Fresno Leverages TIGER Grants for Complete Streets Planning

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This is the second in a series of blogs that will explore the impact TIGER grants have on local communities by helping them better leverage financing options, meet transportation safety goals, and increase overall quality of life by introducing alternative modes of transportation.  Click here for the first blog, which explores Seattle’s Mercer Corridor Project.

According to the Best Complete Streets Policies of 2012 report, complete streets policies lay out a community’s plan to design and maintain streets so they are safe for users of all ages and abilities, and can accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users, motorists and freight vehicles.

Typically, complete streets initiatives are developed to ensure that pedestrian and bicycle options as well as other alternatives to the personal vehicle are included in in an area’s transportation planning. In the case of Fresno, CA’s Fulton Mall Reconstruction however, the city sought to do the opposite – reintroduce car lanes into an area that had been without them since the 1960s.

Fresno’s 18-square-block downtown area is home to the city’s historic main street area, but its disconnected design has made it difficult for people to easily navigate the area.  Fresno is using TIGER funds  to reintroduce vehicle traffic lanes while improving the bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the area.  Business leaders and city planners believe that reintroducing driving capacity will help increase access and visibility to businesses in the mall, thereby helping improve the economic potential of the downtown area.

In Fresno’s 2013 TIGER grant application, they cited a statistic from a national survey which found that 90 percent of downtowns with pedestrian malls become more successful when the reopened the malls to vehicle traffic.  This highlights the importance of having  multimodal transportation options in downtown areas.

This is an extremely important project not only for the city but also for the region.  Fresno is being considered for a high-speed rail stop by the California High Speed Rail Authority, so the more the city can to do increase its economic competitiveness and attractiveness, the greater impact the investment will have for the state.  Fresno Mayor Ashely Swearengin noted that “This grant is a significant moment in Fresno’s history…The message that Secretary Foxx and the federal government are sending to us today is loud and clear: They believe in downtown Fresno, and they believe it will be the vibrant economic center for the entire region.  Our opportunity now is to carry this momentum forward to realize that vision.”

The total cost of the project is $20 million and the city’s $16 million TIGER grant will help fund a large portion of it.  The state and Fresno County will contribute other financial resources, leaving the city’s budget largely untouched for this project.

For more information on Fresno’s Fulton Mall Reconstruction and other TIGER grant programs, register to attend NLC’s Congress of Cities conference in Seattle, WA, Nov 13-16, 2013.  The conference will feature solutions to local challenges in the areas of infrastructure development and investment, environmental sustainability, and economic development.  And for more information in complete streets initiatives, please visit NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute.

About the TIGER Grants
In 2009, Congress dedicated $1.5 million for the first round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program which was created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The overwhelming popularity of the TIGER grant program has sustained this resource for local governments for five years and counting now.

Through the program, the U.S. Department of Transportation provides competitive grants to local governments to invest in a variety of transportation initiatives that meet community needs while contributing to national transportation goals.

About the author
: Julia Pulidindi is a Senior Associate for Infrastructure at the National League of Cities (NLC). Her work focuses on identifying local challenges and solutions to transportation and telecommunications infrastructure issues.  Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaPulidindi.