Lovin’ South Virginia Street

Jenny Brekhus is part of the city of Reno’s Community Development Department. Roger Hanson is a senior planner with the Regional Transportation Commission.

At a recent community meeting, more than 50 business and property owners, residents, employees and individuals with a general interest in South Virginia Street were asked what they liked about how a section of South Virginia Street—from Liberty Street to Plumb Lane—looks now and what they don’t like. Many stated a desire to see visual clutter such as utility poles and billboards eliminated. Amenities like landscaping and better street lighting were supported. An effort to prepare an urban design plan for South Virginia follows similar efforts for East Fourth Street, South Wells Avenue and California Avenue.

Why the interest in renovating these areas? The areas are the community’s oldest business districts, with the exception of downtown. The districts provide opportunities and choices for people who want to own and operate independent, locally owned businesses in the retail and food service industries that are today dominated by national chains. These business districts provide options for business professionals who want to work in central locations rather than in office parks miles to the south.

The Regional Transportation Commission and city of Reno want public input on the design plan for this section of South Virginia. The plan will assist elected officials in making future funding decisions. The RTC and city annually allocate funds to public improvement projects, and the process is competitive, as community needs far exceed funds. A plan that shows how a project could look and describes its benefits helps decision-makers when they’re reviewing multi-page spreadsheets listing dozens of projects.

The plan will do two things. First, it will allocate space to different modes of travel within a limited street right-of-way that ranges from 65 to 80 feet in width. It is highly unlikely this section of Virginia Street will be widened, which would be costly and would result in many lost buildings. The redesign plan has to balance the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers and Citifare bus riders.

To balance these needs and desires, the RTC, in its 2030 Regional Transportation Plan, proposes to improve transit operations along South Virginia Street, including implementing Bus Rapid Transit, a more cost-effective alternative to light rail. BRT systems have all the advantages of light rail, including dedicated travel lanes, faster operating speeds, more passenger capacity, quicker boarding and intersection priority.

Secondly, the plan will illustrate how the street could be improved. If public and private investment is not made in older areas, the areas decline and existing investment in buildings, water and sewer utilities and road capacity is wasted. A recent traffic study indicated that traffic volumes in the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods have been stagnant and even declining on some key streets in recent years despite community growth.

With this project comes an opportunity to change the urban environment. One more public meeting will be held for the South Virginia Street corridor plan before it is forwarded to the Reno City Council and Regional Transportation Commission Board. To participate, contact Jenny Brekhus at 326-6629 or Roger Hanson at 348-0400.