Parks and Recreation Staff to Recommend Re-Opening Road Through Lower Cascades Park to Vehicle Traffic Following Road Improvements
The Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, after a 15-month pilot study that converted .6 miles of the two-lane road through the park to a pedestrian- and bicycle-only trail, will recommend to the Board of Park Commissioners at the regular Park Board meeting on June 22 that the road be re-opened to vehicle traffic.
According to Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department Administrator Paula McDevitt, community feedback regarding the pilot road closure and the results of online "experience" and "impact" surveys from park users received significant consideration during the decision-making process. More information about the pilot project, and results of the surveys are available here or at https://bloomington.in.gov/parks/lower-cascades-road.
With approval from the Board of Public Works (BPW), the road through the park had been temporarily converted to a trail on March 13, 2020 in order to expand and integrate with Bloomington's network of walking and biking trails; provide a safe, accessible destination for recreation and exercise; and to offer bicycle commuters additional options for safer routes. Originally planned as a six-month pilot project, the road closure was extended through June 2021 in order to provide a more accurate picture of how the road closure might impact traffic related to university sporting events, which had been cancelled in the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Bloomington Parks and Recreation is committed to providing opportunities for experiences in all our city parks, for everyone in our community," McDevitt said. "We heard our community's desire for vehicle access to Lower Cascades Park, and we also received feedback from citizens who appreciate a passive park experience. We are recommending re-opening the road to vehicles after upgrades and changes to the road, by early fall."
"The use of the road continues to evolve as a new approach is put in place. Staff will continue to explore the best options for using and enjoying the road through this beautiful park," McDevitt said.
Staff recommendations to create a new experience for use of the road includes:
The Public Works Department will request from the BPW at their regular July 6 meeting approval to continue the temporary closure of the road in order to implement proposed road improvements.
Along with traffic issues, the accessibility of, access to, and resulting experiences in Lower Cascades Park were common topics for resident feedback. Many residents indicated that, due to age or disability, the only way they are able to experience the park is by driving through it. Accessibility of the park was not directly affected by the road closure, as most areas of the park were never accessible (as measured by standards defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act). The Parks and Recreation Department is increasing the park’s accessibility with the addition of a section of paved trail that will lengthen the existing Cascades Park Trail, and that will lead to an accessible boardwalk that will allow access to the park's namesake waterfall.
During the pandemic, visitor numbers increased at all city parks. The survey data collected about the Lower Cascades Pilot Road Conversion reflected the growing number of people seeking outdoor experiences for physical activity and mental health benefits.
One of seven public amenity improvements being funded by Bicentennial Bonds issued in 2018, construction of the $1.8 million accessible boardwalk and extension of the Cascades Park Trail, and accompanying streambank stabilization project, is slated to begin in Lower Cascades Park in July.
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