Starkville is considering a 'tactical urbanism' project that would block the right turn lane in front of the library to allow for seating or gathering space. The city is conducting a study to see if the project is viable. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
December 1, 2017 10:08:57 AM
The city of Starkville is considering a project to use the right turn lane in front of the Starkville-Oktibbeha Public Library to create a more pedestrian-friendly area downtown.
The project, which Mayor Lynn Spruill suggested to the board of aldermen, is a "tactical urbanism" project. Tactical urbanism is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of projects used to improve urban environments.
Spruill said the Midtown Development, which has limited right turn access at the University Drive-Montgomery Street intersection without a major disruption to traffic flow, has illustrated the concept might work at the library.
Should the project come to fruition, the city would block off the right turn lane in front of the library, and use it to create a temporary green space, with a traffic barrier and potted plants, or an area for people to sit in front of the library. Traffic could continue to flow and turn right from what is presently the eastbound straight lane on University Drive.
"We were looking for ways to take some of that asphalt and turn it into something that is more pedestrian user-friendly," Spruill said. "In this case, I can envision umbrellas and tables sitting out there on a spring day where you can go across to the Midtown Development and get a sandwich or something and come back across the street and read in front of the library.
"It's that kind of atmosphere we want to see if we can create in areas around the community, and this is just the first one," she added.
The board of aldermen authorized City Engineer Edward Kemp to conduct a traffic study of the intersection to determine how the development would impact traffic.
"It's just one piece of what they'll have to consider," Kemp said. "I'll just be looking at traffic volumes through that corridor and how many vehicles are using that right turn lane."
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker said the project will require more study, especially if the city looks to do something permanent at the intersection. Still, he said the intersection presents possibilities, such as an area for bike parking and seating areas.
Should the city go ahead with the project, he said, it will likely start with something limited and temporary.
"You want to test it out before you go with a full capital expenditure," Walker said. "You'd use things that would absolutely be temporary in nature to see how things are going to work. Then there'd be an opportunity further down the line, if things work and we work out the kinks, for a finalized design and something that might not be temporary."
Spruill said she drew inspiration for the project during a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, where she saw a similar concept used at an intersection on Beale Street. After researching further, she said, she saw examples where other cities have created park-like spaces using extra room in intersections.
"I've been trying to talk about it as ways to make our downtown much more pleasant and a place to linger," she said.
Spruill also said the city may look into extending the drop sidewalks downtown, such as the one in front of State Theater, to provide more space for uses such as seating.
Walker noted tactical urbanism projects, such as the one Starkville is considering, is a growing trend across the country.
"It's absolutely a national trend," he said, "where cities are looking to find spaces where they can reclaim some of that use and find the best way to give people more options with the limited spaces we have. We can do those things more quickly, and not have to wait for long-term capital expenses."
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