After years of talk, major overhaul on the way for 20th Street in Crossroads

08/12/2013 3:50 PM

08/13/2013 11:00 PM

You’ve seen it on First Fridays — otherwise happy walkers hesitating to brave the six lanes of 20th Street to reach the art galleries on the other side.

The sidewalks along the main drag of the Crossroads Arts District look pretty shabby these days too, and let’s not forget the incompetent street “improvement” project a couple of years ago when workers poured concrete medians without bothering to remove the weeds.

But starting next spring, the five-block stretch of 20th Street through the heart of the Crossroads from McGee Street to Southwest Boulevard is scheduled for a $4.2 million makeover. Traffic lanes will be reduced to three, sidewalks widened, bike lanes added, trees and benches installed, and those vegetation-encased medians removed.

Suzie Aron, president of the Crossroads Community Association, said what’s now a drab thoroughfare is expected to be transformed into an appealing new main street where walkers and bicyclists are welcome.

“What is exciting for the neighborhood is the opportunity to have a walkable street that’s wide enough for activities,” she said. “We’ve never had a street like that. It’s always been a race track.

“We hope to have a safe place for events and people to gather.”

Sean Demory, spokesman for the city Public Works Department, said the 20th Street project had been discussed for several years and originally was envisioned as a more cosmetic venture. It grew in scope after it was found the sewers and water mains below were up to 125 years old.

“We decided to replace the water mains and take a green approach to storm water management,” Demory said.

The city decided to invest the money because of the increasing vitality of the Crossroads. Over the past 10 years or so, the district of older industrial buildings has evolved from its roots as a place where artists could find cheap rent for studios and galleries to an increasingly diverse residential and commercial area.

With the opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the popularity of the monthly First Friday events that draw tens of thousands of people during nice weather, and the coming arrival of the downtown streetcar which will bisect 20th on Main Street, now was the time for an upgrade.

“We are looking at an area that’s developing by leaps and bounds, and is a destination,” Demory said. “With the streetcar coming, we want to make the Crossroads a solid, walkable, bike-able and drive-able area.”

Yet to be determined is the fate of the closed ramp off the Main Street viaduct that once led to Walnut Street.

Right now, it’s marked off limits by some orange traffic cones. People want to see the ramp demolished, to remove what’s now a high-profile piece of abandoned infrastructure, and to open more space for development on a small parking lot wedged next to it.

Complicating the redevelopment of that triangular lot is a billboard next to the viaduct that has an easement preventing practically anything being built there.

“If we could get that Walnut viaduct down, it would open the lot for development,” Aron said.

The street design was done by el dorado architects. A construction contract is expected by the end of the year.

The overhaul of 20th Street has been in the works for more than three years. Backers originally had hoped to have it completed before the opening of the Kauffman Center in September 2011.

Aron described the aesthetic and functional overhaul of the street as a “bridge” to better things.

“We didn’t want just curbs and sidewalks,” she said. “Now we have a chance to have a major impact on our community. It’s a major east-west street and we’ve collaborated to make it a walkable, pleasing street. We want it to be for people, not just cars.”

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