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Rocky Roads

Big Bear Downtown Revitilization

by by Allie Lapporte, LASN

Rocky Roads

The downtown streets of Big Bear received a significant renovation in 2012. RRM Design Group designed the streetscape of three major streets to make the area more safe, efficient and pedestrian-friendly. The project included the designing of signage, walkways, bike paths, bus stops, plants, and other amenities to create a rustic look and a destination site for tourists and locals.

In 2012, the City of Big Bear Lake selected RRM Design Group to develop a Downtown Specific Plan for the core commercial and retail center. The plan included transportation and multimodal elements as well as complete street design improvements to three of their major downtown streets, an urban park, a pedestrian trail leading from The Village "L" to Veteran's Park at the lake edge, and other lake waterfront design improvements.

The City then commissioned RRM to complete three major implementation plans identified in the Specific Plan: Village Drive Streetscape, Pine Knot Avenue Streetscape and the Knickerbocker Trail. These three projects include pedestrian walkability improvements for visitors and residents, bike facilities to connect to local residential and tourist-oriented destination points, wayfinding signs, new street trees, and decorative sidewalk and intersection paving.

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Flowers, shrubs and street trees add to the sidewalk environment in an area which hosts many seasonal events. LED street lights encourage evening activities. Planter baskets and banners hang from the light poles to display the local events in the city.

Ways for Walkability
According to Brian Hannegan, ASLA, RLA, the city had been wanting to improve pedestrian circulation in the downtown area for several years to handle the influx of tourists that arrive during the winter and summer months, while also endearing the area to locals during the off-seasons. "The focus was on the experience from the pedestrian level, once you get out of your car and start walking," explained Hannegan.

RRM included a lot of flowering plants and shade trees in the streetscape design to add color and protect pedestrians from the hot summer sun. The choice of trees also emphasized the dramatic seasons in the area, and the team decided on trees that would offer fall colors and maintain their beauty in the cold winters, providing seasonal change along the corridor. Decorative pavers enhance the sidewalks, making the streetscape setting more interesting for pedestrians and blending into the colors of the plantings.

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Midblock crossing areas and crosswalks are highlighted to provide multiple options for pedestrians to walk safely from one sidewalk to another.

Another focus for the city was making sure pedestrians could find their way from the multiple parking lots to the offerings of the downtown area. Therefore, special wayfinding signs were implemented into the design, creating a unique feel for the street as well as directing tourists safely and efficiently.

Safety First
The upgrade to pedestrian walkability was not limited to the streetscape's sidewalks. RRM also looked to redesigning and adding crosswalks to increase pedestrian safety on the street. The team highlighted previously implemented crosswalks and added midblock crossing areas to give pedestrians multiple safe options to get from one side of the street to the other. Another safety effort included adding bump outs to the curbs to slow traffic.

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The Knickerbocker Canal is a multi-use path that provides additional access to the downtown area and many of the parking lots for both bicyclists and pedestrians.

Nice for Bikes
On the streetscape, bicyclists share lanes with vehicles, due to the slow-moving traffic in the area, but they also have access to the multi-use path, Knickerbocker Canal, located behind Pine Knot Avenue. The path leads all the way to the lake, which is the city's most popular feature during the spring and summer seasons.

The Knickerbocker Canal also connects to the city's mountain bike trails as well as more regional trails that run along Highway 38. This access gives both tourists and locals several options for bicycle trips, whether they are looking for a leisurely ride or a more rigorous workout.

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Rolled curbs were included to enable snowplows to push and remove snow from the street without damaging the curbs.

Turn for Transit
Bus stop improvements were also on the extensive design list for the Big Bear downtown area. Hannegan explained that the original masterplan focused on designing a streetscape area that would entice both locals and tourists to experience the city during all four seasons. Therefore, the improved transit system would make it more convenient for people to bus into the area, and the redesigned bus stops would add a well-designed furnishing for the community.

Solutions on Ice
Hannegan reported that a few challenges were addressed in the design, and most of them had to do with the weather that makes Big Bear so popular in the winter. Due to the large amount of snow that the city receives every year, snow plows are unavoidable, especially as the resort nature of the area entails many tourists walking through the snow on the street to reach favored downtown destinations. The plows had caused significant damage to the curbs in the original street design, so to combat that problem, RRM implemented sloped curbs on the street. This had the added benefit of pedestrian-friendly street design as well.

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Trees are located along the sidewalk to provide some shade during the hot summer days. Heaters were installed beneath the sidewalk pavers to ensure that pedestrians did not slip and fall from ice during the winter.

Another challenge that reared its head was how to prevent the sidewalks from becoming icy, causing slipping danger to pedestrians. This was a big problem, as during the winter, the sidewalk on Village Drive is kept in nearly perpetual shade by the buildings on the street. To solve the problem, RRM had heaters installed underneath the pavers on the sidewalks to make sure ice would not cause visitors to slip and injure themselves.

Resort Town Charm
When considering the downtown design, the RRM team wanted to maintain the mountain resort theme in the streetscape, and they did this with site furnishings and amenities. According to Hannegan, "If you look at some of the furnishings, all the way down to the handrails and the lights, they all have kind of a rustic feel to them."

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A rendering of Pine Knot Avenue depicts the plans of creating an outdoor gathering space for visitors. The sidewalk includes enough space to walk along the shops and enjoy seating areas around the fire pit.

To emphasize the mountainous place-making elements of the street, RRM also added fire pits to the design. The firm originally planned for two fire pits to be placed in courtyard-like areas in the middle of the sidewalk, but the city liked the idea so much, they decided to implement three instead.

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The fire pits are made of stone and concrete and offer seating right against the warmth of the fire. They are also flanked by matching stone and concrete benches, allowing pedestrians to enjoy the fire from a little farther away.

According to Hannegan, the streetscape project has been a great success, and has held up in the years since it was designed. Both locals and visitors to the Big Bear area enjoy the quaint streetscape that leads them through rows of bistros and boutiques and winds down to the lake. In 2014, RRM received a Merit Award from the Southern California chapter ASLA for the project, demonstrating the success of the pedestrian-focused design.

As seen in LASN magazine, August 2019.

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October 13, 2019, 6:42 pm PDT

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