Lacey Street

Lacey Street is seen Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2020, in downtown Fairbanks. The public officials and local residents are discussing whether to redesign the street in upcoming years. Reconstruction of Lacey Street would begin in 2026. Alena Naiden/News-Miner

Government officials, community organizers and others are looking for ways to make Lacey Street more walkable, bikeable and beautiful and are discussing reducing or eliminating its already sparse car traffic.

In the next two weeks, they will meet to evaluate several design ideas, including one that imagines Lacey Street as a one-way road with a bike lane and wider sidewalks and another that showcases it as a series of linear walkable and bikeable parks, officials said.

“The road should be reconstructed soon because it starts to fall apart,” city engineer Robert Pristash said.

The city will decide whether, how and when to design and implement the reconstruction plan, but the lead on generating reconstruction ideas is taken by the federally funded Fairbanks Area Surface Transportation Planning agency, known as FAST Planning, which promotes country-wide transportation initiatives.

Since only 650 to 1,000 vehicles a day travel on Lacey Street — at most about one-sixth of the average traffic on Cushman, Barnette or Noble streets — FAST Planning is putting forward the idea to expand the street’s access to bicyclists and pedestrians, said the executive director of FAST Planning, Jackson Fox. This transformation could also open space for new landscaping, improving the look of the street and helping to manage stormwater.

FAST Planning came up with four scenarios for redesigning Lacey Street that range from shrinking the two-way vehicle corridor to shifting it to one-way and to transforming some of the blocks into linear parks.

To find out which design ideas the community likes the most and to promote green infrastructure in Fairbanks, last month FAST Planning launched a survey that was taken by 682 people, most of them choosing walkability and beautification as the priorities for the street and voting for the design idea incorporating linear parks.

“I love that idea, but you have to make it feasible,” said Fabiana Meadows, an employee of the cannabis store Nature’s Releaf located on Lacey Street. “It’s nice to make the street more walkable, but you need to take cars into consideration, making the businesses still accessible.”

The CEO of Mt. McKinley Bank, Patty Mongold, also said she doesn’t support closing Lacey Street or making it a one-way since it would be detrimental for the business she leads, according to a letter she sent to the city.

The city engineer, Pristash, said he is hesitant about the linear parks idea as well.

“I don’t see a problem to think about Lacey differently,” he said. “But it’s really uncomfortable for me to say we don’t want vehicles to drive there. It seems radical to me. But it could work.”

To help the city officials and public imagine the reconstruction ideas, Bettisworth North architectural designer Corey DiRutigliano is creating several interactive models for Lacey Street.

“It will be a blend between what it looks like to be in the space and what it means for transportation,” DiRutigliano said.

Besides potentially changing the traffic configuration, reconstruction of Lacey Street would include fixing the drainage, which now leads to flooding on Sixth and Fifth streets during heavy rains, Pristash said. “If you went out to Lacey and kneel down, it would look like a roller coaster, and it all drains to Sixth Street.”

Pristash also said it would be good to widen and renovate sidewalks, putting down or hiding some of the utility poles.

Some community members support this idea.

“Facelift wouldn’t be the worst of things and the sidewalks is a really good point,” said Brenna Borneo, who regularly commutes to Lacey Street. “When I wasn’t paying attention, I almost hit the pole while walking on Lacey. People in wheelchairs can use the [improved] sidewalks too.”

FAST Planning will hold a public meeting in the next two weeks to discuss the design ideas. The city will then evaluate the final ideas as early as in November and decide whether to prioritize the project, Fox said. With the cost of the project roughly estimated between $10 million and $12 million, the funding would mostly come from FAST Planning, and the city will need to match 9% of that sum to access the funds, he said.

If the city nominates Lacey Street Project, the city engineer would be designing the new version of the street in the next couple of years, and, with a handful of other projects in queue, the earliest time Lacey Street reconstruction would start is 2026.

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.