Life on Liberty is a project based on findings from the Public Space Public Life survey first undertaken in October 2015 and repeated in September 2016. This survey highlighted the large volumes of pedestrians and transit riders that use Liberty Avenue daily. Despite this allocation of space is weighted towards vehicles causing a mismatch in the public realm between what it is being used for and what public life it is supporting. Envision Downtown has been working with Gehl Studios, Sam Schwartz Engineering and a variety of stakeholders form the corridor to develop a pilot project – Life on Liberty – to demonstrate how Liberty Avenue could better serve all users.
Liberty Lab Summary
In March 2017 Envision Downtown hosted week long outreach pop-up in an empty storefront on the 800 Block of Liberty Avenue called Liberty Labs. The goal of Liberty Labs was to engage the public around Envision Downtown’s Life on Liberty project. Users of Liberty Avenue were invited to share how they currently use Liberty Avenue, what they would like to see on Liberty Avenue in the future and their reaction to a variety of proposed strategies for the improvement of Liberty Avenue. Responses were collected through a series of interactive exhibits alongside an online and paper survey. Results of Liberty Labs will directly impact the content of the Life on Liberty project.
175 people participated in Liberty Labs over 6 days and over 750 completed an online or paper survey.
How People Use Liberty Avenue
Liberty Avenue plays a central role in people’s daily lives, and serves many critical functions from supporting transportation and employment to being a destination for culture and entertainment. However, the Public Space Public Life survey has shown us how inadequate infrastructure is making it hard for the street to successfully accomplish any of these functions. Liberty Avenue is trying to do too many things and failing to do any of them well.
What People Would Like to See on Liberty Avenue
Based on the results of the PSPL it is not surprising that when asked to identify their top priorities for improvement, among the top 5 selected were - safer crosswalks, more sidewalk space for pedestrians and dedicated waiting space for transit riders. Taking the number 1 spot was more greenery followed by sidewalk cafes, these two answers were complemented by written in suggestions to better activate the sidewalk itself, highlight ground floor businesses and to add more retail to the corridor. Other written in answers highlighted a general desire to see infrastructure better maintained and for there to be increased enforcement and improved safety.
Pedestrian Experience and Streetscape
When asked to respond to specific strategies of improvement people once again were fully in support of an enhanced pedestrian experience with larger sidewalks, shorter crossing distances and improved accessibility. There was also consistent support for public life improvements, alongside ground floor and sidewalk activation people are excited for opportunities to improve lighting, add public art and increase greenery along Liberty Avenue and its connecting alleys.
When it comes to parking feelings were more mixed. In general people are happy to forfeit weekday on-street parking to get the benefits of larger sidewalks and shorter crosswalks. However, opinions were divided on evening and weekend parking needs, with many feeling that local arts and entertainment may suffer from a loss of on-street parking at these times.
There was general consensus that transit should be prioritized on Liberty however there was division as to what extent it should be prioritized. People could see the value of daytime bus lanes, but were less clear of the value of full time bus lanes or bus lanes at the loss of a general vehicle travel in one direction (westbound).
Based on the feedback and comments we received from the public outreach process and the meetings we had with local stakeholders Envision Downtown is now working with Gehl Studio and Sam Schwartz Engineering to put together a proposal for a pilot project. This project will test elements discussed above such as shortened crossing distances and additional sidewalk space for transit riders and pedestrians, likely using temporary materials such as paint and bollards. Once a plan has drafted we will meet again with partners at the City and local stakeholders.