Cushman Street: Fairbanks, Alaska
Cushman Street is the main thoroughfare in downtown Fairbanks, Alaska, for businesses and local government offices, small businesses, cafes, services, Veterans Memorial Park, Golden Heart Plaza (designated a 2016 Great Place in America), and the city's bus transit center.
Before the City of Fairbanks began to undertake this major construction project, both the street lanes and sidewalks were too narrow. Cars traveled at high speeds down the one-way street and pedestrians were forced to walk right next to the fast traffic. The recent street redesign shows a commitment from local officials to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors to Cushman Street, and has made great strides with revitalizing the downtown core.
The Cushman Street redesign project was identified in the MPO's Metropolitan Transportation Plan as a short-range priority, and included strategies to improve traffic flow, better accommodate pedestrians, and address both the summer and winter aesthetics of the street. The Borough Planning Department and Downtown Association of Fairbanks partnered to hire an urban planning firm, which produced the Vision Fairbanks Downtown Plan in 2008, providing the revitalization and growth implementation strategy with Cushman Street redevelopment as a key component.
The plan provided strategies to implement a “road diet,” with reconstruction that provides more space for people walking and biking, creating a safer and friendlier environment.
Following the comprehensive plan's recommendation for "complete streets," Cushman Street was reduced from three vehicle travel lanes to two, sidewalks were doubled in width, and safer connections were made to the regional bicycle and walking route network. Beautification efforts included new decorative traffic signals and street lighting with hanging flower basket and banner arms and outlets for lighted decorations, ground-level pedestrian lighting, tree wells, planters, decorative fencing, and wayfinding signs throughout the corridor.
All major utilities were replaced, including water, sewer, storm drain, and district heat (steam) lines, taking the power and telecommunications lines underground, and introducing natural gas lines to serve the downtown core. This major undertaking to move utility lines underground increases both beauty and durability in Alaska winters.
New businesses are opening along the street and in the surrounding parts of downtown. One noteworthy addition is the transformation of Old City Hall. This historic building, built in 1933, has been converted into a distillery and tasting room. The Fairbanks Children’s Museum also moved from its former location to Cushman Street immediately following construction. The Cushman Street redesign project has already received four awards from organizations in Alaska and was featured in Roads & Bridges magazine in 2015.
The multi-stage project is the result of extensive effort from the city officials and planners, and local businesses and residents hoping to breathe new life into downtown and welcome the 400,000 visitors that travel to Fairbanks each year. Cushman Street provides an excellent example of how improving streets for people can help to spur economic development in small downtown centers.
Defining Characteristics and Features
- The Fairbanks Transportation Center (bus transit) provides several local and regional bus routes in and around the area.
- Vision Fairbanks Downtown Plan was created with input from several stakeholder meetings, public workshops, and an online questionnaire. A steering committee was formed to design a new streetscape and pick new features.
By the Numbers
- The Cushman Street construction cost $10.5 million, funded by state appropriations through the City of Fairbanks and Fairbanks Metropolitan Area Transportation System, as well as $1 million for utility upgrades paid by private utility companies.
- Project included installation of:
- 7 new traffic signals; 11 wayfinding signs; 49 pedestrian lights; 25 street lights
- 76 tree wells; 102 planters
- 2,900 linear feet of storm drain with 64 inlets; 2,500 linear feet of sanitary sewer mains; 1,000 linear feet of water mains; 2,800 linear feet of gas mains; 700 linear feet of steams mains
A 13-block stretch, about one-half mile, between Airport Way and 1st Avenue.
Vision Fairbanks Downtown Plan
Fairbanks Metropolitan Area Transportation System
2015–2018 Transportation Improvement Program
While some states remain committed to improving bridges, others struggle to keep up