Giant stuffed animals on South Franklin Street could become an endangered species if the Juneau Assembly decides the critters are forcing pedestrians off crowded sidewalks and into the busy thoroughfare.
The Assembly's Planning and Policy Committee is reviewing ways to limit jaywalking and improve safety in the South Franklin Street corridor. Assembly member Ken Koelsch said he's noticed more pedestrians walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk this summer.
"One Saturday driving from the parking garage to the tram, I counted 11 people that had stepped into the street," he said.
The committee reviewed a list of ideas from city staff on Monday that suggested regulating newspaper and soda vending machines, large stuffed animals and other attractions that block pedestrian traffic. Regulations also might include provisions against merchants displaying wares outside if they impede traffic.
The city also might want to remove light poles and signposts that block traffic, review crosswalk locations and consider purchasing a sliver of undeveloped property to the south of the Marine Park garage for a loading zone or wider sidewalks, staff members suggested. The city already has funded hedges in a new turnaround near the downtown library to limit jaywalking.
Rorie Watt, a project engineer with the city, said about 90 percent of pedestrians stay on the sidewalk along South Franklin Street. Given the number of people who walk through the shopping corridor when several cruise ships are in town, the problem probably isn't as bad as people might think, he said.
"The pedestrian situation is actually pretty good, in my opinion, on South Franklin," he said.
Koelsch said the Assembly wants to work with businesses in the area to address the situation before pursuing new regulations or an ordinance.
"If they can do it with self-policing, it's fine. If they can't, it's paramount on us to make sure it gets done one way or another," he said. "(We're) not going to let it keep happening. We've been lucky so far."
Downtown Business Association President Ann House said the organization always is looking at ways to improve downtown and will discuss the issue. At the same time, the group would want to make sure changes don't interfere with private enterprise, she said.
"It is a concern. We all must slow down ... and be more observant," she said. "We'll take it up with the board and see if they have any recommendations."
City code allows businesses to put stuffed animals and other items on their property.
"It definitely causes problems where people will step out in the street to take photos," said Chris Dickrell, co-owner of the Caribou Crossings gift shop on South Franklin, which doesn't have stuffed animals in front. "Someday there could be an accident with a bus going by. It's not 'if,' it's 'when.' "
Dickrell said he doesn't take issue with the stuffed animals, but the problem is tied to the narrow sidewalks the city permitted with some new buildings in the area.
"I think it's more of a narrow sidewalk than anything else," he said.
Romesh Mirp, manager of Touch of Alaska, said the stuffed bear, eagle and moose in front of his gift shop are placed out of the way of traffic. Between 100 and 150 people a day snap photos with the animals and they help attract customers, he said. His store will follow city requirements, although he would like to make his case with officials, he said.
"In this case, I do not feel that it affects the traffic. It helps us to get more business," he said. "At the same time, we are willing to comply with any ordinance that might come out of it."
Assembly member Jeannie Johnson said the city also might want to evaluate the 20 mph speed limit along South Franklin. Better pay to attract and keep crossing guards might be another solution, staff members suggested.
But no matter how many barricades or obstacles the city installs, not everyone will stay on the sidewalk, Watt cautioned.
"You're never going to corral all the pedestrians. There are always going to be jaywalkers," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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