In Old Town Manassas, more than 10,000 cars are likely to pass along the main road, Center Street, on a single day, most of them during the morning rush hour. But the narrow street rarely has droves of pedestrians on its sidewalks.
City planners and downtown businesses are trying to change that. Over the past few years, Manassas has been working with the Old Town Business Association to entice more pedestrians to the historic downtown while discouraging the cars that drive through it.
To accomplish that goal, Manassas started a host of improvements, such as building wider sidewalks and new crosswalks designed to make downtown more pedestrian-friendly. The work, which began in May, is scheduled for completion by the end of next month. The improvements will cost $470,000 -- $200,000 paid for by a federal program and the rest by the city.
"We really call this a streetscape project," said Gene Jennings, deputy director of the Manassas Department of Public Works. "I just think it really enhances the beauty of Old Town."
Drivers who have passed through downtown have probably noticed the work being done, as the construction company has closed lanes and even some side streets to put in sidewalks. To the dismay of some businesses, the work actually has increased the congestion it seeks to reduce. Overall, however, the problems have been minor, officials said.
"The work has been quite uneventful. There's been some disruption to business, but it's gone well overall," said Mike Frost, president of the Old Town Business Association, adding that he has heard very few complaints.
"I think they've done, honestly, an incredible job," said Joanne Wunderly, the association's vice president, whose business is on a street that was closed once during the process. "I'm glad it's going to be over soon, but the finished project is going to be worth the inconvenience."
In recent years, Manassas has taken steps to make certain parts of the city more urban and more appealing to pedestrians. The movement, often referred to as "new urbanism," tries to revitalize town centers, particularly historic ones such as Manassas's, and reduce car use in the quest to create walkable communities.
Last month, for instance, the City Council voted to create its first mixed-use district, a proposal that would allow for more developments that fuse retail and residential spaces throughout the city, just as Old Town does now. City officials hope that will lessen Manassas's dependence on cars and attract new businesses. City planners also have their eyes on developing the north side of Route 28, which they hope will be an attractive gateway to Manassas.
"I think it all fits in very nicely," said Liz Via, the city's community development director, who worked on creating the new mixed-use district.
The current roadwork includes several plans to make Old Town friendlier to pedestrians and less welcoming to cars.
Construction workers have already widened the sidewalks on Center Street by about two feet on each side. As a result, the city lost 10 parking spaces along the street.
The intersections where Center Street meets West, Battle and Main streets already have new crosswalks paved with brick. Most of the crosswalks along Center Street will also get handicap-friendly lights. When people step onto the handicap ramps, the lights will blink to guide them across the street.
The city also will be repaving Center Street from Grant Avenue to Zebedee Street, and, in the process, slightly elevating the pavement by three inches at certain intersections, a move meant to slow down cars.
Last, the city will add 9 trees, 10 trash cans and 12 benches.