Gehl Studios, the city of Reno’s consultant to give Virginia Street a potential makeover, gave on Thursday night the second presentation about what a new downtown could look like.
Better walkability, more small businesses, safer streets, more art and bike amenities are among the themes the community wants, according to Gehl’s Sofie Kvist.
Kvist said that many in the community feel unsafe downtown, and the draw for locals to go there is limited. That’s part of what the city is trying to change with Gehl’s research, she said.
City of Reno staff member Amy Pennington said Gehl’s work was the result of community input.
“This study really is trying to reflect the voice of our city and the people in our city,” she said.
Input on potential changes from downtown casinos was not evident during Gehl’s presentation, but a This Is Reno investigation found lobbyists and attorneys for casino properties and developers are heavily advocating behind the scenes to city officials for their wants – even on such issues as homeless feeding ordinances.
The ROW’s previous attorney helped kill a cycle track project on Center Street, which had already been approved, funded and planned. What followed was the city of Reno last year installing temporary bike and pedestrian construction a block over – on Virginia Street.
Previous consultants said Center Street was the best and most preferred option for micro mobility, or bike and pedestrian, amenities.
Consultant Headway Transportation’s 2020 traffic analysis found that “a two‐way cycle track on Center Street was determined to provide the greatest safety and best connectivity improvement for the cost. This alternative had overwhelming support from the community at a public meeting and was also chosen as the preferred alternative by the Reno City Council and RTC Board.”
But Gehl’s Kvist presentation included designs only for Virginia Street – designs with protected bike lanes, similar to the city’s temporary project last year. She made no mention of Center Street, and city officials shied away from the Center Street project.
Kvist instead suggested working with the Washoe County Regional Transportation Commission to run a bike lane through downtown to the university on Virginia Street – exactly what the city and casinos wanted.
“This is going to take time, so where do we start?” Kvist asked while requesting more input from community members.
A downtown business owner responded by saying the micro mobility dividers were “nonsense” and negatively impacted his business last summer. Another business owner, Landon Mack, said the temporary micro mobility installation led to the “absolute destruction” of his business.
“Both the RTC and [Headway Transportation] engineering studies I had to get through FOIA requests, both say Virginia Street is not engineerable for bike lanes,” he said. “So are we going to have two sets of bike lanes?
“What is The ROW’s Caesars plan?” he added “They have the largest amount of real estate on Virginia street with little to no access or appealability whatsoever to Virginia Street. I mean, that is like a huge issue that I think needs to be … addressed and answered.”
Ky Plaskon with the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance also said those issues remain unresolved, despite Reno City Manager Doug Thornley last year calling the Center Street project all but dead.
“We need answers on whether a protected bike path is going to go directly from the university straight down on Virginia Street to midtown,” Plaskon said. “Doing the downtown Virginia Street bike path right means the route needs to be direct, not zig-zag to other streets or unexpectedly disappear. If it doesn’t, then we’re punishing the bike and scooter riders. It will be a madhouse.
“They should just finish Center Street.”
But the city’s Amy Pennington said what Gehl was proposing was bike lanes, not a two-way cycle track and that the city’s research shows Virginia Street is a workable place for bike lanes.
“What we found is that bike lanes being incorporated into Virginia Street is a viable and positive design regardless of wherever else they are in the downtown area,” she said.
The city’s Revitalization Manager Bryan McArdle defended downtown casinos after another commenter criticized them. He said the city has been meeting with casino representatives.
“I actually think the conversations with The ROW have been quite fruitful,” he said. “And they really came to the table and worked with us. They attended all the sessions, have been open to ideas, and they’re open to their properties as well being a part of this solution.”
Kvist proposed a Virginia Street-focused vision statement: “Virginia Street is the backbone of the downtown neighborhood. It connects the city’s assets, is a platform for creativity, and it’s a safe and inviting place to walk or spend time for Renoites and visitors alike.”
Part of what can make that happen is what Kvist called “activation programming” and encouraging small businesses to set up shop downtown. She said, however, any changes remain to be seen.
“This is just phase one,” she said.