PARKERSBURG – The Camden Avenue and Division Street area would benefit from features for pedestrians and bicyclists, having structures built closer to the road and other changes, members of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects said Friday.
Ron Dulaney Jr., an assistant professor in design at West Virginia University, and Laura Cox, a landscape architect with a private firm in Charleston, presented the results of a study on the area conducted in recent months at a public forum at the Parkersburg Municipal Building. The city was chosen last year to participate in the free study, and the Division-Camden area was selected because it is the city’s prime area for new development, Mayor Bob Newell said.
About 20 people who live, work or own property in the affected area attended Friday’s forum, which was aimed at continuing the public feedback that began with a “design charrette” in November.
“We are listening to you. We are implementing your voice in this process,” Dulaney said.
One of the driving factors in the study was the “complete streets” concept, which focuses on designing for walking, cycling and means of transportation in addition to automobiles.
“When we design something, we want to design it on a human scale,” Dulaney said. “We want to think about people first.”
Camden from Division to East/Pike Street and Division from Camden to Seventh Avenue are more geared toward motor vehicles. But Cox said both roads are 80-foot rights of way that have plenty of space for features that would make travel easier for pedestrians and bicyclists.
There “is plenty of width to accommodate not only the traffic you have now, but the traffic that you’re ever going to have,” she said. “You also have room enough for an eight-foot bike lane,” as well as sidewalks segregated from the road by landscaping strips.
Diane Balderson, who with her husband owns Carl’s Pawn Shop on Division Street, said she was wary of encouraging bicycling so close to traffic. A former trauma nurse, she called that juxtaposition “an accident waiting to happen.”
Newell said the idea is to create a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists, who are already traveling through the area.
“People already walk there; I’ve seen them. People already bike there; I’ve done it,” he said.
Other recommendations called for changing the way buildings are constructed by reducing the minimum offsets required by the city.
“It pulls the building up closer to the street,” Dulaney said.
That would shift parking from between buildings and sidewalks to behind them, meaning people won’t have to negotiate moving vehicles as they go to enter a building.
If adopted by the city, those changes would only apply to new construction, Dulaney noted.
“We’re not proposing that anybody change anything to their existing property,” he said.
Wazir Sultany, who owns Divisions Department Store on 11th Avenue, said he did not like the idea of moving buildings closer to the road, but he was intrigued by some of the other recommendations in the study.
“It will be beautiful if it is done like that,” he said.
Some of those in attendance expressed concern over the speed of traffic, particularly tractor-trailer rigs, along the roads. Cox said including a raised median where there is now a center turn lane “calms traffic” and other features along the road provide visual cues for motorists to slow down. A median would also provide “refuge” for pedestrians crossing the road, she said.
Dulaney said Friday’s proposal essentially finished the chapter’s participation in the project. City development director Rickie Yeager said there would be more public discussion before any ordinances are considered. The recommendations for the Division-Camden area could also be taken into consideration for other major commercial thoroughfares in the city, he said.
Camden and Division are state routes, as are many other major thoroughfares in the city, so the West Virginia Division of Highways would be involved as well.
A copy of the complete report can be accessed from the city website, parkersburgcity.com.