COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Taking Back Main Street in Hailey, Idaho

Katherine Peinhardt
Nov 8, 2018
May 8, 2019

Can a city re-design its Main Street to the human scale? The town of Hailey, Idaho set out to answer this question in 2015, starting with Highway 75, a primary thoroughfare for multiple towns in the Wood River Valley. The highway, which moves large volumes of high-speed vehicles every day, also serves as Hailey’s Main Street, though the wide street was no place for locals to linger and it lacked a true sense of place. PPS and partners at New Mobility West, an initiative of Community Builders, along with transportation organizations like Mountain Rides kicked off the placemaking process by joining Hailey residents in taking a closer look at Main Street and reimagining it as a place for people. The process was made possible through the vision and funding of the LOR Foundation, which works on the ground with rural stakeholders to meet local challenges and create a shared vision of success.

Taking a closer look at Hailey's streets.

To begin to “humanize” Main Street, PPS staff and project partners looked to the community, distributing online surveys, leading place-mapping exercises and interviews, and conducting walk audits and traffic data analyses. During a workshop, residents envisioned new bike lanes, slower-moving traffic, safer crosswalks, and more places for young people to gather. They also quickly identified a number of public space “gems” to connect throughout the community, envisioning a network between places like the nearby skate park, the downtown core, and local hiking trails. Many “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” (LQC) ideas also emerged, like adding a parklet in front of the Liberty Theater on Main Street. Made possible by a partnership between theCity, Sun Valley Center for the Arts, and local members of the National Association of Realtors, the parklet extended the sidewalk and showed the value of short-term experiments in street improvements.  

Parklets in use. Photo credit: Kaz Thea
Hailey residents at a PPS workshop.

Soon, the value of connectivity throughout Hailey became clear —so clear, in fact, that residents passed a levy to fund street improvements. Levy-funded bike lanes and pedestrian paths soon linked up with Main Street, and residents used Idaho TAP funding to create biking and walking infrastructure around schools. Locals also looked for ways to improve the “gateway” into Hailey, using visual cues like textured/painted crosswalks or public art to transition drivers from the highway to Main Street, slowing vehicles down and welcoming them to a shared street well-used by cyclists and pedestrians.

New cycling pathways on Croy Street in Hailey. Photo credit: Kaz Thea

The LQC approach led to serious momentum for Hailey’s public spaces. Residents have since continued to reimagine Main Street as a friendlier place. Kaz Thea, Bike-Ped Coordinator at Mountain Rides noted, “We have to continue to try small things and continue to garner support for our Main Street… The momentum that we’ve built through the initial workshop, getting a bike plan together in a community and applying for grants once we got that master plan — that momentum is a great story.” Since the initial project, a chain reaction of placemaking has begun in Hailey. In 2018 alone, a Croy Street Multi-Use Pathway has popped up alongside a levy-funded Second Avenue Bike Lane that connects the Middle School on the northern side of Hailey with the Elementary School on the southern end of town. As part of the broader Pathways for People Plan, Hailey residents have seen significant upgrades to biking and pedestrian infrastructure, with even more on the way along River Street in 2019. The City of Hailey is also holding workshops to engage citizens with the idea of locating a town square — during which broad enthusiasm for a location on Hailey’s 1st Street emerged. As noted by Thea, “Our hope is to continue to make Hailey more pedestrian friendly, where our streets are made for people, not just automobiles and ultimately building a town square forgathering and holding events … in the next couple of years.”

All it took was a little bit of “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper”experimentation to see what Hailey’s streets could become. Now, Hailey residents are reclaiming street space for people. Main Street is no longer only a place for cars — it is a place increasingly linked to public spaces built by and for locals.  

Katherine Peinhardt
Katherine Peinhardt
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COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space