Summit’s recently released Downtown Improvement Plan falls far foul of needed improvement or good planning.
This towering shot never had a chance to be fair. Right off the bat the study presupposed answers to its goals and objectives. Missing was accurate observations needed to build concepts that may lead to meaningful solutions. The City administration has three wishes fulfilled by this study. Justify a $10 million parking deck with retail service space for parking authority offices. Put a yoke on Summit Downtown Inc. so their budget and an expanded SID tax base is controlled by City staff and finally offer small ball improvements that justify budgets and workloads. It appears, the City did not turn to the consultant for concepts-they sought instead confirmation.
The Downtown plan is a mind numbing 246 pages. It has 11 sections with over 90 tables, figures and maps.
The plan lacks clear vision to see Downtown Summit as a single remarkable entity. Few NJ communities have a compact downtown and strong commercial core with more than half of town’s residents within walking distance or a short bike ride away. The plan wants you to see the Downtown as a sprawling 112 acre mass that needs to be corralled with gateway signage. Summit downtown, in reality, is a cozy 9 blocks and you can’t miss it.
The parking section goes on at length to say their calculations prove the problem with parking is a shortage of spaces. The study leaves out any discussion about management and policy improvements. This planner’s parking expertise is an unknown, the former parking study- Desman, did offer some very good observations and suggestions to improve parking management practices. This apparently is not a subject worth pursuing in this plan.
Scattered through-out the Downtown plan is reference to improvements in pedestrian and bicycle options. These are the two most important aspects of any pedestrian friendly downtown. However, this plan missed on delivering any meaningful analysis. It looks like big concept thinking is unsettling for this City administration. Imagine, for example a major commitment to bicycle riders. Let’s give them amazingly well marked bike boulevards with reduced vehicle speed limits and create a bike parking system for hundreds of commuter and visitor/shopper bikes. Think much bigger than a few bike racks, think of a bike garage or partially enclosed bike storage areas, a place where you can securely leave your bike and helmet. The NJ Transit box off in the trees is not the answer.
The plan does nothing to advance the conversation of; What makes a good pedestrian experience? No urgency to fix crosswalks. No financial commitment to improve sidewalks and remove or reduce tree-well curbs barriers. No major day/night plan that gives a true sense of security both parking and walking. No recognition that a genuine downtown image is something experienced by the visitor not a city icon banner, slogan or ad. Instead the plan wants you to believe that a better mix of merchants is the turn-around strategy.
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