Partners for the redesign of the nearly mile and a quarter of Franklin Avenue that serves as the central business corridor through the Seward neighborhood released a “Draft Community Vision” document last week that details what its title page calls “an interim look at a community process for making Franklin Avenue a Great Street.”
“We’re sort of inventing the project as we go along,” said Sheldon Mains, Seward Neighborhood Group (SNG) board chair. “Our direction has come out of something I like to call ‘group sourcing,’” Mains said. Distributed throughout the neighborhood, redevelopment partners SNG, Seward Redesign and Seward Civic and Commerce Association, say the draft document is an effort to engage Seward residents and businesses in its design process at a grassroots level. Almost half of the draft’s 18 pages are blank space reserved for reader comments and their commitments to volunteering for four different project areas—improving street crossings, implementing informative street graphics, envisioning street landscaping/green space and enhancing traffic options for local bicyclists.
“This project isn’t about a big street resurfacing like the one on Lake Street,” Mains said. “We’re looking at low-cost, high-impact improvements—things like painting intersections and crosswalks or putting out planters,” said Mains. Increasing lanes of traffic and better low-elevation street lighting for pedestrians are two other options within the scope of project plans, according to Mains. “We put up two kiosks on Franklin to keep people up-to-date on what’s been happening,” said Katya Pilling, development project manager for Seward Redesign. One of the movable kiosks is currently on the sidewalk in front of the Pizza Luce restaurant, the other in front of Seward Towers apartments.
Since redevelopment planning began, design partners hosted two neighborhood walks in April involving some 100 residents taking photos and making critiques, identifying their likes and dislikes along different points f the avenue. These images and opinions were boiled down during a community workshop at Matthews Park and at five subsequent task force meetings later in the spring, input that formed the basis for the ideas and values that are described in the draft.
Six main points head the core values that have been targeted. According to information found in the document, in order to comply, design elements should include ones that will identify Franklin Avenue as the main street and center of Seward, reflect its diverse character and direct people to its many modes of transportation. They should inform people about Seward’s strong local economy, civic leadership and activism, promote its stewardship and commitment to public safety, and assure local principles of green, environmentally friendly livability.
Participants in the design process also pointed out one of the most troublesome aspects of Seward’s transit connections—the often daunting task of getting from the western border of the neighborhood to the Franklin light rail station.
“One of the very explicit things that came out was improving the’no-man’s-land’ between Cedar Avenue and the Hiawatha LRT,” said Pilling.
The City had discussed the issue in its site analysis before the LRT connection was built, saying in its Franklin/light rail master plan:“The complexity of the Franklin-Minnehaha-Cedar intersection and Hiawatha Ave. access restrictions also further complicate connections to this station … To the east, the large intersection is difficult for pedestrians to cross, especially for the handicapped and elderly, and creates a large expanse of unattractive paving.”
Yet even here a solution may be in the works for something that has been a pedestrian nightmare since Franklin crossed both Cedar and Milwaukee Road tracks at the same spot before the grade separation in 1948.
“Now there’s federal money for a redesign of the Franklin and Cedar intersection,” said Mains.