City, KSU explore ways to ease transportation

Kelsey Henninger

A multi-modal facility could help pedestrian movement downtown

As downtown develops into a commercial marketplace, some argue there is still no easy way to get there.

It might not be an immediate solution, but the city of Kent, Kent State and Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority are collaborating on a multi-modal facility to meet the needs of commuters’ downtown.

A multi-modal facility brings buses, bikes, cars and pedestrians together, allowing a smooth transition from one form of transportation to the next. The presumed location is across from Jimmy John’s, which would funnel traffic from Main Street and Haymaker Parkway.

The background

The idea of the structure will mimic C-Midway by providing motorists, pedestrians and cyclists with public means of transportation at one location.

“Transportation is an underlying element within cities, armies and civilizations of all types, because it is the basic shaper of that society or organization,” Tom Clapper, senior assistant to the vice president of business and administration, said.

The concept of the facility emerged during the City of Kent Bicentennial Planning process in 2003.

Clapper said as Akron Metropolitan Areas Transportation Study and URS consultants study the university long term, the university wants to reduce car congestion on Summit Street and shift toward pedestrian movement on campus and into downtown.

He foresees an expansion of the esplanade or walkway that connects the Student Center to front campus. Instead of the path ending at Summit Street, it would continue and connect to the multi-modal facility, bridging the gap between the university’s western edge and downtown’s eastern edge.

The obstacles

The housing area between the campus and downtown, however, creates obstacles between the two destinations. The university has started to purchase property in the Willow and College street area. Clapper said this property is a “logical expansion area.”

“From the university planning perspective, we don’t want to see the area evolve into a standard university expansion area,” Clapper said. “We want to see it more as a soft transition with more of a blend of housing structures, small shops, along with academic activities and unique university activities.”

Tom Euclide, executive director of facilities planning and operations, agreed and said he hopes to minimize the urban feel by creating a “gateway look” with a small green greeting those driving down Haymaker Parkway.

The project so far

This project will take years to complete, but phase one, developing the conceptual ideas for the facility, is complete.

“Kent State teamed up with the city of Kent and PARTA to explore the possibility of a multi-modal facility close to campus,” Euclide said. “We finished the first phase last year by studying potential sites and researching all the critical components of a multi-modal facility.”

Euclide said Kent State took the lead in the site evaluation because it was instrumental in requesting the money from the state and Federal Transit Administration. The university secured about $1.2 million in federal funds to complete the planning required.

Since the overall feasibility has been established, PARTA leads the project on the second phase.

Although there are houses at the desired location, they will not disappear tomorrow.

“Life moves on, it doesn’t stay still,” Clapper said. “What is here today won’t necessarily be here tomorrow.”

He compared the planning and construction of the esplanade to that of the multi-modal facility, saying the time it took to develop the walkway was a beneficial investment.

“It surpassed our expectations of how many people use it opposed to who didn’t walk before,” Clapper said.

The future

It is unpredictable what all can be incorporated into this project, Clapper said.

Transystems, a company of transportation architects, engineers and planners, helped with the project’s development. The city, the university and PARTA have also teamed up with local architect Doug Fuller.

“Having him on the team will help ensure the building look and layout conforms to what people in the city will expect the building to look like,” Euclide said about Fuller.

Part of the negotiation with the architecture and engineering firm will determine what can be accomplished with the money available for the project.

“We need to get from A to Z, and right now we are around L,” Bryan Smith, manager of business development for PARTA, said. “And we need to get from L to Z now. And this next step and the dollars we have to spend will get us close to the end.”

The construction

Once construction begins, it could take close to two years to complete.

Smith said the time frame is predicated on how long it will take to get the money, which they hope will come from economic stimulus money or private investments.

“PARTA transports 1.3 million people a year,” Smith said. “Some of the university routes can be tied into the multi-modal center by making it their transfer points.”

Kent city, Kent State and PARTA predict positive outcomes for the multi-modal facility.

“Ideally it would be under construction right now because that would help our downtown development,” Euclide said. “The downtown developer has to wrestle with parking, and if this parking deck and bus transfer were already installed it would answer many questions from them on their project on how to meet parking demands.”

The benefits

Parking downtown is a problem, and all parties involved said an increase in parking will help increase business and provide an appealing option for future businesses.

The city of Kent also sees the multi-modal facility as a reinvestment into downtown.

“It provides a resource to promote existing and future development downtown,” said Jim Bowling, superintendent of engineering and deputy service director. “Parking is like a utility when it comes to development downtown.”

The coordinators of this project also predict economic growth for Kent. They foresee the multi-modal facility creating jobs. Bowling, for example, said there have been businesses that want to move to Kent, but there is nowhere to park.

“The parking deck will create an additional 200 to 300 spots for business and downtown use,” Bowling said. “So with this resource we can pull in business to hire people to fill up those 300 spots.”

Contact public affairs reporter Kelsey Henninger at [email protected].