It’s OK to be a little confused or even a little frustrated if you’re driving on the west side of downtown Fort Wayne as this seemingly endless road construction continues into autumn.
But soon, the Ewing Street/Fairfield Avenue Corridor plan will start making sense. Ewing is already carrying two-way traffic. Fairfield will be converted to two-way by November. Weather willing, a roundabout at Ewing, Fairfield, Superior and Wells streets will open by December. Next spring, the city will add landscaping, new lighting, bike lanes and other enhancements.
On paper, of course, it doesn’t look as impressive as renderings of the Ash complex that soon will be rising just to the east of the corridor.
But the new Fairfield/Ewing corridor will have its own, subtle impact on downtown. In fact, it already has.
Indirect acknowledgments of the corridor’s enhanced significance are everywhere. Public Works and City Utilities spokesperson Frank Suarez rattles off a list of them: Saint Francis’ new downtown campus. Improvements at Trinity English Lutheran and First Presbyterian churches.
At the north end of the corridor, several Wells Street businesses have renovated their facades with grants from the city. Those grants require at least an equal investment from business owners. In fact, Suarez says, “People were investing four times what they were getting.” Not all of those changes are directly tied to the Fairfield-Ewing project, but planners believe that improving the roadways and traffic flow is good for business and encourages every area entity to consider improvements.
When Ewing (northbound) and Fairfield (southbound) became one-way streets downtown decades ago, the change made eminent good sense. The streets carried shifts of workers to and from the General Electric Co. and staff and patients to the old Lutheran Hospital. But Lutheran has moved west, and the GE complex has been largely empty for years.
“Decades ago, the idea was to move traffic as quickly as you could through downtown,” said Pam Holocher, the city’s deputy director of community development. To modern-day planners, two-way streets offer several benefits, including making it easier to get around, making streets more pedestrian-friendly and something called “traffic-calming.”
The theory is that single lanes on a two-way street make downtown drivers calmer, more apt to slow down and notice their surroundings and perhaps want to park and spend some time as a pedestrian, walking to stores or events. Part of the longer-range vision is to add more parking garages and to better use some of the many surface parking lots downtown.
“We want them to feel very comfortable taking a walk downtown,” said Paul Spoelhof, city senior planner.
Holocher and Spoelhof believe the new configuration is also resident-friendly. “People have been starting to want to move downtown,” Holocher noted. but “people don’t want to live on a one-way street.”
The West Central and Wells Street neighborhoods should get the most direct benefits from the new configurations, but the effects may spill over to other “collar” neighborhoods and even to the blocks to the south, where the GE sign shines on an empty campus. Plans for that area are hazy, but the two-way streets at least “reinforce its connection to downtown,” Spoelhof notes.
The Fairfield-Ewing corridor isn’t the answer to every downtown question. But it’s an effort to widen the scope of what it means to visit, work or live here, a good use of Legacy and TIF resources, and likely to prove more than worth the chaos of the current construction.