Elm Street Improvements Treated to Cool Reception from Deep Ellum Crowd Last Night

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Photos by Patrick Michels
Ellumites pore over City Hall's plans for narrower streets, wider sidewalks and, eventually, two-way traffic on Elm and Commerce.
A crowd of Deep Ellum residents and business owners got a look at City Hall's latest plans for turning one-way Elm and Commerce Streets into models of walkability during a two-hour PowerPoint-n-panel-talk at Life In Deep Ellum last night.

Pamè La Ashford from the City Manager's office spent much of the time walking everyone through the plans, which call for the renovations to happen in three phases -- partly because the city's only got $5.9 million to spend so far on the $13.5 million project. (The rest of the money, according to the presentation, would come from future bond issues or contributions from neighborhood groups.)

Ashford said the first phase is totally paid for, though, and would include drawing up designs for the entire project, and completing the work on Elm Street from Good-Latimer to Hall Street. Those improvements would include repaved sidewalks with "bump-outs" at intervals along the street -- wider sidewalks for planters or sidewalk seating -- drainage improvements and water main upgrades, and "streetscape improvements."

According to the city's rough timeline, Ashford said, they'll begin the design work next January, award a contract for phase one next April and hope to complete work on the first phase in August 2012.

Not until the end of phase two -- part of the project that's as yet unfunded -- would the city get to the most dramatic change: putting up new street lights and turning Elm and Commerce into two-way streets.

Business owners in the crowd worried about the parking they'd lose under the plan, and where delivery trucks could stop to unload on a two-lane, two-way Elm Street. Ashford and other city staff, though, said there'd be ways to work around those concerns as they finish planning.

"Change is going to be painful, and we all know that. There's gonna be bumps and bruises," Ashford said. "We will complete Good-Latimer down to Hall Street. That is definite. That is definite."

Once the presentation was through, a panel of city staff including bike czar Max Kalhammer, CityDesign Studio designers and transportation planning guru Keith Manoy.

Anvil Pub owner Josh Bridges had one simple question for the staff: "What are the beer trucks gonna do?"

"You're right, you will not be able to stop on Elm once the conversion is done," Minoy said. "In doing this, and slowing it down, there are tradeoffs." He suggested their trucks park on one of the smaller side streets like Crowdus or July Alley, but added they ought to be able to work loading zones into the Elm Street parking plan.

Building owners who'd already backed the plan in the press, like Barry Annino, either weren't there last night or didn't speak up to offer a counterpoint -- so the session closed out with more skepticism of the plans, and whether or not they were in the neighborhood's best interests.

Frank Campagna said he still wasn't clear just where the support for these plans was coming from. "This is something we've been told the residents want, despite the fact that the residents don't want it," Campagna said. "So who wants it?"

That could be a preview of things to come when the Deep Ellum Revitalization Project comes up for public comment at City Hall -- scheduled, for now, to go up for discussion by the Plan Commission on May 5, and the City Council May 25.

Update at 4:03 p.m.: Along with the PowerPoint presentation from last night, Ashford sends along the following note:
I am disappointed that I could not get across what we were presenting to them that evening. The best way I can describe it is like buying and building a new home. We were showing them the "rendering" so they could get an idea of what the streets would look like. Just like building a home, you have additional discussions to decide on the details like moving a wall, adding another sink or getting marble. We plan to get business and resident input on the details (loading zones, removing bump outs or converting them into green space, etc.) once the idea was approved and we began the process of filling in the details to complete the engineering design by March 2012.
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Anvil Pub's Josh Bridges wonders where city staff suggests his beer trucks unload after the new street design takes shape.
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Trees owner Clint Barlow checks out CityDesign Studio's plans for Commerce Street.
ELM and COMMERCE Street sectionsELM and COMMERCE Mock ups Deep Ellum Project Overview Community Meeting 040711
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