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Bump outs are sexy....but are they Rossland? The streetscape brouhaha continues at public meeting

Is it really necessary? That’s the most common question that Kevin Terness hears about the city’s downtown redesign project.

“I think the feeling is it’s not really Rossland…,” the ISL engineer admitted at Monday night’s public meeting on the project. “They don’t see the need for the community congregating areas.”

But congregate we must if the designers get their way; rather pretty improvements have been pitched by ISL,  the contracted engineering and design firm for both the Cenotaph square and the plaza beside Ferraros.

The latter will even come complete with a nifty outdoor fireplace. Even the much-maligned “bulb-outs” or “bump-outs” were explained earnestly by ISL as a potential place to gather.

It will take a truly bumping bump-out party to convince many Rosslanders on that front, but ISL defended the proposed features, which were the cause of much muttering at Monday night’s meeting.

“They reduce traffic speed through a visual narrowing of the road, and this has been shown to work through North America and Europe,” said landscape architect Jeff Schunek. “And yes, it can work in Rossland.”

The bump-outs look essentially like pregnant pieces of the sidewalk, and are potentially to be placed in varying sizes along Columbia at all corners from Spokane to St Paul, and in a strip in front of the current Harry Lefevre Square, called the “Civic Centre Plaza” in the drawings.    

Schunek explained that the enhanced pedestrian visibility created by the bump-outs was a key element in obtaining Ministry of Transportation approval to install two additional crosswalks (at Queen and Spokane), a long-standing issue in a city where the main drag is also the provincial highway and a popular trucking route.

In winter, the bump-outs will serve as temporary snow load areas to improve upon the current method of sacrificing parking spaces, and though snow removal will have to be done differently, it will not necessarily be more expensive, said city planner Mike Maturo.

“There are ways to work around it. Costs could go up in one area and down in another,” he said, pointing out that the same amount of snow will have to be removed from streets and sidewalks, it is a matter of which machine is used. Either way, a bobcat or an excavator needs gas and a driver. Public Works is working closely with ISL engineers to design something manageable, Maturo said.  

Lastly, the design more clearly separates parked cars from pedestrians, as our current (and remaining) angled spaces are less than ideal in terms of visibility. At their core, the bump-outs are a safety feature, said Schunek, who explained that safety was the key issue communicated to ISL by the city and Transportation ministry in the early design phase.  “Absolutely I think it’s warranted.”

Changing the parking configuration is also warranted – partly by provincial regulation, said Terness. When the lines are redrawn, each stall must be half a metre wider, meaning a loss of 15 stalls without any reconfiguration. And the business community is “concerned about a reduction in parking,” he said.

The sentiment was seconded many times over at Monday’s meeting. “They just have to leave our bloody parking alone,” grumbled one attendee in the Telegraph’s earshot.  

Currently there are 106 parking spaces downtown. That falls to 84 with the redesign, including the 12 new parallel spaces on the north side between Washington and Queen streets (the rest remain angled). The City also owns three potential parking lots which it may develop: in priority order, those are beside the thrift store on Washington (31 spaces, with site preparation likely to begin in Spring 2012), behind the credit union (19 spaces) and behind the Post Office (9 spaces, though the hill would have to be leveled). That’s a possible net gain downtown of 37 spaces.

“It’s really not about what we’re doing, it’s about change,” said Terness. And cost.

Costs were not much emphasized at Monday’s meeting. They are, of course, not insubstantial. The numbers presented at the October 24 council meeting put total municipal costs for both Columbia and the first portion of Washington St. (up to 1st Avenue only) at $3.6 million, with landscaping/streetscape work making up $1 million, and the engineering fee taking $300,000 of that figure.

Council will have to approve a project budget between now and January so that the construction can be put out to tender for an April start. Council is not required to hold any further public information sessions, though they could do so if they chose. City Hall is accepting letters from citizens regarding the design and project.    

Design proposal information is available online.