City unveils plans for the transformation of Hall Street
Climbing those stairs on Hall Street is not everyone’s idea of a good time. But Robert Fershau wants to change that. As one of the landscape architects re-designing Hall street, he’s hoping to make the best of that 16% grade on the 300 block.
“We want to celebrate the grade,” he says. “Why can’t those stairs be fun? We want to entice people up and down, and turn it from an arduous journey to one that is meandering and enjoyable.”
The 26-meter elevation change within that block also makes driving through the Hall-Vernon intersection risky, as any Nelson driver knows. Fershau says he’d like to turn the 300 block Hall into a one-way street, down.
Fershau is a landscape architect with the MMM Group, the Kelowna firm hired by the city to help re-design Hall Street from top to bottom. At a public meeting on June 20, Fershau outlined some preliminary concepts to a crowd of about 35 people that included five members of city council.
The MMM Group’s powerpoint presentation summarized the plan clearly, and can be viewed on the city website.
Open up IODE Park and Herridge Lane
Fershau started with IODE Park at the top of Hall St. He referred to the park as “lost space,” and proposed that the wall be removed and the park be opened up by introducing water, public art, and benches.
The short block on Hall St. beside Sidewinders would have decorative paving, trees, and perhaps a public washroom. The number of parking spaces would be increased but they could be temporarily removed, creating a plaza for a public events or performances. Access to Herridge Lane would be improved.
Make Baker to Vernon two-way
Currently a one-way street, the Baker-Vernon block would be two-way traffic with angle parking on one side. The street would be narrower and the sidewalks wider, making it easier to have patios. The entrance to the alley that leads to the future Nelson Commons site would be improved. Commercial development would be encouraged on the west side of the street.
Make Hall a one-way street down the steep part
The Hall-Vernon intersection has been identified by ICBC as risky.
To compensate for making the 300 block of Hall Street one-way downhill, Cedar Street would become one-way up. Fershau said these ideas are still under consideration and could be done on a trial basis, as it is mostly a matter of signage.
A second option is that the 300 block Hall remain two-way but drivers coming up to Vernon would be forced to turn right, with the drawback that this would not be pedestrian-friendly and it would direct more traffic to Ward St. which is already busy.
The entrance to the Community Complex would be moved downhill to form a four-way intersection with Lake Street.
Re-think the stairs on the 300 block Hall
Fershau said the stairs could be widened on either or both sides by eliminating parking on the steep part of the street, and that there would be more trees, landings, and public art.
“Steps are social spaces, people gravitate to them to sit, meet people, eat lunch,” he said. “This is an opportunity to get creative.”
Fershau suggested celebrating the former Chinatown further by extending the message of the Chinatown plaque at Hall and Vernon with artwork down the stairs.
The section of the street between Lake and Front streets would have angle parking, and commercial development would be encouraged on the west side of the street.
The Front and Hall intersection
The pedestrian island at the southeast corner of the Front-Hall intersection would be expanded and the Community Complex lower parking lot would be made more attractive. There would be major way-finding signs at this intersection. All these things, according to Fershau would “give the corner a presence.”
The intersection at Lakeside Drive
Options for the block between Front Street and Lakeside Drive are limited because of the railway. The 3-way intersection at Lakeside Drive needs to be more pedestrian friendly. Options include a traffic circle, which would work well but which would not be pedestrian friendly either, or a 4-way stop.
Lakeside to the shore
The section from Lakeside Drive to the water would see parking completely reconfigured, the trolley station moved, and lots of signposts and plantings, all to increase pedestrian feel.
“It should not feel like a vehicle circulation area,” Fershau said. “It would reclaim the connection to the lake and the waterfront and expand park and event space.”
The gazebo would be relocated so it does not block the view of the lake. There could be a small amphitheatre or performance space, and a space for events including perhaps weddings. There might be steps to the lake where people could “interact with water.” And there would be public art, about which Fershau commented, “Humorous public art is better than cerebral public art.”
“We were told not to lose parking overall,” Fershau said. He explained that to compensate for any loss of parking in the Hall Street plan, 30 more spaces in the 100 block Baker and in the 200, 300, and 400 blocks Victoria could easily be created with angled parking. Fershau also recommended 4-hour meters in those areas.
Dooley and Cormack
Mayor Dooley and city manager Kevin Cormack both spoke to the proposed changes. Dooley said it is 35 years since any serious work was done on Nelson’s downtown, harking back to downtown revitalization in the early 1980s. He reminded the audience that the proposed improvements to Hall St. are part of the Sustainable Downtown Waterfront Master Plan that was created through public input.
“It doesn’t make sense to isolate our waterfront from the downtown,” said Cormack. “There is nothing that says, ‘Here is our waterfront.’ The waterfront will run all the way to Red Sands beach, and the park at the base of Hall St. will introduce people to this.”
Referring to the present condition of Hall St., Cormack said, “It’s a pretty unattractive street. Who would want to walk it?”
Questions from the public: it’s all about traffic
There were 8-10 questions from the audience, all but one of them about traffic and parking. No one had questions or comments about pedestrian issues, amenities, trees, water, or public art, except one person who worried that these things might attract “undesirables.”
Related story in The Nelson Daily: New Corridors to the Waterfront (October 2012)