Aging infrastructure was the catalyst for the original plan. Some of the sewer lines were installed in the early 1900s and electric lines are dangerously in need of replacement, as are water lines. The project will also install 5G internet access along the corridor, a desperate need to do business in a modern world. As the bricks would need to be removed to address these issues, a larger plan was developed to address above and below grade, and to address consequences resulting from the pedestrian mall, a trend which has not fared well for the 200 communities who installed them.
Cars activate urban areas, and bring vibrancy and connection with other parts of the community. The street design plan is derived from a Dutch concept called a “woonerf,” or a “living street.” This style of street design capitalizes on shared space, traffic calming and low speed limits, and eliminates curbs to provide equal priority to all users – automobiles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
In addition, the street plan will increase safety and function, and can be easily modified, limited, or closed for events and activities as needed. Movable planters can shut off traffic any time, and a single lane of traffic will require both bicyclists and automobiles to slow down and pay careful attention. The street will be flanked by 20-foot-wide sidewalks to allow for increased pedestrian space and robust outdoor dining.
All of these events will still take place in even better conditions. The Liberty Street Plaza will be completely redesigned and will maximize the available space for gatherings, music, and other outdoor events. In addition, a rotating plinth will serve as the new home for our annual Christmas tree, providing a 360-degree experience, and during non-holiday times, will offer a rotating public art display.
The Plaza will also provide for a portable stage, a place for sound equipment and a storage area. The curbless street will allow maximum use of wheeled planters which can be used to block the street entirely, or even sections, permitting every use imaginable.
Not at all – in fact, every element of this plan seeks to enhance our community’s assets.
The design provides optimal view of the buildings and historic architecture along the Baltimore Street corridor. The landscape plantings are low and trees are to be “limbed up” to create an open space between, allowing users of the area to freely see from one end of Baltimore Street to the other. This will improve the user experience and contribute to a feeling of greater safety.
New pavers will be added in the traffic lane as well as sidewalks, which will maintain the historic feel while utilizing a more sustainable product. The paver colors create distinct visual cues to users of the downtown area, and will identify traffic, pedestrian and dining spaces. In addition, the lighter color selection will reduce heat during summer months, and will add much-needed color contrast, ensuring eyes move away from the ground to focus on the details of our historic architecture.
Vagrancy occurs when there are hidden spaces with little activity, and our pedestrian mall, like many communities that constructed them, put the brakes on commerce and activity, creating an overall sense of darkness and isolation. The mall’s current landscape plan has exacerbated this issue because the plants selected were inappropriate for creating open spaces and natural light. The new plan will provide maximum visibility from one end of Baltimore Street to the other, removing places where vagrants may congregate, and the addition of traffic will add more energy and vibrancy to the area. Additional new lighting will add a greater sense of connection to each part of the street and will increase safety.
Communities often complain about a lack of parking when there is no activity downtown, but increased activity, or places which people want to go, will result in a willingness to park beyond the immediate area. The City offers several parking options within less than a block or two from anywhere on Baltimore Street. There are two parking garages, several lots, off-street parking on side streets, and the new plan will add approximately 20 additional spaces directly on the Baltimore Street corridor. The City also provides a parking brochure for visitors to review in advance of arrival.
Our community was recently recognized for one of the Top 10 Trails in America, and with constant bicyclists, pedestrians, and community residents in the area, facilities are important.
The “Portland Loo” is a state-of-the-art outdoor facility with running water and a flushable toilet. It is attractive and will be tucked into the Mechanic Street Plaza, at the entrance to our downtown. It is simple to maintain and easily cleaned with a hose and water, and because of its open-bottom design, will not allow for hiding or congregating inside. It is intentionally designed to be austere with no “comforts,” which will limit its use.
It is an important resource to provide to welcoming bicyclists and pedestrians downtown, and it will reduce the number of people seeking facilities in downtown businesses.
Trees serve many uses. The selected trees for this plan have been chosen for their rapid growth and hearty construction, and they will eventually form a leafy canopy over the street which will provide maximum exposure for our architecture and views. The trees also provide waste water management through the soil cells that will be buried underground.
The carefully-selected trees included in the plan will clean the air of pollutants and provide shade and cooling, reducing air conditioning needs for many downtown buildings. The trees will also absorb noise pollution, decrease traffic speed and create a natural urban oasis which will serve our community for many decades.
We are rapidly becoming an urban species, and have an expectation of quick convenience and proximity to businesses and services. This plan will add a vibrancy to our downtown which has been missing since construction of the pedestrian mall. Cars create activity, which increases foot traffic, which adds to dining and people-watching, which then results in more development and growth downtown. The project will serve as a catalyst for reinvestment of both business and upper-floor residences. The addition of 5G internet service will increase competition for businesses wishing to relocate to available commercial spaces.
The plan is already attracting new investment, with several buildings on Baltimore Street recently purchased. Plans are underway for renovations of those buildings to house new businesses and residences.
In total, the project will cost approximately $16 million. This includes a built-in 10% contingency to cover unexpected additional costs and inflation which is standard for these types of projects. To date, the Cumberland Economic Development Corporation and the City of Cumberland have worked to successfully secure $12.1 million in grant funds that are specific to certain aspects of this project and cannot be used elsewhere within the city. The grants were obtained largely through State and Federal agencies to minimize the local expenditure toward the project. While our agencies are still working to secure funding to minimize the financial gap that exists, we have sufficient financial resources locally to complete the project as-is.
While the design plan and renderings portray a beautiful street façade with many tastefully selected elements and features, what you are unable to see is the upgraded infrastructure (water, sewer, electric, natural gas and fiber optic cable) and network of silva cells that will efficiently manage stormwater and foster the growth of the large root systems that will inevitably result from the landscaping incorporated within the design. This complex system of below-grade technology is directly impacted by any design changes and/or alterations that take place above-grade. Throughout this process, a great deal of due diligence and vetting of each aspect of the plan has taken place, which has resulted in necessary changes to the design.
For instance, if you so much as change the location of a bench, you must also change the location of the footer required to fasten the bench to the ground. This will ultimately result in changing the silva cell network to accommodate the updated footer location, potentially changing the location of certain infrastructure, and so on.
All of these changes require countless hours of engineering and re-engineering to ensure that both above-grade and below-grade improvements coexist with one another in the manner of which they are meant, and prevent any costly issues to repair an element along the thoroughfare in the near future.
In general, projects of this magnitude and detail take an extreme amount of time to plan, secure funding, navigate through the approval processes and then implement.
The extended length of time it has taken for the project to reach this milestone may seem excruciating at times, but is a testament to the countless hours of research, due diligence and attention to detail that has occurred during the planning phases which will not only assist in expediting the construction of the project, but also should provide assurance to the many stakeholders throughout the community that the final product will be a remarkable staple within the City of Cumberland that will instill economic strength and community pride.
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