After several years of planning and design, a new project is coming to Downtown Benicia that will change the face of upper First Street. Although many adjectives have been used to describe our lovely downtow—historic, quaint, vibrant, beautiful—the intersection at First and Military could benefit from a little love.
Back in the 1990’s, upper First Street was enhanced by the Playground of Dreams in City Park (1992), new library (1993) and the redesigned Fire Department (1998). More recently, the Safeway shopping center and the Veteran’s Hall received major upgrades. But the connecting intersection at First and Military, the hub of all this loveliness, is still just ho-hum. It doesn’t serve to unify the park or public buildings, and it isn’t bike or pedestrian friendly. The Intermodal Facilities Project (IFP), scheduled for construction this month, is about to change that and then some with a statement-making plaza.
In 1996, the requirement for an “entry statement” to Downtown Benicia was written into the general plan. Funds were identified and a public process, not without controversy, ensued. The project, funded by a $3 million grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, includes two regional bus stops for a new route between the Vallejo Ferry Building and Pleasant Hill Bart.
When completed in August, the IFP improvements will also create “people places” and provide a sense of arrival to Downtown Benicia. Bump-outs, tree-lined medians and large crosswalks with attractive pavers for pedestrians and cyclists are a major part of the design, and street lighting will be replaced by the more appealing “Benicia Blue” lamp posts.
Likening the new plaza to the front door of a building, Mayor Patterson feels that the project will define the entry to downtown. “You start with a plan, identify funding sources, work together to build relationships and stay focused on the outcome,” she says. Identifying the “front door” will entice more people to visit downtown and increase foot traffic. Perhaps this particular outcome will cross the threshold that allows Downtown Benicia to reach the tipping point.