What's 'really' up downtown: Placemaking study is halting progress (Voices)

Ky Plaskon

Ky Plaskon

The October 5 “What’s Up Downtown” Voices article by the Downtown Partnership’s Alex Stettinski and City of Reno’s Jeff Limpert on Downtown Virginia Street Urban Placemaking Study talks about creating a unified vision on the form and functionality of Virginia Street.

That is a noble cause and there have been some amazing “placemaking” strides in downtown recently to their credit.

However, the article fails to mention this study is being used to stop a project that was born of a unified vision for downtown, a project that fits with the natural evolution of downtown and would keep tourists, families, students and workers safe in downtown.

In essence, the Placemaking study is being used to halt a flagship project in downtown that epitomizes the very idea of “placemaking” in Reno.

Imagine people parking in downtown’s numerous garages and then riding bikes, wheelchairs, electric scooters and walking safely from the University to Downtown and to Midtown businesses on a path where they are protected from traffic.

The path will never close. It is a path where they are not squeezed on a tiny sidewalk, jockeying for space or out in speeding traffic putting their lives in danger.

Imagine the economic vibrancy of people having a variety of safe transportation options, moving seamlessly and quickly to many businesses, not just casinos.

That is a great vision. In fact, that vision is near reality with The Center Street Multimodal Improvement Project (
read more here). It is a protected path on Center Street from the University to Downtown and Midtown that will always stay open.

That means people can avoid a bottleneck on Virginia Street if they want to, or they can choose to head right into the mix of a giant party on Virginia.

The Center Street project that would make all this possible is well underway. Planning started in 2019 and it is at 30% design. However, more than a year after planning started, The ROW casinos decided to oppose it (see pages 341-351 of the minutes of the March 19, 2021, Regional Transportation Commission meeting regarding the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, 
accessible here).

Now, The ROW is proposing a bike path on Virginia instead, right in front of their casinos. The RTC then placed a pause on the visionary Center Street project, citing this “Placemaking” study.

It’s great that casinos now want a bike path on Virginia Street, and the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance supports more bike paths, but not at the expense of well-designed, safe facilities that are already in the works.

In fact, the 2017 Downtown Action Plan recommends bicycle and pedestrian facilities on both Center and Virginia Streets, not one or the other. So, let’s do both and why wait?

In a Sept. 7 commentary article published by This Is Reno (
read it here) titled, “What’s the future of Virginia Street?”, columnist Alicia Barber pointed out that this placemaking study will likely take much longer than the proposed six months.

Not only that, reimagining Virginia Street is like starting all over again with many more challenges. The Virginia Street Corridor Study from 2013 to 2014 found that there is not space for protected multimodal facilities on Virginia Street.

So, let’s keep doing our placemaking study that envisions a potential bike path on Virginia, but let’s also continue with the less whimsical and more solidified vision of a safe and protected path on Center Street.

The engineering studies, such as the 2019 Downtown Bicycle Facility Alternatives Analysis (
available here), show that Center Street is the best and most viable option.

All the parties involved in this new Placemaking study — City of Reno, RTC, The ROW, UNR and Downtown Reno Partnership — must demonstrate continued commitment to a connected and safer downtown for children, families, tourists, businesses and students sooner rather than later by supporting continued progress on the Center Street project.

The City of Reno has committed to working with the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance on the placemaking study and we look forward to continuing to do so.

A collective vision is born with transparency — transparency about projects that meet a collective vision and are already underway. 
We must find the balance between protecting people and business interests because it is a symbiotic relationship. Center Street does that.

Our priority needs to be protecting people and giving them safe, uninterrupted multimodal transportation options like Center Street as soon as possible, because without safety, fewer people will want to visit the area, and we will all be ultimately missing out on a more vibrant downtown.

Finally, let’s remind ourselves of RTC’s own 2050 Regional Transportation Plan mission: “Planning and building a safe multimodal transportation system is the most critical goal of the RTC” (see page 63 of the aforementioned meeting minutes, 
accessible here).

To recap: It’s RTCs mission to support multimodal projects, not stop them. Let’s finish building the multimodal project that is at our fingertips, Center Street, and continue this collective vision of a Downtown Reno that serves everyone and every business.

The Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance has posted a Vision for Downtown. Read it here: bikewashoe.org/vision-for-downtown.

Ky Plaskon is a Reno resident and president of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance.


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