Three Visions: Designers Eye New Future for Olentangy River Corridor

    From Columbus Business First: by Tristan Navera - Reporter, Columbus Business First, November 19th, 2017 8.44am

    Three visions: Designers eye new future for Olentangy River corridor

    Tear out Route 315. Build a lane for autonomous cars through Olentangy River Road. Plan for a Hyperloop through downtown.

    These are a few of the ideas architects envision to drive Columbus into the future.

    Three teams or architectural firms worked with students from Ohio State University's Knowlton School of Architecture to envision how to develop the Olentangy River corridor between the school and downtown, a charette they hope will guide the future development of an area which has 23,000 residents, 59,000 students and 83,000 employees along five square miles.

    "We are living in a pretty exciting dynamic time of growth in Columbus," Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said, noting the city's anticipated population growth, which MORPC estimates will add 1 million people by 2050. "We have grown very predictably, consistently since the 1930s — we're going to grow that much in the next 20 to 30 years. Presents us with an incredible opportunity to do that differently."

    Their ideas, developed in a vacuum relative to projected cost, were presented to students and community leaders on campus Thursday night. But each team suggested significant steps could be taken to better connect the two major hubs of town via the riverfront.

    "Our histories, our past and future has been intertwined as we move forward," said OSU President Michael Drake. Framework 2.0, what OSU thinks will be the course of its growth in coming decades, looks at how people will move around and what kind of green space is needed at the school, amid the growing wave of development emanating from downtown and up High Street.

    "How this looked was a barrier or impediment, and we wanted to re-imagine that, particularly as we think about modern ways of moving people," Drake said. "It opens the campus to larger useful space."

    "Density makes the whole thing work"

    A.J. Montero, partner with architectural firm NBBJ, said existing infrastructure moves people in and out of the city efficiently. But the river is under-used and some connections between major roads like 315 and Olentangy River Road bisect the city and minimize connections between the two sides of the river.

    "A lot of what we have on the river is the back of something else, we need it to start being the front of something its own," he said.

    NBBJ envisioned straightening 315 and reworking it as a raised multi-modal corridor that loops through the city. Then it pictured re-working Olentangy River Road to carry more traffic and make room for biking and other transit, directing traffic along these corridors and away from the river.

    This could make room for more green space and opens up new development sites which could mean thousands of acres of riverfront land.

    Franklinton could be a confluence where the traffic corridors converge, and the area is imagined needing more density.

    The developers even envisioned where a new Hyperloop would travel through downtown and across the peninsula.

    "Density makes the whole thing works, density makes mass transit happen better," Montero said.

    "One corridor"

    The corridor today is a "relic of 20th century development patterns" with a set of non-connected road corridors, said Tom Leader, principal and founder of of TLS Landscape Architecture. He sees the corridor as a landscape problem. But the area can be modernized without removing 315 entirely.

    "Is it really necessary to build more roads and highways? ... We don't need to," he said. "We want to find a way to deliver a pedestrian-bike connection that can be done in five years. A transit corridor that can be done in 10. Fundamentally, the bike and pedestrian corridor can be expanded in a way that it functions in a better way."

    A forest corridor could stretch along the river itself from downtown to the university. OSU could add a riverfront green amphitheater, along with walking and bike paths and connections between OSU's campus on both sides of the river.

    "Get people out of their cars, out to the river," said MKSK Principal Jeff Pogonis, noting the change in downtown's portion of riverfront in the past few years. A signature development could be added where the two rivers connect, like a museum or a nature park where ecology is actively managed.

    At that river confluence, MKSK Principal Chris Hermann suggested extending Olentagy River Road to the south, under I-670, to connect it to the Sounder Avenue-Dublin Road Interchange. The road would be expanded with a central a multi-modal corridor with an autonomous shuttle next to Olentangy River Road that would connect neighborhoods along the river, eventually being converted to light rail.

    Mixed-use development would grow around the road, MKSK reasons, and allow the river area to be re-forrested for other uses, while 315 would remain, albeit with tree canopy hiding it from ground view.


    Biking at the forefront

    "Fundamentally we need to reframe the two main job centers in the city, the university and the downtown and make a connection work," said Clare Agre, principal with design firm West 8.

    Building "mobility hubs" that connect downtown with neighborhoods to the north, especially with bike-friendly amenities, could open up 850 acres of land along the river for green space and other uses, Agre said.

    "We have this sort of spaghetti city if you look at the connections (between the major roads)," said Brian Bernstein, urban designer from Realm Collaborative. "How do you think about this as a larger connector."

    The greatest priority would be bicycles at these hubs, with bike parking, bike ramps, and specialized corridors specifically for bike transit.

    The neighborhoods surrounding the loop would see the potential for growth. It's also a chance to think about new architecture and an aesthetic for the developments along what they called the "315 High Speed Corridor," which could have a high-speed bike lane as has been proposed in Miami.

    The neighborhoods would have a gateway to the river, and existing networks would be re-tooled where more foot and bike traffic is encouraged with the river as "one green system and network that is baked together."

    "It's not about the vehicle at all, it's really about the pedestrian," Agre said. 


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