Friday, March 16, 2012

Transit hub: help or hindrance?

Consultant presents designs for Ketchum project

Express Staff Writer

Andrew Tian and Donna Delahorne stand outside The UPS Store on East Avenue in Ketchum on Wednesday. The couple is concerned about impacts of a transit plaza planned for the street, which would take away some parking spaces in front of their business. Im happy in general with the whole concept, Tian said. But he and his wife worry about the impact on customers, who need to park close to their business to drop off and pick up packages. Photo by Roland Lane

From a commercial-activity point of view, a transit plaza brings people into an area, dropping them right at the doorsteps of adjacent businesses. On the other hand, a plaza would supplant some parking spaces and hinder personal-vehicle traffic flow, potentially harming those businesses.

From a public transportation and sustainability standpoint, a transit hub could make it easier for people to get where they need to go, increasing ridership. But, some Ketchum residents wonder, is that what local government should be involved in?

Representatives from Tahoe City, Calif.,-based LSC Transportation Consultants, under contract with the city of Ketchum, presented conceptual designs for a downtown transit hub Tuesday at Ketchum City Hall, drawing a crowd of about 35 people.

LSC principal Gordon Shaw said that until now, "we haven't had the opportunity to organize the routes and have ... a real easy transfer between routes so the system works better as a whole, rather than a series of individual routes."

The idea for a transit hub came out of the Ketchum 2006 Downtown Master Plan, said Lisa Horowitz, the city's community and economic development director.

She said the four ideas unveiled at the meeting were concepts that could be reconfigured.

"This is very early on," she said. "It's the start of the process."

Supporters of the plan envision a site consolidating Ketchum bus stops in one location, with an approximately 1,000-square-foot building, displays with real-time bus-location information, bike racks and an area that could accommodate—but not necessarily have dedicated space for—taxis and bike and river shuttles.

The city's preferred location is East Avenue between Sun Valley Road and Second Street. That location was selected because a transit center is more compatible with a commercial rather than residential street, Horowitz said. Additionally, said Shaw, it has enough right-of-way to allow for a 40-foot bus to turn around, it's near Town Square and it's close to existing transfer points.

"It does really need to be central," Shaw said.

The downside to that location is that it would take away parking spaces in front of businesses and could make deliveries to those businesses harder.

"There is no consideration at all given to businesses around," said Andrew Tian, who, with his wife, Donna Delahorne, owns The UPS Store on East Avenue. "I think the plan is going to negatively impact the businesses around [the hub], especially from the parking issue."

Delahorne said her family regularly takes the bus, in part because it's hard to find parking in the core. A transit hub would compound that problem.

"I'm a little disappointed we haven't been consulted more," she said.

Others in attendance took issue with focusing on public transportation to what they feel is the detriment of the driving public.

Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia excoriated officials, saying the plan was "social engineering."

"We don't need a stinkin' transit center," he said. "[It] has totally unacceptable impacts on retail stores."

Vicky Graves said public transportation is not a realistic option for everyone.

"It's a driving community, whether you like it or don't like it," she said.

Shaw said the idea wasn't to get people to stop driving.

"We're not eliminating the car," he said. "We're really trying to organize the bus system."

Shaw said transit plazas not only serve locals, but are something visitors have come to expect in a resort community.

"In terms of economic competitiveness, that's an important factor," he said.

Vanessa Fry, District 4 mobility manager for the Community Transportation Association of Idaho, agreed.

"This is going to help economic development," she said. "For economic vitality, it's great. I think it's a really exciting project."

City staff and LSC will refine concepts and take additional public and business-owner comment before coming back with revised plans.

The City Council has authority to approve the use of the street, Horowitz said. The Planning and Zoning Commission would have to approve the design of the building, and Mountain Rides has operational oversight.

Supporters hope to have a ribbon-cutting in November.

Rebecca Meany:

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