'Railyard Avenue' and more ideas for future of city

A new vision for Taft’s downtown and the major streets that run to and through it was unveiled Wednesday night.

It features a broad avenue with the rails to trails path running in a large median down the middle of a broad avenue down the center of what is now called the railroad property that would connect the west side of Taft with the planned growth on the east side.

That was the vision presented by Stefan Pellegrini of Opticos Design. Pellegrini and his staff put the plan together based on input from the community in workshops and focus groups held earlier this month.

It would bring traffic-calming streets, pedestrian-friendly walkways connecting Center Street with the new development.

However, the developments will not come very soon and would be done in phases, Pellegrini cautioned.

“It’s likely that even in the most successful scenario it will take many, many years to develop,” he said.

The core in an area roughly where Supply Row now runs between Fourth and Sixth Street is where the most intense land uses are foreseen.

But it could be the last to build in.

“As land values increase it will become more and more viable to do intensive mix use,” Pellegrini said.

Much of the area could be built in as “live-work buildings with shops, offices, grocery stores and restaurants on the ground floor and apartments and other housing units on second and third floors.

Pellegrini and his staff developed the plan after three days of meetings and workshops earlier this month with city staff and the public along with focus group meetings with businessmen and developers.

They’re concepts for what is now being referred to as “The Railyard” includes open space to the west, residential areas on the south side, space for light industry along parts of Main Street and more intense development near the core of the area along what is now Supply Row between Fourth and Sixth street.

A key part of the project is relocating Rails to Trails about 50 yards to the south where it would be placed in a raised, landscaped median that would run down the middle of a yet-to-be built roadway referred to by Pellegrini as “Railyard Avenue.”

The avenue would start to the east where Highway 119, Highway 33, Main Street, and Gardner Field Road all come together.

Under Pellegrini’s proposal, that complex intersection would be simplified into a roundabout  -- basically a traffic circle.

There are no stop signs, but vehicles naturally slow to a safe speed because of the design.

Pellegrini and Paul Zykofsky of the Local Government Commission said the use of roundabouts is on the increase as their value for both calming motor vehicle traffic and expediting the movement of motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians become more well known.

Pellegrini cited a case in Florida where a four-way intersection that averaged one pedestrian fatality a year was turned into a roundabout and has not had a fatality in eight years.

Zykofsky said traffic studies have shown that roundabouts reduce crashes and slow the speed of traffic yet move 30 percent more vehicles in a given time period that a standard four-way intersection.
It would end at 10th Street, possibly in another three-way roundabout.

The proposal also calls for aligning Front Street with Pilgrim Street to ease the flow of traffic.
The Opticos Design plan would add a painted bike lane to Sixth Street along with a landscaped median and add curb extensions at intersections along Fourth Street that would make it safer for pedestrians while allowing for parallel parking.

Designing more pedestrian-friendly streets and walkways, also referred to as paseos that could extend Third, Fifth and Seventh Streets into the Railyard area.

A central part of the proposal, and one suggested by many at the recent workshop, is a public space – a plaza, town square, or amphitheatre near the middle of the new development.

Vic Killingsworth, the head of the committee that is planning to have a large Oilworker Monument completed near Sixth and Supply Row by the October 2010 Oildorado.

 celebration, likes the overall plan, but is concerned that the monument and town square proposal might not be able to come together in time.

“It sounded good, but I’m not sure its possible,” Killingsworth said. “I don’t know where funding would come for the public square.”

The city is currently exploring the possibility of obtaining grants to pay for the public area.