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“A Design that Celebrates the People”: Normal, IL Traffic Circle Wins Smart Growth Award as New Civic Space

Earlier this month, EPA announced the winners of the 2011 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.  We are excited to report that Normal, Illinois is the recipient of the award in the Civic Places category for their traffic roundabout.

We’ve written before about how the town’s new traffic circle has successfully managed traffic flow at a busy five-way intersection, diverted thousands of gallons of untreated stormwater away from the nearby creek, and become the town center by bringing residents together in an attractive public space.  The more recent news is how the traffic roundabout is spurring local economic development with the construction of a multimodal transportation station adjacent to the circle, courtesy of a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.  Both the transportation hub, which will eventually have high-speed rail service and create an estimated 400-500 new jobs, and the circle take advantage of the town’s existing infrastructure, bus service, and the historic central business district to attract even more residents to the new town center.

The one-third-acre roundabout does much more than move cars. It invites pedestrians with shade trees, benches, lighting, bike parking, green space, and a water feature. People have lunch, read, and play music, and the open space invites community gatherings such as a holiday caroling event. It is the anchor for a community-wide revitalization and is part of Uptown Normal’s LEED-ND Silver recognition.

A popular rails-to-trails conversion, the Constitution Trail, leads to and around the roundabout, helping both to revitalize Normal and to bring people from surrounding areas to Normal’s central district. A new Children’s Discovery Museum on the edge of the roundabout already receives over 140,000 visitors per year, and a hotel and conference enter have recently opened nearby. One indication of the success of the redevelopment is that property values in the district have increased by about 30 percent since 2004.

According to the short video, this traffic circle was almost banned to pedestrians.  It’s a good thing town officials fought back.

Read more about the project here, as well as the other winners from the 2011 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.

From all of us at City Parks Blog, thanks for reading, commenting and inspiring us this past year with all of your park stories and successes.  We look forward to hearing how park development and redevelopment is changing your city.  Happy New Year and all the best in 2012 :-)

Visions of Closing Roads and Creating Parks

A previous post highlighted a few cities that closed roads through parks to increase pedestrian and non-motorized use. We’ve recently learned about a proposal to temporarily close streets to traffic during weekends and holidays in Buenos Aires and bring in portable playground equipment and benches to turn these roads into parks. A video of this concept is below:

The “Plaza Movil Street Park” was one of three winners of the Philips Livable Cities Award, a global initiative designed to generate innovative, meaningful and achievable ideas to improve the health and wellbeing of city-dwellers across the world. The creator of the Plaza Movil Street Park received a grant of €25,000 to help translate his concept into reality.

Also worth viewing is the video of one of the five finalists, who brings a plan a little closer to home. The “Design Your Own Park Competition” in Binghamton, NY would turn neglected, urban spaces into parks by having neighborhood residents and groups submit designs in a contest, with the winning vision ultimately created and maintained as a public park.

Road Closures: A Driving Force for Park Visitation

We’ve written before about city parks that close roadways for use by pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, and more. Closing parks to cars actually has been shown to increase visitation, which may come as a surprise to some. Some of the more famous examples include JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park, Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park, and Kansas City’s Cliff Drive.

We’re hoping to harness the collective expertise of our readers to keep up to date on current trends in park road closures.

Is your city considering a road closure in a park, either permanently or for certain days of the week or hours of the day? Let us know by posting a comment below.

Thanks for your input!

The Times Square Transformation

We found a very nice video discussing New York’s goal of being the “greatest, greenest big city in the world,” according to NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.  While the video focuses more on transportation improvements in the city, specifically bicycle infrastructure and bus rapid transit, there is a brief discussion on the success of closing Broadway to vehicular traffic (about 3:20 into the video). 

According to Sadik-Khan, there are 356,000 pedestrians each and every day in Times Square, and although there is a 10:1 ratio of pedestrians to cars, 90% of the space was allocated to cars.  By removing Broadway from the road system, the city created 1.8 acres of new pedestrian space, which has led to a 63% reduction in injuries.  In addition to the decrease in accidents, there has also been a substantial reduction in noise levels.

We’ve written before about the effects of road closures in cities.  For a more in-dept discussion on this topic, please visit our earlier post.

When Parks, Transportation and Water Collide

Sometimes small towns are the communities pushing the envelope on innovation.

What happens when you take a regular traffic circle, cover it with a lawn, add some trees for shade and then a fountain for kicks?  Well, in Normal, Illinois they did just that as a means for reducing downtown congestion in this college town.

Credit: Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

But the true innovation comes from the sustainable infrastructure used to create the traffic roundabout.  Apparently the water in the public fountain is actually cleansed and re-circulated stormwater from five main streets leading to the traffic circle.  Although not safe for drinking, it is perfectly fine for toe-dipping as these kids would gladly testify.  And as soon as those London plane trees grow a little more fuller, I imagine this will be a relaxing place for a good book or a picnic.

Credit: Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

We’ve posted before about how parks can be great green places, regardless of size.  Washington D.C.’s Dupont Circle is a nice example of a vibrant urban park that is heavily used in the midst of a busy downtown.

The new Circle in Normal is only one component of the city’s plans for redevelopment of the downtown area.  As the residents of Normal find increasing popularity in their new park, perhaps now is a good reminder of the five characteristics of Great Green Places:

  • Landscape: a place that is successful uniting site planning and landscape design;
  • Mixed Use: a place that demonstrates a variety of retail, housing, and commercial uses;
  • Sense of Place: a place that physically embraces its history and culture;
  • Streetscape: a place that is pedestrian-friendly with activated public spaces; and
  • Transit Options: a place that encourages and supports multiple forms of transportation including subway, bus, and biking.

It’s only when looking at sustainability from a holistic view, can we truly see the transformation in a community.

For more pictures and technical details regarding the Circle in Uptown Normal, visit the Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects website.

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