Last week, The Record reported that the city has secured funds to complete a streetscape project along Downtown’s Weber Avenue. As you’ve probably noticed, East Weber Avenue is currently only enhanced up to Stanislaus street. After this block, the pedestrian experience becomes rather uninviting. However, newly procured Transportation Enhancement grant money will allow the city to complete Weber Avenue’s transformation all the way to Cabral Station, improving a blighted string of blocks without tapping into the general fund.
The Weber Ave plan includes trees, a landscaped median, and sidewalk reconstruction. Also, the plan calls for traffic calming measures, reducing the three-block stretch of Weber from two lanes each way to one. The plan will connect Cabral Station with the rest of downtown, giving station patrons better access to downtown amenities to the west. The Stockton monument sign on the corner of Weber and Stanislaus will also be moved to the east end of the project. City officials are hopeful that a contract can be selected in the winter with construction beginning next spring.
“I am super excited about this project,” said Jodi Almassy, project manager with the city. “I’ve wanted to see this project finished for a long time. It will help support a multi-modal approach to transportation with the SJRTD Transit Center and the ACE rail.”
Almassy also noted that the city was careful to maintain as many parking spaces as possible, a main concern of area business owners. To secure the funds, the city teamed up with the SJ Council of Governments. While the city applied for the grant, Almassy credits collaboration with SJCOG for helping the project move forward.
The design was done by Stockton based Siegfried Engineering whose had a hand in several Stockton projects, including Dean DeCarli Square, Weber Point and the SJRTD transit hub. To be sure, there is nothing too grand about these plans. No separate bike lanes or public art appear to be included in the design, but this is still an important step in downtown’s revitalization, especially since it’s being funded through grant money.
To most, these improvements appear to be modest. Sure, more trees and better sidewalks are great, but how does this actually help revitalize downtown? This is an appropriate question.
These kinds of improvements do more than just make the sidewalks nicer; In other cities, these types of improvements help to entice private investment to the surrounding areas. In Downtown Lancaster, California, traffic calming and pedestrian improvements are credited with bringing in $125 million in private investment, resulting in a 26% increase in sales tax revenue. The project cost Lancaster a little under $11 million, quite the return on investment. The same thing happened in Mountain View where the redesign of downtown streets provided the necessary environment for $150 million in private investment in residential, retail and commercial projects. To be sure, nicer streets don’t by themselves translate into millions in private investment, but they are an important part of creating an inviting environment where people actually want to be. Potential business owners are less likely to open a store if the roads and sidewalks fronting the properties are unpleasant.
In Stockton, even these relatively small costs of streetscape improvements are not a priority given our current budget realities. Fortunately, these projects can be funded through grants from state and federal programs, leaving general funds untouched. From TIGER grants to EPA funds, there is a lot of public money out there that the city can leverage to help create a better downtown.