Reinventing Barstow Street


by: Nick Meyer


Our downtown is jam-packed with things to do. Music, theater, movies, food, drinks, festivals, art galleries, shopping, bike trails - from a "happenings" standpoint we've come a long way. However, in many ways (Phoenix Park aside) it still doesn't feel like a "place." If your timing is off, you could walk or drive down the street and it looks and feels like there's not much happening at all.

So it's time to take action. Time to introduce elements that make Barstow Street feel unique more of the time. Much of this is on the shoulders of private business and building owners to take advantage of opportunities to upgrade, but we as the public can also demand more of our street life and infrastructure. Here are a few ideas and explanations of elements from the images at right and below…


Right now you might hear civic leaders talking about studying the concept of returning Barstow Street to two-way traffic – a valid option for sure. But for the purpose of discussion, we’re proposing something different to show other elements that could be considered. In our example, we keep the street one way and take it down from two lanes to one generous lane. However, you’ll notice from the overhead map view (shown above) that this lane gently curves left to right from block to block. This design, sort of a gentler version of a feature called a “chicane” creates a series of “mental speed bumps” which calm traffic and create an interesting environment for motorists and pedestrians alike. Some on-street parking is still allowed (see below, PARKING for full details), and to accommodate occasional delivery trucks, certain hours could be set as for deliveries-only, or trucks can simply use the side streets. This style of design has been used to great effect in communities like Dunedin, Florida and commonly throughout Europe. Bikes traveling north on Barstow Street ride with traffic as they do now (read on for southbound bike traffic). Note: Wider sidewalks does not make it OK to ride your bike on the sidewalk downtown. It’s illegal now, and it would still be illegal.


These are some beefy sidewalks. Taking traffic down to one lane gives as much as six extra feet of sidewalk on each side of the street. Research shows the more generous the sidewalk (and the added amenities) the higher the likelihood of leisurely downtown activity. Space is created for better outdoor cafes or retail racks. Better on-street signage and sandwich boards communicate to pedestrians and motorists. Aggressive bumpouts (similar to what we already have) shorten the span people must be in traffic while crossing the street. Benches and flower beds pepper both sides of the street. Space is available for much-needed public posting marquees with posters for upcoming events. Whenever possible, existing trees are maintained and new ones are planted. Embedded inside the west sidewalk is a separated contraflow bike lane (or salmon lane). This lane safely takes bikes one way from the north side of downtown where the bike trails criss-cross, down Barstow Street to the south (against traffic). This keeps bikes off the sidewalk but creates a safe environment where families of bike riders can get through downtown.


As we’ve mentioned (here and here), it turns out some version of a public square downtown has been officially proposed at various times over the last few decades. Most recently, the consulting firm who helped launch Downtown Eau Claire, Inc (DECI) suggested there be one between the library and city hall, where a US Bank branch now sits. We’re suggesting (for discussion purposes) that roughly a half-block of Main Street be closed to create a pedestrian-only city square. This location was chosen because the buildings there feature interesting architecture, and the visual sightlines from Farwell Street, the Main Street hill, and even Graham Avenue would be good, enticing people to enter downtown through the space. Trees and benches would be added on top of decorative brickwork. A public art installation and/or fountain could easily be incorporated, and any adjacent retail or future cafés could use the space as well. It’s also right next to the current bus transfer station and a parking lot. The square would end at the alley with an archway over a tiered “stage” (flanked by trees) which could serve as the focal point for downtown festivals and events, or simply as an interesting place to sit at other times. Great for street musicians, games of chess, or eating lunch. See "Pedestrian Mall Madness" for more info.


Taking these three blocks of Barstow alone, plus the four cross streets, there are currently about 127 on-street parking spaces, most of which are free two-hour parking. The design shown here decreases the amount of parking on those three blocks of Barstow by more than 50%. However, we also show the cross streets (Gibson, Grand, Main, and Gray) as featuring diagonal parking whenever possible. While 45-degree stalls take up more street width, on average you get 3.5 diagonal parking spaces for every 2 parallel parking spaces. In a best-case scenario, that’s a 75% increase in side street parking (take a look). Additionally, diagonal parking is generally considered safer as drivers are more protected from the street when exiting their car. Both traditional angled parking and back-in angled parking could be options (which reverses the angle). Many factors come into play when considering diagonal parking, but it’s clear the benefit is there to consider it for one, if not both sides of the cross streets.


Who cares?! Just kidding. Anyone at the city involved in construction or engineering will tell you that price tags are the biggest concern right now. But we cannot afford to look at a massive opportunity like re-doing Barstow Street and only see the price tag. How much extra is a long term project worth if it creates tourism, adds to the tax base, or creates jobs? See our section under “Where the Money Comes From” to address some of these concerns.