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Residents 'walk audit' Williams
A dozen or so hearty Williams residents braved Monday evening's rain to walk the downtown area to see what is there — and more importantly — to see what could be there over the next decade or so.
The so-called "walk audit" is part of a transportation-based study designed to help revitalize the downtown area.
The Williams Downtown Revitalization and Mobility Plan will ultimately include circulation and other design elements for the downtown, as well as a review of retail leakage and identifying businesses that can help existing anchors.
Officials have indicated the study could be extended to include a broader look at the Old Highway 99W corridor beyond the downtown, and the E Street link to the east side of Interstate 5.
One of the stops on the tour was in front of Garrison's Army-Navy store, looking eastward past the Williams arch and toward the prospect of an economic boon on the other side of Interstate 5.
On the other side of Garrison's, however, is an empty, dilapidated building, and beyond the alleyway, the old Odd Fellows building — widely considered the biggest eyesore in town, but also the centerpiece of the downtown area.
One of the problems Williams faces to revitalizing the downtown is to convince motorists to go there.
"One of the big challenges is those two buildings are not in use," said Michael Moule, the transportation planner and traffic engineer on the study.
"People get to this point and don't think there is anything else, not knowing right around the corner (of Seventh Street), there is."
Certainly the reputation of Louis Cairo's helps, but officials said that is not enough.
Filling vacant storefronts is critical, but officials involved in the study said that improving the way the streets look, and making the area more friendly to pedestrians will help in that cause as well.
"What I can envision for the city of Williams is pedestrian walkways, bike lanes, green lanes, and traffic (speed restrictions) such as speed bumps," said Sajit Singh, one of the residents who participated in the event.
The consultants said there are better ways to slow traffic through design than to add speed bumps, but the idea is not far from their own vision.
That vision began to take shape through a series of meetings with focus groups, such as city officials and downtown business owners.
The public had its chance to add their input during the walk and workshop on Monday, and the preliminary design work that came out of all of those meetings will be revealed on Thursday.
"I'm hoping that we'll address the big picture, and the long-term," said Dixie LaGrande, another of the residents who walked the tour.
She said she also hopes whatever the final plan is, it makes an effort to incorporate the agricultural tradition of the area, and the historical heritage of the town through tourism or other means.
The downtown improvement project is sponsored by Williams, in cooperation with the Sacramento-based non-profit Local Government Commission.
It is funded through a $119,000 California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Community Based Transportation Planning Grant. The city has also committed $8,000 of its community block grant funds as a match for the project.
In addition to the look of the downtown area, the traffic challenges and somehow convincing investors to come into the area, parking also was a big topic of concern.
Several people indicated that more than a few residents do not come to the downtown area simply because the parking design is too dangerous.
Consultants indicated there are a variety of options, including back-in parking, but also enforcement tools that at the very least encourage business owners to have their employees park away from the commercial center.
Gary Price, one of the consultants who has been working with the city on a number of projects, including the recently completed general plan and design guidelines that include the downtown area, said parking is always an issue.
However, the Grass Valley resident said he watched his city and nearby Nevada City go from towns where people had to drive directly to the stores, to places where people are willing to park farther away and walk to their destinations.
They did it through downtown design changes and bringing in the kind of art and entertainment shops that Williams also is looking at for its downtown.
Moreover, Williams has a fair number of large, empty lots in the downtown vicinity that could be used as parking options.