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Multi-purpose garden project will mean less pavement in Langley

Unsightly "no parking" zones on Langley streets may be replaced with pedestrian-friendly gardens if a boulevard beautification plan takes root.

Second Street, the location of the city's civic and commercial center, has been nominated to receive a series of small gardens.

Pansies could replace painted "no parking" places. And the proposal would mean more trees, ground-cover and stones in place of the zebra-striped zones now painted on the asphalt.

The street garden plants will be matched with their setting.

"They would be plants suited to the street tree environment, but also be appropriate to the South Whidbey climate," said Hal Seligson, a Langley resident and member of the city's planning advisory board.

Seligson and Fran Abel, a landscape designer, are heading up the project with the Langley Community Club.

The project organizers hope the Second Street gardens will be the first of several gardens in Langley's future.

In addition to aesthetic and environmental benefits, street gardens are intentionally designed to serve as a traffic calming device.

"Predominately, the project is to have people use the street and feel safe," Seligson said.

Earlier this year, the Langley Community Club and Langley Men's Club raised $2,500 in the Soupbox Derby and donated it to the project. The community club is continuing to work on the project with city officials, local businesses and residents to raise funds. They've also applied for a grant from the Whidbey Island Garden Tour.

Seligson and others are excited to see it come into fruition.

"We're really enthusiastic about it," he said. "It's an example of private citizens and the government cooperating to get things done."

Second Street was chosen as the location for the gardens partly because of the amount of services located there. The library, city hall, post office and firehouse are all found along the street, as well as a park, a clinic, several eateries, plus shops and galleries.

Second Street has lanes for two-way traffic and two sides of angle-in parking for most of its' length. Despite the diversity of buildings along the roadway, the street itself is very plain.

"There are certain areas, like Second Street, in Langley that are rather bare. They have a sense more of a parking lot than of a street," Seligson said.

The no-parking zones along the street are necessary to provide clear sight lines for pedestrians crossing the street, and for vehicles exiting driveways. But the zones don't do much to enhance the look and feel of the area.

"There are no trees. It's really open and exposed," Seligson said.

Roads like these tend to cause drivers to go a little faster. And that can create a sense of vulnerability for pedestrians, Seligson said, and "that really has an impact on the number of pedestrians that use the street, and lessens the number of bicyclers as well."

Studies have shown that the presence of street trees calms traffic. The Department of Agriculture reports that a treeless street enhances the perception of a street being wide and free of hazard, thereby increasing speeds -- and higher speeds lead to more accidents.

"Part of the project, in addition to enhancing the street for pedestrians and slow cars down, is to implement an example of low impact development standards," Seligson said.

The low impact development standards were recently adopted by the city to lessen the effects of development on the environment. Low impact development emphasizes the conservation of natural vegetation to filter pollutants that can be washed off roads when it rains.

"This is an example of a way to improve the environment literally and figuratively," Seligson said.

The street garden project is scheduled to go before Langley's Design Review Board on Nov. 15.

"If all goes well, we can start the planting in January," Seligson said.

"It would be terrific to have this in place by early spring so people could see a real tangible improvement," he said.

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