Creating an educational, civic and arts district at North Mountain Avenue and East Main Street was among ideas unveiled Wednesday for making Ashland's busiest intersections more pedestrian friendly.

Creating an educational, civic and arts district at North Mountain Avenue and East Main Street was among ideas unveiled Wednesday for making Ashland's busiest intersections more pedestrian friendly.

Consulting firm Otak of Lake Oswego presented several concepts to dozens of residents gathered at Ashland Middle School and invited them to add their own ideas. "What we're doing tonight is we're inviting you into our design studio," said Tom Litster, a senior planner with Otak.

He emphasized that any changes would occur only through cooperation among property owners, developers and the city. No money has been identified to make the changes.

Refined plans will be presented in another workshop on Feb. 22, Litster said.

North Mountain Avenue and East Main Street

Establishing an educational, civic and arts district in the area would help unify Ashland High School, police, Municipal Court, the Ashland Fiber Network and The Grove, which is used for community classes and events, according to Otak.

Otak proposed using the former Ashland Art Academy building at the intersection as an art center, adding a plaza with public art near the intersection, and building housing where artists could live upstairs and have downstairs studios.But the area needs to be served by a bus route, the consultants said.

Residents at the workshop generally embraced those ideas, but also wanted improved sidewalks and bike lanes. Several people said they would love to see sidewalk food and coffee vendors to serve workers and students.

Ashland Planning Commissioner Pam Marsh said bus service and improved sidewalks would make the neighborhood more walkable. "We do know that when people walk in their neighborhood, they're more connected to it in every way," she said.

Ashland School Board member Keith Massie said he would like to see weather-resistant art displayed along the edge of a school ball field that borders the intersection.

Some people said they would like to see a historic home near the site turned into a museum.

Several residents advocated moving the city's public works storage areas to a different part of town so that the space could be used for an indoor/outdoor farmers' market.

But others said that would reduce the number of workers in the area.

Where Ashland Street meets Walker Avenue

Otak suggested tying Southern Oregon University's north and south campus areas together with places to shop, live, gather and work near the intersection.

A few large buildings near the intersections, such as the one that houses PC Market of Choice, received major renovations in the past several years to prepare for their current tenants. Litster and many residents said with that new investment, those uses are unlikely to change anytime soon, even though the buildings are laid out at inefficient angles and parking lots dominate the area.

People had mixed views about putting Ashland Street on a "road diet" and squeezing its five lanes down to three to make more room for broad sidewalks and buffered bike lanes.

Ashland Street and Tolman Creek Road

Residents agreed that fast-moving cars and big box stores dominate the scene.

Otak has proposed new plazas set back from the intersection itself, including a courtyard-style plaza that would be buffered from streets by buildings. Brick paving underfoot, along with tables, chairs and umbrellas, could tempt people to linger. New housing could help balance the preponderance of commercial buildings.

Even those changes might not be enough to alter the nature of the intersection, many residents said. "Who would want to live there?" someone scrawled on a map of the intersection.

Resident Helga Motley said the area is a place for big shopping centers such as Albertsons, Shop 'N Kart, Bi-Mart and Rite Aid.

"People are not going to go walking with bags of groceries," she said, but noted, "We have to do things differently. Otherwise we're stuck in the same rut we're in."

Wade Six, representing the Ashland Shopping Center, said business could benefit if drivers slow down and look at the buildings in the area.

Again, people discussed trimming Ashland Street's five lanes down to three. Most agreed that would cause traffic to slow down and back up. "If it did get backed up, people would have less incentive to drive," said Ashland Transportation Commissioner Julia Sommer.

Some proposed a radical solution of making cars detour around the intersection altogether, leaving it for the enjoyment of pedestrians and cyclists.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.