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On Tuesday night, MW Steele returned to the Tower District to present a first draft of a redesigned Tower streetscape.  The draft design is in part the result of a design charrette that Steele and the city put on last Saturday.

Tuesday night was a good chance for us to get more information about the process Steele used to take the input from the charrette and come up with a design.  It turns out that after the charrette was over, Mark Steele and Diego Velasco stayed in Fresno to look at the results.  For example, they showed us pictures of them laying out and looking over our designs in the corridor of their hotel.

Steele definitely showed that they are serious about community input for their design.  They broke the charrette results down into a list showing how many tables asked for what features.  They also came up with six guiding principles that any design should follow (e.g. historical continuity, pedestrian friendly, etc.).

One of the most intriguing items they presented was an interpretation of the unique layout of Tower streets.  They called it “The Zipper,” referring to the way north south streets do not cross directly over Olive Avenue, but instead dog-leg, creating a zipper pattern when viewed from above.  The only streets that go straight through are Van Ness and Wishon, the old streetcar routes.

Steele presented one design rather than a set of alternatives, apparently because the input seemed to lead in one clear direction.  The major features are a north-south pedestrian corridor from Fulton just south of Olive to the businesses along Fern Street, liberal use of sidewalk pop-outs, and two traffic circles at Van Ness and Olive and Wishon and Olive.

The north-south pedestrian corridor was a big hit with the 80 or so attendees Tuesday night, but the traffic circles generated some concern.  I for one am very skeptical about the utility and authenticity of traffic circles on Olive Avenue.  (City Traffic Engineer Bryan Jones spoke approvingly of circles as traffic calming devices.)  The biggest problem with the proposed traffic circles is that they do not fit the historical context of the Tower.  You can see a recent piece by the Fresno Bee’s Mike Osegueda and the large number of comments for some of the issues involved.

Mark Steele reported that sidewalk pop-outs and traffic circles were among the most popular features that came out in the streetscape plans that participants developed Saturday’s charrette.  However, the materials we had to work with virtually assured this outcome.  In addition to maps of the Tower business core and paper cutouts and stickers of various street features, we were also provided several sheets of paper with a few specific features on which to elaborate.  One was an intersection with pop-outs and the other was a traffic circle.  Not surprisingly, these features cropped up in a large number of designs we produced at the charrette.

Check out Kiel Famellos-Schmidt’s posting on the draft designs for more.

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