|Date:||June 29, 2017|
A woonerf (pronounced “voo-nerf”) is a living street in which devices for reducing or slowing the flow of traffic have been installed. While this street concept is relatively new in North America, woonerfs have been around for decades in Europe, most specifically the Netherlands where the personal automobile is not always the preferred mode of transportation.
A walkable woonerf is coming to Hudsonville this summer with the Harvey Street conversion and extension project, a component of the Imagine Hudsonville 2030 plan. The first phase of this project is nearing completion between Plaza and School Avenues, with a connection to the recently completed Terra Square complex. Woonerfs are designed in such a way that the movement of pedestrians is prioritized over that of vehicles. They are specifically intended to encourage drivers to proceed with caution, which creates a more pleasant environment for walking, biking, shopping, and congregating.
Creating a safer street is accomplished through a variety of design factors. First, the street must be narrow and have some bends and obstacles in it so that drivers do not feel comfortable driving faster than 5 to 10 mph. The Harvey Street woonerf will be only 20’ wide and will feature bends, decorative light pedestals, planters and other such design elements intended to slow traffic. Second, the roadway should incorporate unique building materials so that it differs from other typical asphalt streets. Harvey Street will be constructed using patterned concrete and decorative permeable pavers, which as a bonus will also improve storm water drainage. Also, woonerf’s do not typically feature raised curbing so that the traditional division between vehicle and pedestrian areas is blurred. Finally, there should be public amenities along a woonerf which make the space inviting to people. The Harvey Street woonerf will include a small pocket park for outdoor activities, public art components, areas for food trucks, plenty of seating areas, decorative lighting, and even a water feature that doubles as a splash pad for the kids!
From a safety perspective, the idea of a shared street that encourages intermingling between people and vehicles may not seem very practical. However there are numerous examples where streets have been converted to the woonerf design which resulted in sharp decreases in vehicle/pedestrian accidents. And as noted earlier, this design concept has been implemented successfully in Europe for years.
We are happy to share that Hudsonville’s new woonerf is already sparking interest by developers looking to locate on this unique public space. Later this summer a new multi-story commercial building will be constructed along Harvey Street that will offer retail shops, office space, a Mexican restaurant, outdoor seating, and possibly even some residential units. The new building will compliment Terra Square and further the vision of the city’s master plan
When fully completed in 2018, the Harvey Street woonerf will in many ways serve as Hudsonville’s new “Main Street”, connecting Family Fare to Terra Square. It will not only be a center of commerce for our downtown businesses, but also an enjoyable place to come simply together as a community.