In its latest effort to boost the city's business district, Downtown Inc is seeking funds for a transportation audit that aims to improve mobility throughout York.
Local leaders met Tuesday morning in city council chambers to watch a planning webinar and discuss options for attracting more people downtown.
"We want to make it easy, comfortable and safe to get from point A to point B, whether you're in a wheelchair, on a bike, in a car or on foot," said
Sonia Huntzinger, executive director of Downtown Inc, a York-based nonprofit tasked with supporting downtown businesses.
To make that happen, city leaders considered a number of possibilities: changing one-way streets to two-way streets, improving and adding bike lanes, having a better connection between York College and the city, and incorporating art on the rail trail and bike lanes.
By making it easier to get around the city, businesses have a better shot of attracting customers, Huntzinger said.
City Councilman Michael Helfrich favored a plan similar to one implemented in Washington, D.C., where parking is moved about five feet away from the curb to make way for a bike lane. In that design, the bike lanes are next to the curb and parked cars are closer to traffic.
"It's a much safer way to install bike lanes and isn't extremely innovative or difficult to do," he said.
Improving bike lanes and walkability will help attract young adults to the city, Helfrich said.
"That will help economic development. We need to do more to bring the city back. We'll never have the big retailers like Bon-Ton come back to the city, but there's opportunities for lots of retail," he said.
Benefits: Downtown Inc leaders want a transportation audit to tell them what changes could be made to best benefit downtown businesses. The audit would answer several questions: Should West Market Street be changed to a two-way street? Should there be fewer traffic lights? Which streets should have bike lanes? Should streets be widened? What can the city afford?
To get those answers, the nonprofit will have to raise $80,000 to pay for the answers in the audit, but the opinions were free on Tuesday.
"One-way streets are not good for walkability or business. Merchants say one-way kills them," said Jeff Speck, a Washington, D.C.-based city planner and urban designer who led the webinar.
That West Market Street is a one-way street is probably not the reason there are a lot of vacancies on the first block, local leaders agreed. It likely has more to do with the size of buildings, which is more friendly to the large department stores they once housed than the small shops looking for space in the city, they said.
Whatever a solution is, now is the right time to find it, said Ken Martin, dean of campus operations at York College.
"There's an urgency here. A cultural change is happening here. It's not just about bringing suburbanites into town. It's the millennials who want to live and work downtown, and they want to ride their bikes and walk, instead of using a car. If we wait two decades (to accommodate them), we will lose valuable time. There's a good momentum in the city right now," he said.
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