and walkability of downtown area


Handicap accessible sidewalks are long overdue in Livingston, and in early 2018, downtown is getting a facelift. But prior to the construction season, the City Commission was faced with a decision; approve the current design as is, or incorporate the recommendations of a traffic study. The study suggested traffic-calming measures such as curb extensions, diagonal parking and a one-way orientation of three blocks of Main Street. 

Several members of the public contributed their impassioned thoughts, comments and concerns. It is heartwarming to know that people care deeply about downtown Livingston. 

The public comments focused heavily on the curb extensions, or “bulb-outs.” One group advocated for the traffic calming and increased safety of bulb outs, and how they could enhance public safety and the vibrancy and walkability of downtown. Others advocated against the bulb-outs, citing concerns that bulb-outs were unattractive, expensive and could ruin the historic feel of downtown.

There were a variety of options presented to commissioners: one-way plus traffic calming curb extensions, delay construction to consider a redesign or keep downtown just as it is with ADA accessible sidewalks — there was a lot to consider.

After two meetings and over five hours of hearings, the city commission made a reluctant decision. It decided not to follow the guidance of the traffic engineers and planners, or the thoughtful recommendations of the city manager, or the parents  and cyclists asking for enhanced safety, or the downtown businesses owners who would like to see Main Street thriving with pedestrians spending money in our downtown shops. 

Instead, at 10:15 p.m. the commission voted on a revised plan based on a suggestion from one member of the public: Make downtown one-way, but without curb extensions. 

If this project goes forward as planned, when the first three blocks of downtown Livingston are upgraded next spring, Main Street from Park to Clark will be resurfaced as a one-way with vertical parking on both sides. This configuration and flow of traffic in downtown will add parking spaces, but it will also decrease pedestrian visibility and safety. Consult any expert on planning, walkability, or economic data around downtown improvement — no one would have recommended this configuration. It was the only proposal that could actually make downtown less safe. Having lived and visited in other communities with impressive walking and biking infrastructure, I personally preferred the increased safety and walkability of bulb-outs. When done well, curb extensions are vegetated, beautifully aesthetic, and optimize downtowns for people, not just cars. I think they would be a great enhancement to downtown. However, I can appreciate the heartfelt concerns of many of my friends and neighbors who were opposed to them.

Unfortunately, this decision could have very long-term implications. The plan was for the design elements completed in the first phase to carry out through the rest of the downtown project. Are we stuck with this middle-of-the-night decision for another 50 years?

I propose we test before committing. Instead of concrete, can we put large planters on the corners to give the same feel of curb extensions? Can we try the one-way with temporary signage and see how it functions? Can we design the storm drains to add curb extensions later? Can we be bold and visionary about our one-of-a-kind downtown and create solutions that are just as unique as the residents of Livingston? I hope so. 

There might still be time. Please call your commissioners and ask them what they are going to do to increase the safety and walkability of downtown Livingston. 

Erica Lighthiser