Midtown VIrginia Street Project Update

by Mike Van Houten / Aug 4, 2015

In last Wednesday's city council meeting, the city council sat through a presentation by RTC Washoe, with a lengthy discussion following.

As you might have read by now, Midtown, sometime in 2017 or 2018, will receive a HUGE makeover in the form of new sidewalks and a new South Virginia Street.

There's a North Virginia piece of this project too, but it's not generating near as much press, even when it will have the most impact on downtown. It involves building a multi-modal hub between 8th and 9th Street, which will serve both the RAPID line and University of Nevada Reno's own shuttle service. This, combined with the proposed roundabout(s) will create a 'gateway' to UNR from downtown, finally linking the two neighborhood and planting the seeds for a north downtown University District.

Between Lawlor Events Center and the 4th Street Transit Station, five new RAPID stations will be constructed, similar to the Center Street and Mt. Rose Stations in Midtown. Overwhelmingly, stakeholders chose a lane reconfiguration between 8th and 9th that includes a bike lane and bus-only lane. In addition, a new Evans Avenue bike lane will connect the UNR to the Holcomb Avenue/Mill Street bike lane system. YESSSS! Bicyclists are stoked about that I'm sure.

Another option for bike lanes would involve Center/Sierra Street through downtown up to the University area. South Virginia Street, especially in the areas with widened sidewalks, is way too narrow for bike lanes.

So that bring us to MidTown.

Three options have been circulating through stakeholder and public-input meetings. Keep in mind, most of South Virginia Street is wide enough to build everything everybody wants. There are narrow sections however, between Liberty and Vassar, where options are limited, highlighted below. Here's a summary;

Option A

- Similar to the option presented a year ago to the public.

- Includes 7.5 to 19 foot sidewalks with interchangeable center turn lane/landscaped median (like Wells Avenue)

- Increases on-street parking by 30 spaces .

Option B

- Loosely based on the Great Streets Coalition option.

- Widest sidewalks out of all the options varying from 11 - 22 feet wide.

- Less on street parking, would lose about 50 on-street spaces, almost half in this area. 

- Left turns would only be at signaled intersections,  median would replace center turn lane.

- Allows for more street trees due to the wider sidewalks.

- No bike lanes, however shared travel lanes (similar to Riverside Drive in Powning District) would be safer due to reduced speeds

Option C

Option C is similar to Option B, except reduces sidewalk width to compensate for addition of bike lanes. Option C would lose about 40 spaces of on-street parking.

The People Say....

After the presentation, it was time for public comment. Interestingly, the MidTown businesses that spoke chose Option B:

Heather Roach, owner of Happy Happy Joy Joy, said she wants the widest sidewalks possible, with trees, so she supports Option B.
Paul Dogi - Owner of Recycled Records - said they, as well the Midtown Merchants Association as a whole,  prefer Option B
Jessica Schneider, Owner of Junkee - Supports option B.
Jack Hawkins, local architect (8 on Center) - He said the Great Streets Coalition wants the wider sidewalks and boulevard of street trees, and would bring more business to the corridor than keeping existing on-street parking.

That contrasts starkly against RTC's own survey on the options, where 42% supported Option A, 42% supported option C, and 16% supported option B.

In a move that surprised me, Midtown businesses were willing to give up some on-street parking on South Virginia Street in favor of the widest sidewalks possible, and a boulevard of trees.

And the City Council...

Then it was time for the city council to talk it over (highlights):

- David Bobzien - Wanted to know the specific deltas between the Great Streets Coalition Plan and the RTC Option B. He never got an answer on specifics, but that Option B was based on discussions during meetings with the Great Streets Coalition.

- Naomi Jardon - Calls midtown a regional asset. She lives in Sommersett, and drives to Midtown to shop/drink/eat, therefore any discussion of parking and driveability was important to her. She mentioned convenience still drives society.

- Jenny Brekkus - Thanked everybody for their advocacy. Feels project has floundered a bit during the feedback process. She mentioned "You cant look at other great cities and ignore the number of miles of bike lanes they put in."  Long-range view is where she starts from. Business operators to her is not the dictating factor, it's the long view of this street. "We're replacing infrastructure that hasn't been in changed in 75 years in some cases, which outruns any business-run in town." She liked the Great Streets Coalition option. She urged her fellow council peeps to "come down from loft terminology. and be very specific."

- Oscar Delgado - Balked at the idea that the owners of the 'unused' lots peppered along South Virginia Street would be willing to sell their properties to create surface parking. He said in conversations with these property owners, they have future plans for the property and don't plan to sell, and could foresee challenges relying on increasing surface-lot parking or side-street parking.

- The safety of pedestrians and bicyclists were a common theme in the discussion. Several council members suggested reducing the speed to 15 mph through this corridor, including Brekkus, Mayor Schieve and Jardon. City staff suggested 20 to 25 would be a better starting point for reduced speeds.

Ultimately, the city council, like most Midtown Businesses, chose to support Option B with the exploration of side-street parking options.

The next step will be to gather public input on specific design options. This includes street lighting, seating, landscaping and more.

This meeting will be August 25, from 5-7 pm, at the Discovery Museum at 490 South Center Street.


Post your comments
  • August 4, 2015 - 7:56:18 PM

    I am very happy with the outcome thus far. This is a great compromise for the city. It appears all groups are working together and the design selection of option B validates the coalescing that has taken place so far. It's important for Oscar Delgado to understand that while yes parking may not be secured even in the off street lots, we have to start treating parking like the commodity it is and price it. Donald Schoup in his book, "The High Cost of Free Parking" discusses the institutionalization of always incentivizing private automobile travel at the cost of passing on the tab to everything we buy. We need to stop incentivizing automobile trips and start accommodating travel in the inner urban area with the space that exists and realize that the physical constraint of not being able to handle more automobile capacity on a constricted right of way is evidence that the circulation worked better in the days the streets were laid out prior to the automobile. Pre-auto built streets were big enough to handle pedestrians and bicycles with the occasional streetcar and/or horse carriage. Once you start adding cars and the issue of parking, capacity becomes reduced. Neoma Jardon's negligible comment about convenience driving society — you really evinced the issue at hand; the perception that drivers (suburbanites in this instance) are too bothered to walk a few blocks to get to their destination. It's fair, Reno is not super populated or as dense as other large cities that have already dealt with premium priced parking. However this is why cities are now collecting data on parking storage on city blocks and turning to premium priced parking programs. Places like Seattle or Berkeley (smaller in population to the city of Reno) have brought these parking programs to fruition charging higher parking rates at conveniently located spaces, offering inexpensive parking in nearby city blocks that don't witness as much parking demand. Guess what happens? Turnover is great on the premiumly priced spaces (which is great for business, more people through the door in a shorter amount of time) while the formerly unoccupied spaces begin to get utilized meaning people are willing to walk after all to get to where they're going. Overall Reno is in a very unique position as it begins to add density to its core. The small knit community allows for easy collaboration amongst the citizens that care about the city and want a great street environment. I am excited to see it move in a direction that makes sense for that portion of town and am even more elated at the vanguards for resisting status quo, mid-century planning/engineering solutions based on perception versus reality.