Metro Makeover

Architect Corky Poster and a team of UA architecture students have been working with the fledgling Campbell Avenue Merchants Association to come up with new ideas for the funky shopping district that stretches between Grant and Fort Lowell roads. Poster recently unveiled a range of proposals, with an estimated price tag of roughly $1.6 million. The plans (an image from one of them is shown here) are on display by appointment at Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar's Ward 3 office, 1510 E. Grant Road.

What were the challenges in this project?

The challenge is that we can't touch the roadway. What's happened is, that road has been widened, and it's basically eroded the fronts of the shops, especially south of Glenn. So you wind up with some pretty nasty parking situations (and) no place for pedestrians, no place for vegetation. The challenge then is: Can you retrofit that one mile of roadway without rebuilding the roadway, without further widening it, without changing the traffic patterns? Can you retrofit cleverly something in there that would significantly improve the pedestrian environment, the visual environment and the order and safety of the whole thing?

And what you've done is bring in a small wall and a lot of vegetation?

A small wall to separate the parking areas from the roadway. Typically, in Tucson, you wind up with a wide road that blends into asphalt parking, so the road is effectively another 75 feet wider than it actually is, and it kind of looks bad. There's no place for pedestrians at all. Backing in and out of those places is perilous. And most small shopkeepers are loathe to lose any front-on parking. The question was: How do you create a pedestrian environment that is safe and attractive? What we decided to do was, wherever possible, pull the sidewalks back up in front of the shops, so pedestrians are not trying to live in the little space between the backs of the cars and the curb where the cars going 35 miles an hour, which is a pretty nasty place to try to be a pedestrian. Where we had the room, we tried to create a distance from the curb. Where we didn't have room, we pulled that sidewalk back up along the storefronts, so that people are walking away from the cars or presumably window shopping--you know, the way real cities work.

You also tried to incorporate some open space, where the shell of an old Carrow's restaurant is.

If you look carefully, (of the) two most controversial things we've done, one is making that Carrow's into a public space. There were two other alternatives to that. We're not trying to be the czar of what happens there.

It's really more an effort to spitball ideas.

Right. So taking out Carrow's is one of three alternatives for that site. It's sort of the most dramatic. But the other two are less obtrusive. The same is true of the parking; in one place, we show parallel parking, and in the other, we show angled parking. I think there are three separate schemes for how to do that to give the businesses some choices.

And you suggested some islands in the middle of Campbell?

Islands, and some focused lighting on the crosswalks to make it a lot safer at night, when I think it's the most dangerous. And then we had some retrofit north of Glenn, where the situation is not as bad. ... Some of the improvements are really tried-and-true improvements, particularly some of things that went in on Speedway during the widening between Campbell and Alvernon. El Rancho Center, for example, looked just like those strips along Campbell Avenue. It's now got a little wall with white tiles and some landscaping, and it's dramatically improved. What we're trying to do is have a modest intervention that doesn't require vast amounts of Department of Transportation money (and) doesn't widen roads and widen lanes.

That's another one of your challenges, that there's not a lot of money available.

There's no money available right now. Basically, it's kind of retrofit with a focus on pedestrian and landscape and visual quality.

And the hope is that if the city does come up with some money to implement this, then they may decide they're not going to take out all those businesses on the west side of the street to widen Campbell someday?

Right. One of the business owners said this may be an insurance policy against a future widening. I mean, how many times can you widen the street?

It's been great working with those folks. It's really a very enlightened group of dedicated business owners. It's really fun. My experience is (that) sometimes business owners can be kind of conservative. They're hanging on by their fingernails and they consider any change to be a great challenge. This is a great group, though. They have a completely open attitude, they work hard, they're as united a business group I've seen in Tucson.

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