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The Journal Gazette

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Ben Knoop and his daughter Annie use pool noodles to engage in some sword fighting Saturday at a Better Block Party on Columbia Avenue. 

Sunday, November 05, 2017 1:00 am

Party encourages ideas for block

Bike path part of upgrade sought for Columbia Avenue

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Some people wanting to celebrate might, figuratively speaking, paint the town red.

People living and working near the busy intersection of Columbia Avenue and St. Joseph Boulevard on Saturday painted part of the town purple.

And, fortunately, the rain held off during a demonstration of what some neighborhood residents and business folk would like to see happen at the busy triangle intersection just east of downtown – if it had poured, said one organizer, the purple block-long bike lane that formed the event's centerpiece would have started to wash away.

Corey Waldron, owner of Conjure Coffee, the corner's anchor, said the daylong block party was to show how traffic could be calmed and the neighborhood made more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

The proposed changes would also increase parking for residents and neighborhood businesses, including Conjure, whose patrons now squeeze into two lots barely holding a half-dozen cars each.

A grant from AARP and collaboration with Better Blocks, an international consulting company, helped develop the ideas that led to Saturday's celebratory atmosphere, Waldron said.

“The whole thing about Better Blocks is to help create more community-oriented blocks – small areas where a few changes can make a big difference in the lifestyle in the neighborhood,” he said. 

Waldron has been working to turn the once-vacant building into a trendy destination with a cafe and retail sales of the company's small-batch roasted coffee and cold-brew and pour-over drinks. On Saturday, it also featured a pop-up gallery of works by local artists inside and bands making music just outside its doors. 

Dallas-based Better Blocks ran two workshops to collect the ideas of local people, Waldron said.

Among the proposed changes are the bike path, which runs next to the north curb of Columbia, additional parking spaces next to the path, and switching Columbia from a two-lane, one-way street going east to a one-lane, one-way street. 

Eliminating a merging lane at the east end of the bridge from downtown is also envisioned, and suggested for the triangle's apex is a mini park with a sculpture, seating, trees and planters.

Organizers, acknowledging that Saturday's event was just a first step, said they are working with the staff of the city's street department on putting the ideas into practice.

But some already see the proposal as a pilot project for other Fort Wayne neighborhoods and even other cities, said Linda Dunno, 67, of Fort Wayne, on AARP's Indiana Impact Team.

Dunno said the AARP grant, put together by Fort Wayne designer Mo Palmer, was one of only 88 awarded to 1,200 applicants nationwide. 

Enticing people to try the bike lane Saturday were two unusual vehicles, a recumbent bike and an ElliptiGO, a bike powered by a standing rider whose feet move pedals that look like those of an elliptical trainer.

“It actually stresses different muscles than a regular bike,” said Eric Fisher, 49, a neighborhood resident and owner of nearby Edgewater Arms apartments after trying the vehicle. “I feel it more in the thighs.”

Fisher said he is “very excited” by upgrading the neighborhood's profile.

“I've noticed the effect of traffic calming in other parts of the city, and ... it really changes the feel of a neighborhood,” he said. “I think this placemaking, quality-of-place movement is a good next move for cities like Fort Wayne – to get back to more of a village feel.”

rsalter@jg.net