It’s not unusual for street improvements to result in increased amenities in municipalities. However, city officials in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, took this concept to a whole new level when redeveloping Mullan Road, now renamed Fort Grounds Drive. And while pedestrian safety was a primary driver of the project, the end result was a value-added plaza — including a historical carousel and grandstand — greater connectivity to a lakefront park and extended improvements throughout the area.
Former railway corridor
The impetus for the entire project began with the city’s interest in acquiring a 100-foot right-of-way, formerly owned by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, from the Bureau of Land Management. Transfer of ownership required a master plan, detailing how the city would use the corridor. The city’s primary interest in the property was creating additional outdoor recreational opportunities — a natural extension of the already robust tourism in the area.
In fact, part of the original railway system was built with the goal of increasing summer and holiday travel to Coeur d’Alene and its beautiful lake, with the railway connecting Coeur d’Alene to nearby Spokane, Wash. It worked. To the north of the former railroad corridor lies City Lake Park, complete with 300 feet of frontage along Lake Coeur d’Alene; to the south, Memorial Park, featuring softball grandstands built in the 1930s, along with concessions and restroom facilities. These features were a natural draw for tourists in the early 1900s and continue to attract visitors to Coeur d’Alene today.
Naturally, during peak tourist season, Coeur d’Alene saw — and continues to see — a great deal of foot traffic between the two attractions. There was just one problem. Running through this corridor — and directly intersecting the main pedestrian path — was a five-lane highway, Mullan Road, with its accompanying 40 mph traffic and on-street parallel parking.
Obviously, with no real designated safe crossing points, there was no ideal path for pedestrian travel. Parking was also an issue in this highly traveled corridor. So when the city reached out to Welch Comer Engineers to develop the master plan requested by the Bureau of Land Management, it asked engineer Phil Boyd to address pedestrian safety and vehicle usage as part of the project.
A unique solution
Because Coeur d’Alene is a tourist town, the amount of people using the parks is seasonal. After peak tourist season, however, the pedestrian traffic drops off significantly. And that’s when it occurred to Boyd that perhaps, instead of a crosswalk with a rapidly repeating flashing beacon, the city could create a seasonal street closure.
His initial idea, which was later embraced by the mayor, city council and residents alike, introduced the concept of a seasonal pedestrian plaza, which would provide safe travel for park visitors and essentially unify the beachfront park with the softball park. He could accomplish this goal by introducing a cul-de-sac, or roundabout, on either side of a raised intersection between the two parks. During the peak tourist season, Coeur d’Alene’s parks department director, Bill Greenwood, blocks traffic on either side of the raised intersection with bollards that reroute traffic from the area, creating a safe pathway and a seamless connection between the two parks.
Obviously, the changes in this thoroughfare would impact Coeur d’Alene residents, particularly those living in Fort Grounds Neighborhood, who would have to take an alternate route to the city center. And while Coeur d’Alene’s city engineer and mayor embraced the idea immediately, some residents took a little more convincing. A quick traffic study, however, revealed that the alternate route took less than two additional minutes for residents to reach downtown Coeur d’Alene. Residents quickly realized that if one or two minutes out of the day could keep pedestrians safe, it was worth it.
More than a walkway
At the same time the city was considering this street redevelopment, a private party was in the process of restoring a long-lost Coeur d’Alene treasure: a carousel discovered from days gone by. Coeur d’Alene’s mayor suggested incorporating the restored carousel into the project, creating another unique feature to the plaza.
That’s when landscape architect Dell Hatch of Bernardo Wills Architects entered the project, designing the new Memorial Plaza with clay unit pavers to add color and texture while also introducing curvilinear elements to the walkways. Drawing inspiration from the adjacent historic park and its older Ponderosa Pines, Hatch placed conifers on the plaza’s north side to further connect the two parks while introducing more varieties of flowering trees and ornamental grasses within the newly created plaza.
In addition to the plaza, the roundabouts and the raised walkway, the city added a parking lot to the north, which serves not only Memorial Field and City Park but also the courthouse and county facilities directly to the north. Later additions included pickleball courts, an additional restroom facility and a skate park to the west of the plaza. Thus, a single street redevelopment project paved the way for further improvements, enhancing the experience of all who visit Coeur d’Alene.