Hello, yellow brick road? Norwich Street traffic-calming plan involves vibrant artwork

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
This rendering illustrates a proposed Hilliard project to add roadside art on Norwich Street as a traffic-calming measure.

Chalk drawings on Hilliard sidewalks were not an uncommon sight last summer.

Those drawings were meant to lift the spirits of pedestrians, but Hilliard engineers have a similar idea that could accomplish the same purpose while also slowing down motorists on Norwich Street.

The city has proposed adding vibrant artwork along the sides of Norwich Street this spring. The artwork would be horizontal and on the side of the drive lanes.

Letty Schamp, the city’s deputy engineer said the project would be a pilot, so officials do not yet know how well it would work as a traffic-calming measure.

But they hope it will signal to drivers that "something has changed" and they should slow down, she said.

The city views the proposal as both an aesthetic and cost-saving approach to traffic calming on Norwich Street, Schamp said.

“It is one part traffic calming and one part 'placemaking,'” she said.

"Placemaking" refers to collectively reimagining and reinventing public spaces as the heart of every community, according to the Project for Public Spaces nonprofit organization.

After a design is selected, residents and business owners, with direction from a commissioned artist, will have the opportunity to help paint the 3-foot-wide ribbon that would extend along either side of Norwich Street from Cemetery Road northwest to Wayne Street.

“The idea is to create something of visual interest that also slows people down," Schamp said.

Time will tell if the initiative is successful in traffic calming, but if so, it could serve as a model for other Hilliard neighborhoods, she said.

City officials already have discussed the proposal with the Hilliard Public Arts Commission and Epic Small, a Columbus-based company whose website says it “help(s) harness the power and potential of small-scale placemaking projects to energize communities, engage citizens and motivate change."

The Old Hilliard district has become an increasingly popular destination, with such venues as the new Center Street Market, which opened earlier this year, likely contributing to more traffic on Norwich Street, Schamp said.

“With the increased traffic (on Norwich Street), we are getting complaints from residents," she said. "We are seeing some speeds that are higher than what we would like to have on a residential street.”

The speed limit on Norwich Street is 25 mph.

In a Dec. 4 memo to Hilliard City Council, Schamp wrote that motorists on Norwich Street have consistently traveled at 32 to 33 mph since 2013, likely because Norwich Street is a neighborhood street that provides a direct connection between arterial streets and is both wide and long, elements that contribute to speeding.

But rather than relying on the common practice of traffic-calming devices, such as speed bumps or posting flashing yellow lights, something that also might not be well received on the residential street, the city is “looking for a creative solution," Schamp said.

The estimated cost of the project over five years is $22,500, but $17,000 is the budgeted cost for 2021.

The project does not require City Council’s approval because it is less than $50,000, but nevertheless, Schamp said, she wants council’s blessing.

“We want to be sure (council) is OK with our pilot program since it is unique and highly visible," she said.

Several council members said Dec. 14 they support the approach, but others were more cautious, allowing that some Norwich Street residents might not appreciate it as much.

“Art is subjective,” council President Andy Teater said, referencing the installation of “Brushstrokes in Flight,” a sculpture installed in 1984 at John Glenn Columbus International Airport that elicited a variety of opinions.

But council member Cynthia Vermillion said the proposal is “eye-catching.”

“I’m excited to see it go forward,” she said.

Council Vice President Pete Marsh said the project would be “a cool addition” and an opportunity to do something “that isn’t done elsewhere.”

City Manager Michelle Crandall suggested that city staff members involve Norwich Street residents and perhaps employ “a phased approach” to the project.

Schamp said letters would be sent to Norwich Street residents to seek their feedback.

If there are no unexpected turns, Schamp said, the city wants to begin the project in May.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo