Better public transit, safer streets among locals' top goals

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2000

Ask 120 people to list their top five priorities for the future of Juneau, and you'll get 600 answers.

Hundreds of ideas came out of a four-day planning session with members of the Juneau community, led by transportation consultant Dan Burden in April. The results were delivered to the city last week as the Transportation Vision.

Some ideas are general -- provide better public transportation, preserve the natural beauty of Juneau, provide affordable housing and reduce traffic on Egan Drive. Others are specific -- build a monorail, add bike lanes to Egan Drive and allow float homes in Gastineau Channel.

Burden summarized the key issues, and these are the top eight themes that emerged:

Need for an economically vital downtown core with unique shops and more community essentials.

Expansion of the downtown waterfront sea walk experience.

Streets that work efficiently and with maximum safety for vehicles as well as bicyclists and pedestrians.

Light rail or other efficient, attractive convenient transit system with good shelters and frequent, fast, fun, friendly service.

A center that provides parking and stops for buses, rail or ferries. The center would be at a prime downtown location within a five-minute walk of key offices, shops and centers of activity.

Preservation of the rural nature of Juneau, including open vistas, historic buildings and a much quieter experience with lots of green.

In downtown, pedestrians and bicyclists come first, and motorists are seen as guests, expected to behave.

More and better managed residential and commercial parking downtown.

The long-term planners who organized the sessions wanted the results to reflect the overall community.

``One of the challenges is making sure we get a good cross-section to turn out. If not, you come up with a vision that's not supported community-wide. If it doesn't represent the community, it's not going to go any place,'' said Marshal Kendziorek, a member of the committee overseeing the plan.

Socrates Kreuzenstein, a Juneau resident who helped organize the planning sessions, came to Juneau 30 years ago and has lived in many different parts of town. He said he's found that residents in different areas tend to have different priorities. But too often, he said, downtown residents dominate discussions.

``Juneau is such a polarized community,'' he said. ``There's a lot of people downtown who want to walk and bicycle, and don't want sprawl. And in the (Mendenhall) Valley there's folks who don't care about that.''

He said some Juneau residents want to see an enhanced seaside walkway developed downtown, and at the same time some Mendenhall Valley residents simply want sidewalks on their streets. Valuing a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly community is great, but a resident of North Douglas is not going to give up driving, he said.

To provide a balance of views, members of the Transportation Steering Committee and the Community Development Department hand-picked people to participate based on their expertise and experience to identify priorities in specific areas of planning. Focus groups included business leaders, government leaders, transportation providers and others.

One such focus group included fire and police professionals, asked to list their priorities as emergency services providers. Police Chief Mel Personett said his group identified three major concerns.

One is that Egan Drive provides the only access between downtown and the Mendenhall Valley, and can be crippled by an accident or natural disaster. Another problem is the bottleneck of traffic near the city's waterfront parking garage, with major congestion from pedestrians and tour buses. A third issue is the need for a second crossing to Douglas to provide more efficient emergency services.

Those specific concerns were not widely shared by the Juneau residents participating in the planning sessions, Burden said, and so are not prominent in the Transportation Vision plan.

He said support for a road out of town was also brought up by the groups focused on individual issues, but not selected as a priority by the broader group of Juneau residents in the other planning sessions.

``That doesn't mean it's not an important issue,'' he said. ``It's not something that the citizens at large brought up. Sometimes an issue that gets a lot of attention doesn't get brought up in a vision plan.''

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