In yesterday’s post I mentioned that neighborhood housing — of all shapes, sizes and prices — probably tops the list of planning work that is underway in Kent, but it’s in good company with the recent announcement of an AMATS planning study to be completed for SR 261 in Kent.
Earlier this Spring City Council worked with the staff to come up with a short list of transportation planning projects that would be eligible for AMATS Planning Grant funding.
The idea behind this round of AMATS funding was to dig a little deeper into a particular transportation opportunity or challenge that would involve looking at the inter-play between cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit and the surrounding land use.
This funding wasn’t looking for a quick fix project, it was interested in projects that would benefit from a long term view of what “could be,” involving a range of stakeholders, and showing a clear connection between cars, walkers, cyclists and the adjacent land uses.
Using that criteria, the short list for potential projects in Kent included studying long term traffic safety, pedestrian, and bike lane improvements to the Water Street corridor (particularly from Haymaker Parkway south), traffic safety and congestion improvements between Lincoln Street and Depeyster Street, and SR261 corridor traffic safety, capacity, and alternative transportation opportunities.
After wrestling with each of these 3 potential Kent projects, we landed on SR261 as the “best” fit with the intent of the funding.
261 is a State Route so ODOT joined us as a co-applicant and we were grateful to be selected as 1 of 4 projects awarded in entire the Akron Metro region.
SR261 was built as a 4 lane limited access highway decades ago based on an assumption that it would someday be a northern connector but it turns out that northern connection is no longer in the plans — so we’re left with an overbuilt highway to nowhere.
Overbuilt roads are costly to maintain, limit what can be built around them, and given the high speeds that they tend to encourage are notoriously dangerous.
Since the original purpose of the limited access highway to get traffic around and through Kent in route to northern destinations is off the table, the planners have an opportunity to look at how this roadway could best be used for local traffic and local destinations.
The planning study will look at the options to possibly “downsize” the limited access highway — or better yet to “right size” the roadway to match the long term land use of the 261 corridor.
That leads to the question, what is the long term land use of the 261 corridor? The Planning Study should helps us begin to answer that as a community.
The original land use was built around the concept of a limited access highway but with that no longer in the works, we have an opportunity to revisit the land use and do a little “blue sky dreaming” about what would be the most impactful use for what turns out to be some of the last decent-sized tracks of land that could be Kent’s next office parks, technology centers, housing subdivision, green space, parks, trails, or a mix of all of the above — that’s what we have to figure out.
Fundamentally, the four lane 261 could safely be a two lane street which opens all kinds of opportunities for new local circulation patterns or even a dedicated bike lane.
Those discussions only make sense when we look at what’s going to happen around the road — all of which will be part of the scope of the new study.