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Downtown Bloomington street design study finds public wants classic/contemporary hybrid

A bearded man speaks into a microphone. He's seated at a long wooden table. Three other adults sit at the table, looking to their left, at a slide projection of a map of Bloomington streets.
Michele Steinbacher
A design study focused on improving downtown Bloomington is moving forward. On Tuesday, the Bloomington City Council heard an update.

A formal redesign proposal for downtown Bloomington streets won’t come before the city council until later this spring, but on Tuesday the group heard an update on the design process.

Streets that could offer improved walkability, with parking on just one side, were the clear favorite among community members. And for street styles choices of classic, contemporary or a hybrid — the favorite is a hybrid blend, said Mike Sewell, of Crawford, Murphy & Tilly engineers. The firm is leading the study.

The steering committee also approved those options. “In this case, the public did validate what had been the original proposal from the design team,” said Sewell, who appeared at the council's non-voting committee of the whole meeting.

Sewell said the committee is looking at packaging logical projects together in a number of phases. This establishes a framework, with room for responsive changes, he said.

A potential first project could focus on North Main Street — from the old courthouse square toward Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus told the council. But nothing is set in stone, and any ideas are contingent on the council adopting an overall proposal, he said.

Possible work on Main Street could include creating diagonal parking spaces on the side of the street, but reserving the other side for a "flex" lane to be used for bicycles and delivery trucks, said Tyus. That design also calls for a possible revamping of a parking strip across from the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts. That suggests maintaining parking in a section called North Main Plaza, but also doubling its use as an occasional outdoor event space.

“What you will see, again, tonight is where we are,” said Tyus, adding, “This isn’t a final plan. This isn’t the end-all, be-all of everything. It’s what we’ve got so far.”

Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe and member Tom Crumpler, of Ward 9 were absent Tuesday. Ward 2’s Donna Boelen acted as mayor pro tem.

Tyus and the study’s authors announced Tuesday that a second public input session for the design process — called Downtown for Everyone — will be next month. It’s tentatively scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m., Feb. 13 at the BCPA.

“At the conclusion of that meeting, we will have vetted every major concept past the public,” we’ve explored, said Sewell.

After that feedback, the team will refine design possibilities, and get more concrete cost estimates before presenting a formal proposal to the city council.

Called a “generational” project, the Downtown for Everyone plan represents a possible $30 million investment. The plan aims to replace aging infrastructure on downtown streets and the square.

Designs target ways to give the area a new look, feel, and energy. “But we want to do more than beautify,” said Tyus, adding the overall concept works to unify the downtown design concept, while connecting downtown with the broader Bloomington community.

The focus is on developing public spaces and making the area inviting — beyond shopping and dining, he said. Some of that comes from making the area more walkable for pedestrians and accessible for cyclists. It also looks at parking improvements, said Tyus. They don't expect a loss of parking spaces, but instead redistributing the parking into different areas.

On Tuesday, Sewell shared findings and slides related to the process. Pie charts showed a breakdown of community preferences, and illustrations showed how some potential projects could look upon completion.

He told the council the study looks at ways to spur potential private-sector investment, and to position Bloomington for potential public grant opportunities.

Nearly 18 months ago, the council OK’d spending $750,000 on the study. Since that time, Sewell and his team have developed the plan in its current form. Phase 2 kicked off in October, gathering public feedback on design styles.

So far, thousands of community members have offered feedback, he said.

An illustration shows a design for a downtown Bloomington street -- depicting a tree-lined street with older buildings, that include first floor store fronts. At the drawing's center is a one-way road. Along the left side, is diagonal parking spaces. Along the right, is a more narrow lane for bicyclists.  Sidewalks with ramps cross the intersection.
City of Bloomington, Crawford, Murphy & Tilly presentation
An illustration presented by Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, depicts a possible street design for the proposed redesign of Downtown Bloomington.

“We know that you can never have enough public input, but we are pleased with the numbers we’ve seen so far,” said Tyus, noting website traffic has surpassed 10,000 hits.

Besides the potential projects for Main Street, the streetscapes study also is looking into other areas, including the slated Connect Transit Market Street center, and improvements to U.S. 51 as it wraps around downtown, heading north.

Sewell said the curving stretch of highway toward the BCPA is being put on the back burner for now because the Illinois Department of Transportation is currently doing a study that calls for a different concept than one city leaders are embracing.

IDOT proposes three lanes, with a parallel bike lane. But, Bloomington planners prefer a two-lane concept, with a better separated bike lane.

One other area being studied is the old courthouse square. One possibility is adding infrastructure on the north side of the McLean County of Museum History to handle entertainment events better.

"Ultimately, it was decided to change some things," said Tyus.

An initial idea for a water feature with sprinklers on the square was nixed, after discussions with museum staff brought to light concerns about historic artifacts being near that, he said. The downtown redesign study is looking into alternative ways to engage the public there, instead, such as public art, he said.

Judge Costigan reviews criminal justice council work

On Tuesday, Chief Judge Casey Costigan, who heads the McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council [CJCC], shared an update on the group’s work since 2019.

Bloomington council member Nick Becker, of Ward 5, sits on that criminal justice group. He said Costigan’s presentation came partially as a way for Bloomington leaders to see what work the committee is doing, so Bloomington’s special commission on safety can collaborate with the justice council.

Focused on addressing gun violence, the city council created the commission in June.

The CJCC's executive committee has monthly sessions. But the whole group has public meetings quarterly. The next is noon Jan. 18, said Costigan. The CJCC will reach out to the city's gun safety commission chair, to invite them, as well.

The CJCC is a collaborative effort, including county, Normal, Bloomington, and local university representatives, as well as other community members, said CJCC member William Scanlon, who is the court’s trial administrator.

Costigan, who heads the Eleventh Judicial Court, said the county’s CJCC formed in 2009 as a response to a crowding issue in the McLean County Jail. It was the first of its kind in the state, and has since gone on to be a model for similar councils across Illinois, he said.

The CJCC later began to study violent crimes, especially relating to teens and young adults, he said. In recent years that's included collaborations with Illinois State University's Stevenson Center, and mentor efforts to help avoid recidivism.

In other business:

  • City Manager Tim Gleason said Grossinger Motors Arena continues to rebound, and find success, this time with pro hockey. On Monday’s council agenda, he expects a contract proposal from Indiana-based Hallett Entertainment and Sports.
Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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