As Ukiah residents know, State Street has been undergoing major construction work. According to Phil Dow, the man previously in charge of the Legal Transportation Planning Agency, the Ukiah community sees the first stage in what he calls “Project Streetscape.” It has also been referred to as “Project Road Diet.”
UHS News staff got in touch with Dow and City Councilwoman Maureen Mulheren, as well as the owners of Mendocino Book Company, Mama’s Café, and Dora’s Gourmet Café, to find the motivation behind Project Streetscape and to discover its impact on surrounding businesses.
When asked about the purpose of Project Streetscape, Councilwoman Mulheren explained that “the purpose behind the road diet is to ease congestion, help the environment, improve the pedestrian experience and make it better for businesses.”
Dow added to this, stating that one of the purposes “is to increase safety by introducing more pedestrian crossings in the center of town.” He also said, “Another purpose is to promote pedestrian activity downtown by providing some wider sidewalks.” Like Councilwoman Mulheren, Dow said that “It is also consistent with the statewide and nationwide goals to lower dependence on motorized vehicles by including pedestrian improvements.”
Councilwoman Mulheren believes that numerous benefits will come from the result of Project Streetscape. According to Mulheren, “One major benefit is that underground infrastructure that was 100 years old is being replaced and updated, as well as the pavement that literally had grass growing in it will be replaced.” She notes that “by changing the timing of the lights so that traffic flows north and south at the same time and removing the people turning left from the flow of traffic it will actually make it quicker and safer to go through town.” She said that “The corner of Perkins and State is our highest accident rate for vehicle vs. pedestrian, and this will make it much safer for pedestrians.”
Both Mulheren and Dow admitted that there were issues with the project as well. Mulheren explained that “The construction is a giant headache, but we knew that going into it.” She said that “So far, people have been very patient with the construction, and there have been minimal issues and delays.”
Dow clarified that “Some of the business owners, to put it quite frankly, we’re not very pleased because this construction activity would interfere with access to businesses downtown.” He added that “The pandemic came up on us, and everybody was pretty much in the lockdown.” He said, “If we can get approval from the state to advance this project and get it started earlier… And that’s what they did.” He stressed that “I can’t state enough that the businesses were a concern for several months and the impact of that construction on their business.”
According to Dow, “What you are seeing now is just the first phase of the project.” He said, “It will be extended a little bit further to the north and other phases, providing there’s money in the future, would also extend this project all the way down to Gobbi Street.” Dow explained that “Ultimately, it comes down to gas taxes.” Accounting for variables such as tax revenue, changing seasons, and more, Dow estimated that it might take a decade to complete Project Streetscape. “Just off the top of my head, I think everything’s going to be set back for ten years.”
When asked the same question, Mulheren stated that “The undergrounding portion by Wahlund should be done later this month or next month.” She also said that “The other project by Ghilotti will not be complete until next Summer.”
UHS News interviewed the owners of downtown businesses to find out how the construction has impacted them. Mendocino Book Company Owner Anna Kilkenny said, “I don’t like it because for one thing, they’re taking a couple complete blocks away for parking.” She elaborated on the subject, saying that “Before 9:00 in the morning, [nearby parking] is completely filled and it’s filled all day…There’s no parking for customers at all.” Kilkenny worries that a lack of parking will seriously harm businesses. Kilkenny also felt that the money used on Project Streetscape would be better used somewhere else. “I think this money could have been better spent not necessarily on a traffic project but on things that the city desperately needs.” Although she is “not a fan” of it, she said, “I’ve watched what’s happening now, and I hope it looks nice.” She added that “I hope it works.” Kilkenny claimed that “We were not particularly impacted like the people on State Street were.” According to Kilkenny, “They’ve been torn up for weeks, months.”
Mama’s Cafe owner Heidi Schorno confirmed this. When asked how construction has affected her businesses, she said, “Greatly, from headaches to lost revenue, the construction has added to the stress that has befallen us due to the pandemic.” She also said, “We have lost all of our off-street parking, which has deterred many of our customers from dining or picking up food at the cafe.” According to Schorno, “Deliveries and garbage pick-ups have become a logistical nightmare.” She also said, “The dirt and noise from the construction negatively impact the dining experience.” Schorno does not believe that the end result of Project Streetscape will help. “The problems with the downtown business area won’t be fixed with wider sidewalks.” She explained that “We are just a bunch of small locally owned businesses struggling day to day to keep our doors open, and the feeling is that this project is like putting lipstick on a pig.”
Dora’s Cafe owner Ron Robinson described how his business had been similarly affected by Project Streetscape. “It’s affected parking, accessibility to the restaurant…People aren’t willing to drive through the construction or try to find parking near it.” Robinson believes that Project Streetscape’s end result will benefit his business: “I think it will benefit it if we can make it that far.” Robinson confessed that “I wish that they were a little more generous with the restaurants or a little more willing to help financially instead of leaving us to deal with it.”
UHS News strongly encourages people to visit businesses in the downtown area to support them in their time of need.