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Parking versus pedestrian in Willoughby district

Posted: October 9, 2012 - 12:05am
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Brian Holst, Executive Director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, center, talks with Ricardo Worl, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority, left, Assembly Member Ruth Danner, right, and others interested in the revitalization of the Willoughby District during a walking tour on Monday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Brian Holst, Executive Director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, center, talks with Ricardo Worl, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority, left, Assembly Member Ruth Danner, right, and others interested in the revitalization of the Willoughby District during a walking tour on Monday.

A common sight when driving down Willoughby Avenue — storefronts separated from each other and the street by wide-open parking lots. Parking lots, chain link fence and barbed wire frustrate pedestrian access across the district's two super-sized blocks.

Juneau’s volunteer downtown revitalization group turned a critical eye on the human-scale features of downtown Juneau’s Willoughby District during an area walk-through on Monday.

The revitalization group, hosted by the Juneau Economic Development Council, is looking for a way to balance Juneau’s need for vehicular access, pedestrian access to the district and the desire for a look and feel that engages and comforts the people who live, work and shop there —in short, the streetscape. Other groups are focused on affordable housing and transportation in Juneau’s downtown.

Before several stages of landfill in the 1960s and 1970s created acres of flat, inexpensive land, Juneau’s southern shoreline ran along current day Willoughby Avenue. A number of the storefronts along Willoughby still rest on pilings once marking the beach.

Group leader Greg Fisk said development of areas near Gold Creek and the flume that run through Willoughby could serve as two of many well-defined pedestrian routes. The flume runs adjacent the planned back entrance of the State Library and Museum. The area in between, now wrapped around with chain link and barbed wire could become a street and landscaped walkway from Willoughby Avenue to Egan Drive.

“When the Sea Walk gets developed further, the ideas is to get pedestrian access through this district and down to the waterfront,” Fisk said. “Instead of looking at streets and edges of streets exclusively … look at our geographical condition, mountains to water.”

Fisk singled out the Willoughby Place building as an example of preferred storefront aesthetics. The building abuts the sidewalk with large windows and an open, light-filled commercial space below and housing units above. Many of its neighboring buildings sit well back from the sidewalk with parking lots blocking their easy access.

One issue is how to control parking to make more space is available for development. Another is allowing pedestrian access along streets instead of through surface parking lots like those adjacent Centennial Hall.

“The problem is there are not a lot of streets throughout the district,” Fisk said. This prevents safe, identifiable pedestrian routes. “There is too much surface parking, it is making it an unfriendly environment.”

One remedy, Fisk said, is to raise parking above ground-level commercial space in multi-story developments. New City and Borough of Juneau zoning allows for denser, taller structures in the Willoughby District. The State of Alaska has said it is considering adding one or more levels to its existing parking garage. The city also changed its parking requirements for new Willoughby developments.

Other parking options could be to locate parking behind the buildings that abut sidewalks, or creating on-street parking which also serves as a buffer between street traffic and sidewalk pedestrians.

Group volunteer Kay Nell said parking and development in Willoughby looks the way it does due to previous zoning requirements. She said she recommended care as the city creates Willoughby's new look.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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