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Grand Avenue’s new look has business benefits

LISTEN: Grand Avenue Improvements

PHOENIX — A project to revitalize part of downtown has implemented noticeable change along Grand Avenue.

In 2011, The Environmental Protection Agency chose Phoenix as one of five cities in the U.S. to provide design assistance as part of the Greening America’s Capitals program, with the goal of creating a more environmentally and economically sustainable design along the lower Grand Avenue corridor.

Matthew Heil, public information officer with the City of Phoenix Public Transit Department, said the EPA provided roughly $100,000 in staff support to help design the changes along Grand Avenue between Van Buren Street and McDowell Road.

“We repainted the street, added some other elements of landscaping and were able to basically accomplish all of this within a really tight timeframe and still accomplish community goals,” Heil said.

Most noticeable are the new bright-green bike lanes running along both sides of the road and a series of uniquely painted planters.

Members of the design team met with local business owners and members of the community to determine what elements were most important to them, and Heil said those community representatives wanted to focus on a better pedestrian experience.

“The city of Phoenix worked on this program along Grand Avenue to implement some new bike lanes and planters and other elements of a design solution for a more walk-able and pedestrian-friendly area,” he said.

Trying to reduce the speed of traffic on Grand Avenue was an important element of the design for Beatrice Moore, owner of Kooky Krafts Shop at 15th and Grand avenues. She said the slower traffic allows for a safer corridor and helps give passers-by and opportunity to see what businesses are along the avenue.

Heil said the city doesn’t plan to reduce the 35 mph speed limit on the street, but introducing on-street parking, visible bike lanes and a better pedestrian environment can help draw more people to the Grand Avenue strip.

“Before you had a really large arterial street that connected to the U.S. 60, what’s different is that back when it was all a highway, there wasn’t a community around it,” he said. “Now we’ve got business, art galleries, who are looking for that foot traffic that you don’t really get along a large thoroughfare.”

Nancy Hill is the owner of a letter printing company called Hazel & Violet, and recently moved her business to the Braggs Pie Factory building on Grand Avenue from 4th Avenue and McKinley Street after the building she rented was sold to make room for a new apartment building.

“They’re going to tear it down and build apartments,” Hill said. “They’re not going to do it for several months, but I needed to find just the right spot and I did so I didn’t want to wait.”

Hill said she wanted to keep her business downtown and as the Roosevelt area continues to develop, rent prices have become increasingly expensive. But Grand Avenue provides a cheaper alternative and allowed her to increase her business’s square footage from 560 to 1,600.

She said she’s happy about the changes along Grand Avenue and said it’s helped create a nice environment in the area.

“There’s new people moving to Grand all the time,” she said. “There’s just a lot of new business (that) have moved in … there’s a couple new restaurants, the place is looking really good.”

Hill said an additional benefit at the new location is increased parking.

“There’s very good parking over here and I do workshops, so it’s good to have a lot of available parking for my workshops,” she said.

During the alterations, the city used paint to designate bike lanes and street-side parking rather than having to remodel the landscape, a technique that Curt Upton, project manager with the city of Phoenix Planning and Development Department, said can keep costs down.

“You don’t have to all of a sudden have billions of dollars to start reconstructing streets, you can do it in a phased and incremental way,” he said. “Restriping the streets to give more space to pedestrians and bicyclists and parking, which is a huge economic aspect for all the businesses.”

The bike lanes have been completed along the lower Grand Avenue corridor, and Moore said local artists are working to complete the muraled planters.

Funding for the renovations came from the Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund, which is collected from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, Heil said.

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