Local merchants push back on SB Jefferson Blvd. plans

South Bend, Ind. A group of local merchants and property owners is pushing back on proposed plans for the Jefferson Boulevard Streetscape Project.

The City of South Bend held on open house Thursday to gain resident input on the project.

Department of Community Investment has been working on the plan for the last 6 months as part of South Bend's Smart Street Initiative.

This plan focuses on improvements to a four-block stretch of East Jefferson Blvd. from Niles Ave. to St. Peter Street.

“In the past East Jefferson has been one of those streets really dominated by vehicle use,” said Chris Dressel, a planner for the City of South Bend Dept. of Community Investment. “We're not talking about diminishing that, we just want to invite other users and that would include pedestrians, cyclists, mass transit users to join in the East Bank area and make it a more vibrant area.”

In addition to putting in new trees, benches, bike racks and trash receptacles, Dressel said there are plans to add “bump-outs” to intersections in the area.

Dressel explained that bump-outs are a bulb or curve to the sidewalk added at the intersections, narrowing the distance between both curbs at the pedestrian crossing.

“You're taking out the roughly 16 feet you'd have to cross,” explained Dressel. “It also puts the pedestrians a little farther out into the intersection, which makes them a little more visible to the approaching vehicle when they're meeting in the intersection.”

A group of 15 local business and property owners have already come forward with concerns, particularly over these bump-outs.

“I've talked to the business people along the Jefferson Street Corridor and by and large they're opposed to these bump-outs,” said local resident and business owner Larry Clifford. “They don’t want them, they create all sorts of problems especially in the winter.”

Clifford said that the bump-outs would push snow banks even farther into the street, making it harder to turn or to see oncoming traffic.

He said the local merchants have a real need for other improvements that could be made.

“They want better drainage and they want curbs and they've been promised that by the city for years and years and years. Now they come along and they want to give them bump-outs and all types of silly things -- wasting the city's money on things that the merchants don't want,” Clifford said.

The City took written input from visitors to the open house. Planners said they are preparing to take these suggestions into consideration when crafting the final plan.

“These are individuals whose livelihoods are in these businesses and we don't want to force anything upon them,” Dressel said. “So we're happy to continue the conversation.”

A second open house is scheduled for Friday, March 7 from 8-10 a.m. at the Howard Park Senior Center.

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