Poorly Designed Streets Challenge an Otherwise Charming Business

Laura and I recently stayed in the Hines Mansion for our anniversary and the experience was charming in almost all the ways a bed and breakfast should be. Our room was beautiful, the breakfast was grand, and the entire home was romantic. I’d highly recommend visiting this historic Provo landmark.

But there was one glaring problem: through no fault of its own, the Hines Mansion is located on 100 South, an absolutely terrible street and one of the least charming places in Provo.

The Hines Mansion is the two-story brick building on the left peeking up over the top of the shorter houses.

Despite obvious effort to make the interior and grounds of the building quaint and relaxing, much of the charm is subverted by the sea of asphalt outside. This street is particularly odd; there’s not much traffic but it’s extremely wide, with two car lanes, bike lanes, an utterly unnecessary center turn lane, and relatively wide shoulders. This street is obviously getting less use these days now that it’s enclosed by a couple of construction projects, but I never recall seeing it filled to capacity.

100 South isn’t as appalling as Freedom Blvd, but it’s still pretty ugly and a far cry from the kind of setting I envision when I think of a wonderful bed and breakfast. Indeed, the Hines Mansion actually had a coffee table book of other bed and breakfasts, and none of them were surrounded by enormous streets.

Unfortunately, the street is just the beginning of the problem. Looking out from the mansion’s windows visitors are treated to views of two big parking lots, as well as the dilapidated city center.

The crosswalk immediately outside of the Hines Mansion. Note the lack of a stop sign; this road is wide enough to handle high traffic volume, but if that volume materialized pedestrians would be forced to run perilously out into traffic.

The view from the Hines Mansion. The proprietors maintain the grounds immaculately, but the surrounding area is so ugly it’s hard to appreciate the charm of the mansion.

I know nothing about the financial situation of the Hines Mansion, though I did see it up for sale on a real estate website earlier this year, suggesting it’s not necessarily a cash cow. In any case, assuming it’s not always filled to capacity I think it’s safe to say that this location is one of its biggest challenges. Between the ugly asphalt, the lack of stop signs and the sporadic blight, visitors don’t exactly get a charming view of Provo. It also feels distant from downtown, despite being just a block south of Center Street.

All of this means there are disincentives for people to stay at the Hines Mansion, as well as incentives for visitors to avoid the rest of downtown. That, in turn, means less revenue for local businesses and the city, as well as less positive word of mouth for Provo. There’s really no plus side to this situation and it’s a testament to the Hines staff and owners that the experience was still positive.

Some people will read this post and note that the area surrounding the Hines Mansion will probably improve in coming years. The new LDS temple down the street will likely raise property values and drive new development in this area, making the Hines Mansion a considerably more desirable destination.

But without a larger plan for the street and surrounding area the problems are likely to persist. This entire neighborhood could fill up with ritzy apartments, mansions, high end office space or whatever else and still suffer from over-wide streets and a general indifference toward walkability.

In other words, the city needs to address the design and infrastructure problems if it wants to spur intelligent development and improve the area’s business environment. In the meantime, the Hines Mansion and other surrounding businesses remain the victims of bafflingly bad design.

The Hines Mansion is a little pocket of charm in a sea of miserable, suburban-influenced design.

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9 Comments

Filed under Development, Downtown, travel

9 responses to “Poorly Designed Streets Challenge an Otherwise Charming Business

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  2. josh

    I would contend that the problem is not poor design, but no design. The “fault” for this lies primarily with Provoans past. The width of the street was established when Provo was platted nearly 150 years ago. Since then the road has continued to take its form from lines on a plat and as a classification in the engineering division’s street guidelines. It has only had one design intervention in its long life, the installation of brick paving, streetlights and trees in the park strip. But change is coming…

  3. I think that the city worked pretty hard in making improvements to 100 S. recently. It was one of the first streets in the city to get a “road diet” taking it from four lanes to two. They added bike lanes. They took out the old, ugly lighting and added the historic-looking green lamps. They planted trees. Before it closed at University, it became (in my opinion) the pleasantest way for people from my end of the neighborhood to ride to the city center. Is it perfect? No. But, I think we should recognize the transformation that it had recently and encourage engineering to keep up projects like that. I’d like them to see that the people of Provo support that sort of thing, you know? Because there are a lot of things like road diets that we could be doing but that seem risky when compared to older ways of designing streets (moving as many cars through as fast as possible), especially if there’s not a sense of public support.

    Seeing as it’s kind of hard to make it narrower, what additional improvements would you suggest for the street itself?

    • Jamie, I think it is important to recognize the changes and improvements, and I do. I’m glad that Provo is making some progress. However, in the case of 100 South I’m not sure what the effect of the progress actually has been. For example, taking the street down from 4 lanes to 2 is great, but if the street remains as wide it makes little difference for me as a pedestrian. It still takes just as long for me to cross the street on foot, and the psychological effects of the street width are the same.

      Similarly, the new trees and street lamps are nice aesthetic improvements, but what exactly was their goal? I don’t think walking has increased on that street, nor do I think those elements will lead to increased walking. I also doubt that, alone, these additions going to prompt any sort of redevelopment. In other words, and as much as I like them, I think they’re mostly superficial additions that have only a tiny overall impact on the area. Again, personally I like them, but I struggle to see any quantifiable benefit. For me, it’s like painting a house that’s being eaten from the inside by termites. I’ve also seen plenty of livelier streets that have uglier lamps and worse vegetation.

      In about an hour from the time I’m writing this another post is going to go up showing the street being narrowed. It’s a theoretical post based on images from a city planner, but the point is that I don’t think narrowing streets is unrealistic.

      That said, if the street wasn’t going to be narrowed, I’d say prompting development along the street would be a positive thing. Use the money being spent on superficial changes to fund business attraction campaigns. My feeling is that downtown Provo needs more (and better paying) jobs; if some of those jobs were located along 100 South I think some of these problems would be begin to right themselves.

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