Makeover for Ugly Street?

Nord Avenue—state Highway 32 between East Avenue and Second Street—is a mess.

With its dozens of student apartment complexes, it’s one of the most populated roadways in Chico, but it’s as hostile to pedestrians and bicyclists as a street can be. Motorists don’t fare much better—it’s often so clogged with traffic that cars are backed up for blocks. And yet this Ugly Street serves as a gateway to Chico. It’s an embarrassment.

So it was welcome news last week that an effort was being made to clean up and transform Nord Avenue. At a series of three public workshops beginning June 15 and ending June 21, dozens of community members talked about what they wanted to see there. Mostly they wanted a street on which traffic flows smoothly, that’s safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, especially children, and is well-landscaped and attractive. (See “A plan for Nord Avenue,” Newslines, page 10.)

They listened to representatives of Glatting Jackson, a street-design team, and “walkable communities” expert Dan Burden as they discussed what makes streets work well and how that might be accomplished on Nord Avenue.

It won’t be easy. For one thing, the state will have to be brought on board, since it must pay for street improvements. Also, the presence of the nearby Union Pacific tracks parallel to the roadway complicates matters. But, as Burden noted, sometimes even minor improvements can lead to major transformation. When a street is upgraded in the right way, he said, the property bordering it becomes more valuable and, over time, better used and more attractive.

The first goal must be safety, he said. There should be continuous bike lanes and sidewalks throughout the corridor, and the number of driveways needs to be reduced. The roadway should remain two-way, but there should be a median along much of it with left-turn lanes, and he recommended putting roundabouts at several points along the roadway.

There were many other excellent suggestions, and the interaction between designers and community members was lively and productive. However, as Burden and the other members of the design team stated, their job would be completed in a couple of weeks, when they submitted their final report. Then it would be time for the community to take the ideas generated and implement them. Success won’t come overnight, but with patience and perseverance Nord Avenue can be transformed.

Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan, who for years has pushed for a study to be done, was justifiably pleased with the outcome. A number of other city and county officials were also present, and they expressed optimism that, with the support of the community, they could convince the state of the worthiness of the project. We hope they’re right, and that last week’s workshops were the first steps in a journey toward a new Nord Avenue, one that will be the kind of gateway entrance Chico deserves.