Revitalizing DeKalb

To fulfill the first objective, improvements involved a variety of traffic-calming techniques and premium streetscaping elements to enhance pedestrian comfort, reduce truck traffic, and improve the safety of drivers and cyclists along the main retail corridor.

Sprinkled With Streetscape Elements

Streets are the backbone of many downtowns as they provide access and convenient parking for vehicles and establish direct links for pedestrians. Streetscape elements provide a high level of comfort for pedestrians and shoppers, buffering them from traffic and unsightly views while providing places to sit and lighting for safety.

Guidelines were established for all streetscape elements to ensure a cohesive image. Some items incorporated into the guidelines included designation of roadway widths, well-marked pedestrian crosswalks for major intersections, ADA compliance, and pedestrian-scale ornamental lighting to improve roadway safety for both pedestrians and vehicles.

Additionally, the guidelines required that sidewalks provide comfortable and continuous access throughout downtown as well as maintain a uniform width from the back of the curb to the building.

Final measures incorporated into the guidelines called for the creation of gateways at key entrances to downtown and streetscapes to be uniform in appearance to blend with the area.

Trimming The Fat

A “road diet” was established for many of the streets that run through downtown DeKalb. Because of this approach, many of the minor downtown streets provided an opportunity for wider sidewalks and additional parking. These streets also received additional streetscaping to enhance the user experience.

Additional pedestrian-friendly enhancements, such as intersection speed tables and corner bump-outs, were incorporated with the specific strategy of improving pedestrian safety and comfort. These measures were particularly helpful in encouraging vehicles to travel at slower speeds while providing space for premium streetscape enhancements.

Mix In Greens

The anticipated outcome of the roadway improvements and premium streetscape enhancements was to create a greener, more environmentally sustainable downtown.

“Green” enhancements, such as trees, planters, parkways, and other landscaping features, were viewed as especially desirable. Small public parks and plazas were added on select, highly visible street corners.

These “green corners” include public seating, drinking fountains, play lots, water features, and other amenities that make downtown streets more inviting.

Another measure to increase green space involved landscaping the most visible and heavily utilized parking lots.

The overall revitalization plan was implemented in phases with the city celebrating the public dedication of the Frank Van Buer Plaza as the first part. The plaza—named in honor of the city’s late mayor—has created a downtown square and serves as a catalyst project that has offered the city a cost-effective solution, in that its 48-stall surface parking lot doubles as a public space for the weekly farmer’s markets as well as special events.

Due to its location in an urban environment, the plaza design incorporated permeable paving to handle stormwater run-off and reduce the need for additional infrastructure. The plaza welcomes a wide variety of events. Improvements to the streetscape environment in the downtown core have also resulted in increased traffic that in turn has led to new businesses being attracted to the area.

Timothy King is a Principal and landscape architect with Hitchcock Design Group’s Urban Studio, and can be reached at Hitchcock Design Group is a landscape architecture and planning firm with offices in Chicago and Naperville, Ill.

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