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Revitalizing Arizona Avenue

By Jeffrey Velasquez, RLA, ASLA & J2 Engineering & Environmental Design
Photos: J2 Engineering and Environmental Design

Prior to construction, the narrow sidewalk was obstructed by light poles and very little shade existed for pedestrians. The wide lanes and expanse of asphalt encouraged vehicles to drive faster than the posted speed limit.

This view looking north shows how traffic lanes were narrowed and the pedestrian zone increased. Bicycle lanes were added, the heat island effect was addressed with a significant tree-planting scheme, and opportunities for outdoor dining and seating were also provided. The custom curved light poles and banners with LED i? 1/2 Evolvei? 1/2 fixtures by GE were used for energy efficiency and to create a distinct theme for the corridor.

Enhancing downtown Chandler, Ariz. and achieving a true sense of place that will be a mixed-use i? 1/2 live-work-playi? 1/2 destination were the primary goals of this urban design and streetscape revitalization effort.

The landscape architects of J2 Engineering & Environmental Design, LLC, Phoenix, Ariz., worked with the city of Chandler and the civil engineering firm of Tristar Engineering & Management on this pedestrian-friendly urban environment that balanced pedestrian, vehicular, bicycle, and mass transit traffic.

The Arizona Avenue Improvements have helped to develop Downtown Chandler into a destination environment where families can meet, shop, dine, live, work and play. The narrowing of the asphalt roadway created additional pedestrian space, reduced pedestrian crossing distances, and helped to revitalize downtown.

Project Purpose and Approach
The project purpose was to develop a unique i? 1/2 sense of placei? 1/2 with a distinct identity that would help downtown Chandler develop into a vibrant pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use district.

In terms of overall philosophy, this project would be a major step towards developing downtown Chandler into an economic engine for the overall community, providing the framework for private development to continue their investment into the downtown.

A requirement for the project was to reduce the pedestrian crossing distances at intersections and midblock crossings. The design team addressed this by reducing traffic lane widths and the overall width of asphalt roadway throughout the corridor, and in one area six traffic lanes were reduced to four.

The paving pattern was designed to visually enhance the pedestrian crossings. This rendering illustrates how the creative design of street furniture, a more focused pedestrian scale, abundant low water-use plant material and unique configuration of hardscape materials helped to create a sense of place for the downtown environment.

The design also provided landscaped bulb-outs at intersections and mid-block crossings to reduce the pedestrian crossing distances while also serving as traffic calming devices. This provided ample room for pedestrian amenities, signage and way finding, site furnishings, on-street dining, public art opportunities, and additional landscaping.

Low water-use trees were incorporated into the design at 22-foot on-center spacing, providing shade for pedestrians and helping to mitigate the intense urban heat island effect of Arizonai? 1/2 s climate. Another requirement for the project was that it provide for multi-modal transportation options. North and southbound bike lanes were included in the design along with enhancements to the existing bus stops along the corridor.

In addition, close design coordination occurred with two of Valley Metroi? 1/2 s Bus Rapid Transit stations on Arizona Avenue, and planning for the possibility of a future light rail line was also integrated into the project footprint.

This view looking south near Boston Street shows a narrow 7-foot sidewalk from building face to curb. Existing signage in the pedestrian pathway and ill-suited street trees that provided little shade in an urban environment made pedestrian traffic an unattractive option.

The design of this project resulted in a much more pedestrian-friendly space. The 15-feet to 18-feet wide pedestrian zone includes recycled glass Lithocrete paving, seatwalls with art tile, and concrete unit pavers with accent banding.

Role of the Landscape Architects
J2i? 1/2 s landscape architects and designers were part of a multi-disciplinary team consisting of city staff, civil engineers, electrical engineers, a community outreach coordinator, architects, planners, traffic engineers, and public artists.

The landscape architects were responsible for leading the design team in the development of conceptual design and project theming; hardscape, landscape, and irrigation design; coordination with public artists and arts commission; and orchestrating traffic calming concepts and design. The landscape architects developed graphics depicting the corridor improvements for public involvement and assisted in running public meetings and development of design guidelines.

Public art has been extensively incorporated into the project through creative custom tile designs on various furnishings, seatwalls and lighted art display pads. Shown here is a custom i? 1/2 coffee tablei? 1/2 designed by J2 and tiled by a local artist, with adjacent Landscape Forms i? 1/2 Towne Squarei? 1/2 chairs. Each seating area along the corridor is unique and provides multiple gathering and socializing opportunities.

The project graphics were used by the team and city officials to work with stakeholders and the surrounding landowners to show that the project, with its narrowing of travel lanes and adoption of traffic calming measures, would ultimately benefit the overall downtown corridor. The landscape architects coordinated with existing and proposed projects along Arizona Avenue, such as the new city hall complex and bus rapid transit stations; this played an integral part in making the entire corridor unified in its approach.

The team also coordinated with local artists and the cityi? 1/2 s Arts Commission on the integration of public art into the corridor. This effort led to the design of decorative art fencing and custom-tiled seatwalls and art pads that would be enhanced with the public art specifically designed for this project.

Recognizing the significance of Chandleri? 1/2 s past and its rich history, while developing the future identity of the corridor was a guiding principle for the design team. This influence resulted in the use of recycled glass Lithocrete pavement in curving accent bands throughout the corridor to symbolize Chandleri? 1/2 s rich agricultural heritage. The colors represent i? 1/2 Amberi? 1/2 soil, i? 1/2 Bluei? 1/2 canal water, and i? 1/2 Greeni? 1/2 agriculture. In this photo the Lithocrete is woven into i? 1/2 City Stone 1, 2, and 3i? 1/2 Pavestone concrete unit pavers in Sierra Blend color.

Special Factors and Challenges
A major dilemma for Chandler was how to create a downtown destination that could compete with other newly developed multi-use destination districts and shopping areas in the Phoenix metro area. downtown Chandler, beyond the 1/8th mile stretch of the existing Historic District, lacked ambience, shade, pedestrian connectivity, was in need of utility upgrades, and was heavily vehicular-orientated.

The design team was tasked with addressing these many challenges. Through the persistence of the landscape architects, the concept of reducing the auto-centric focus in order to widen sidewalks began to take hold. This widened sidewalk, or i? 1/2 pedestrian zone,i? 1/2 would provide a critical space for site furnishings, on-street dining, signage and way finding elements, and public art.

A balance of color, texture, creative forms, and dynamic hardscape and planting materials including Arizona ash trees that were protected in-place and i? 1/2 Regal Misti? 1/2 Muhlenbergia grasses were combined to develop an urban space with many levels of aesthetic detail that will take on different character throughout the seasons.

Most of the existing sidewalks along the corridor ranged from five feet to eight feet in width and did not feel comfortable for pedestrians to utilize. These sidewalks were cluttered with utilities and uncomfortably narrow i? 1/2 it was rare to see pedestrians using them.

Workers in the office buildings on the east side of the street would often get in their cars and drive the 300 feet to the west side for lunch because the crossings were so unpleasant and unsafe. Traffic studies confirmed that the vast majority of vehicles were whizzing through downtown at 10 to 15 mph over the posted speed limit. It became clear that narrowing the lanes throughout the corridor, and reducing the number of traffic lanes in specified areas, would create more pedestrian space.

J2 worked closely with a local artist, city staff, and Chandler Arts Commission on development of the custom aesthetic fencing at A.J. Chandler Park along the streetscape edge. The fencing provides access control for major park events and adds a vibrant aesthetic element to the streeti? 1/2 s character.

Bumpouts were placed at intersections and mid-block crossings to reduce the pedestrian crossing distance, reduce vehicular speed, and allow for the integration of art features and seating areas. Custom designed LED street and pedestrian lights were upgraded to provide a safe and visually pleasing environment both during the day and at night.

Illuminated LED in-ground crosswalks were utilized at the mid-block crossings to provide safe connections for pedestrians and alert motorists to a pedestrian presence. A dense tree planting design was used to add needed shade, verticality, texture, and color to the visual field, and specific guidelines were written to encourage developers to add shade awnings and overhangs to extend into the right-of-way. The design team worked to create streetscape guidelines that specify the pedestrian zone should be wide enough to accommodate pedestrian movement and activities, with a minimum width of 18 feet for new development and 15 1/2 feet for existing buildings from face of curb to building front.

Recognizing the significance of Chandleri? 1/2 s past and its rich history, while developing the future identity of the corridor, was a guiding principle for the design team. This influence resulted in the use of recycled glass pavement in curving bands throughout the corridor to symbolize Chandleri? 1/2 s rich agricultural heritage: the colors represent i? 1/2 amberi? 1/2 soil, i? 1/2 bluei? 1/2 canal water, and i? 1/2 greeni? 1/2 agriculture i? 1/2 all of which were a vital part of the cityi? 1/2 s early identity.

Bicycle racks were placed frequently throughout the corridor to encourage alternatives to vehicular travel. One requirement for the project was that auxiliary electrical outlets needed to be installed at each tree for holiday lighting and festivals. The designers placed these outlets away from pedestrian travel in landscape plantings wherever possible. Where outlets were needed at tree grates, the designers used Iron Age vertical tree guards to eliminate this potential tripping hazard.

The existing mature ash trees at AJ Chandler Park along the streetscape were preserved in place. Hardscape elements were designed to enhance the existing architecture and blend well with new mixed-use development. The existing lantern lights used in the Historic District prior to this project along with the existing benches were refurbished and were relocated within the park.

Arizona Avenuei? 1/2 s design elements are aesthetically unique with its custom-curved LED lights and banners that dance along the corridor, creative design of street furniture, intimate scale, abundant low water-use plant material, unique configuration of hardscape materials, and frequent use of public art. All of these elements serve to strengthen the pedestrian-friendly urban environment that balances pedestrian, vehicular, bicycle, and mass transit traffic of this urban design project i? 1/2 while joining the historical past with the present and future.

Blending the existing downtown with new projects under construction proved to be another challenge that was overcome by the design team. Extensive coordination in design and construction were required to coordinate this project with two adjacent projects being built concurrently: the city hall complex and two bus rapid transit stations.

Close coordination between the landscape architects and the artists resulted in project features that are unique to the downtown environment, such as this seatwall with intricate detail and relief, with a ground Lithocrete cap.

The Arizona Avenue project was accelerated to meet the deadline for the city hall grand opening that had already begun construction. The streetscape design tied directly to the city hall and bus rapid transit station projects, and the design teams for all of these projects worked closely to achieve a seamless and timeless result.

Another challenge for the design team was not only achieving public acceptance, but also gaining the necessary city council approval. With the economic state as it is, the council members were initially reluctant to approve funds for this project. Multiple conceptual designs were presented at public meetings and at the one-on-one meetings held with local merchants and landowners. This effort generated significant dialog, blogging, and newspaper articles, which helped in generating lively debate on the project. This extensive public involvement ultimately ushered the community to rally behind a unified vision for the downtown area and ultimately led to council approval for the construction of the project.

Mid-block in-roadway LED lighted crossings were designed to provide safer pedestrian connectivity in the downtown. The crossings are activated by ADA-accessible push-button bollards on either side of the street.

Project Significance and Results
The project demonstrates on multiple levels its response to social, economic, and sustainable considerations. The social considerations were addressed by creating a vibrant, walkable downtown district with a variety of opportunities for merchants, visitors and residents to converse, shop, i? 1/2 people watch,i? 1/2 dine, relax and enjoy festival activities.

Sustainable considerations were addressed with providing choices in public transportation, bike lanes and bike racks, energy efficient LED lighting, mitigation of the urban heat island effect, reuse of existing trees, using local materials when possible, employing local public artists, and designing for future regional light rail expansion.
From an economic standpoint, the updating of utilities and the aesthetic and functional streetscape improvements have encouraged future redevelopment and have positioned Chandler to effectively participate in a competitive market.

The project has transformed a i? 1/2 vehicular-centrici? 1/2 highway running through downtown Chandler into a desirable multi-modal pedestrian environment and has generated significant visitor and investor interest in downtown. Since its completion, downtown Chandler has seen an increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic, vehicular traffic has slowed on Arizona Avenue to the posted speed limit of 35 mph, 10 new businesses have moved in, and downtown businesses are generating more sales tax per square mile than the city average. Not one business was lost to construction, all of which occurred during the midst of the i? 1/2 Great Recession.i? 1/2

The Arizona Avenue project has demonstrated the vital impact and influence that landscape architects can have on urban design, community, and downtown redevelopment. With landscape architects taking a lead role in the overall urban design, the team was successful at weaving the necessary engineering with the contextual development that served to create a distinct sense of place.

The renovation of the Arizona Avenue corridor has received the greatest compliments possible through its constant and varying use every day of the week. The dining experience was enhanced with on-street dining, pedestrians now linger in the numerous social seating areas, photo shoots for brides, families and professional models take place frequently along the corridor, bicycle traffic has increased, and new commercial and mixed-use development in the district has begun.

The culmination of these activities and the positive feedback from merchants, residents, and visitors has shown that if a team develops a unique and vibrant place based on the project goals, and incorporates critical stakeholder input, that space can truly flourish i? 1/2 even in a time of economic instability.

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Project Team:

Firm Name: J2 Engineering and Environmental Design, Phoenix, Arizona
Role on Project: Landscape Architecture, Irrigation Design, and Construction Administration
Jeffrey Velasquez, RLA, ASLA i? 1/2 Project Landscape Architect; Denise Dunlop, ASLA i? 1/2 Lead Designer; Kevin Wallin, Dirk DeWitt, RLA i? 1/2 Irrigation Design; Jeff Engelmann, RLA, ASLA, Principal In-charge, Kurt Montei, RLA, ASLA, Dean Chambers, RLA, ASLA, Jeff Holzmeister, PE, Ted Readyhough, ASLA, Taylor Hawkins, ASLA, Rick Campbell, ASLA i? 1/2 Project Design.

Client: City of Chandler, Arizona
Teri Killgore i? 1/2 Downtown Redevelopment Manager;
Joshua Plumb, Tim Krawczyk i? 1/2 Project Management; David de la Torre i? 1/2 Principal Planner; Mickey Ohland, Kris Kircher, Claud Cluff i? 1/2 Design Coordination

Firm Name: TriStar Engineering & Management, Phoenix, Arizona
Role on Project: Civil Engineering, Construction Administration

Firm Name: MakPro Services, Mesa, Arizona
Role on Project: Public Involvement, Construction Information and Public Outreach

Firm Name: Southwest Traffic & Engineering, Phoenix, Arizona
Role on Project: Traffic Engineering and Lighting

Firm Name: Carollo Engineers, Phoenix, Arizona
Role on Project: Water and Sewer Infrastructure

Firm Name: RNL Design
Role on Project: Design Guidelines, Planning

Firm Name: CEI, Phoenix, Arizona
Role on Project: Survey

Firm Name: Achen Gardner Construction, Chandler, Arizona
Role on Project: Contractor / Construction Manager

Vendor List:

Unit Precast Concrete Pavers:
i? 1/2 Acker-stone
i? 1/2 Pavestone
Fixed and Removable Security Bollards: Cal Pipe
i? 1/2 Carson
i? 1/2 Cresline
i? 1/2 Febco
i? 1/2 Guardshack
i? 1/2 Hunter
i? 1/2 Lasco
i? 1/2 Motorola
i? 1/2 RainBird
i? 1/2 Cemtec
i? 1/2 GE
i? 1/2 Hydrel
i? 1/2 Forms+Surfaces
i? 1/2 Keystone Ridge Designs
i? 1/2 Landscape Forms
i? 1/2 Wabash Valley
Skate stops:
i? 1/2 Grind to a Halt
i? 1/2 Intellicept
Tree Grates and Guards: Iron Age Designs
Decomposed Granite: Kalamazoo Materials
Concrete Planting Pots: Kornegay Design
Water Bollards: Most Dependable Fountains
Actacrete Concrete Caps at Art Display Pads: Progressive Concrete Works, Inc.
Lithocrete Recycled Glass Pavement: Progressive Concrete Works, Inc.

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October 17, 2019, 6:43 am PDT

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