As one of the oldest roads in Clark County, Fourth Plain Boulevard has seen its share of history with some parts dating as far back as the Hudson’s Bay Company era. A melting pot of multi-cultural businesses makes up the vast majority of retail and commercial space along a particular stretch currently being targeted for renewal.
According to a study conducted in 2015 by a group of students from the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University, a poverty rate double that of the rest of the county is present in this area and yet it is also a place of strong family ties – people desiring a safe community for their children but dealing with high crime and graffiti.
Drive down the corridor between I-5 and 65th Avenue today and signs of exciting change are evident. Most significant might be C-TRAN’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System, The Vine.
Christine Selk, communication and public affairs manager for C-TRAN, explained that Fourth Plain is the most heavily used transit corridor in the C-TRAN system, providing approximately 6,000 trips daily between Vancouver Mall and downtown’s Turtle Place stations. The Vine will replace buses 4 and 44 with 10 articulated, low flow, hybrid buses with nearly twice the capacity of the current models and provide level boarding for wheel chairs, bikes and strollers. Instead of driver assistance for mobility devices and the lowering of bike racks, these modes of transportation can now roll right on and off.
Fares will also be pre-purchased at outdoor vending machines and wayfinding signs at shelters will show passengers where they are along the corridor and wait time for the next bus. BRT buses will be equipped with transit signal priority, a feature that will allow them to electronically communicate with traffic lights. These upgrades will dramatically improve flow for passengers.
She went on to add that the new stations along the corridor will provide a high level of comfort, convenience and safety for passengers with designs that reflect the character of Vancouver, including wind screens and community-inspired functional public art that will be neighborhood specific. When completed at the end of 2016, the hope is that a new customer base will also enjoy this efficient mode of transportation as part of their morning commute and stop off at one of the many culturally diverse establishments on the ride home to enjoy the vibrancy of the area.
Other catalysts for change are traffic calming projects, working with small businesses and entrepreneurs and enhancing the opportunities found within a dense, multi-cultural neighborhood that has, until now, fostered and supported itself.
Mark Maggiora, executive director of Americans Building Community, explained that murals are being used to deal with graffiti, emulating the wildly successful City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, which all but wiped out that area’s graffiti problem and created a popular tourist attraction simultaneously. Other traffic calming and ‘green up’ projects to target hardscapes such as large paved areas are being explored to make them more appealing for multi-modal access.
A partnership between the city of Vancouver, Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber and the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce is providing free technical assistance to businesses to build a richer rapport with existing customers and broaden their customer base. Maggiora pointed out that a large void of young workers in the building and construction industry has been identified. As a result, Clark College, Southwest Washington Workforce Development, the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and the Clark County Skills Center are working together to develop more robust internships to provide shorter-term training opportunities in addition to four-year degree, worker retraining programs.
“The intent is to add to the repertoire of people living and working along this corridor. Live, work and play; all elements are essential to form a vibrant community,” Maggiora said.
A large impetus for the Fourth Plain redevelopment is a city program called Fourth Plain Forward, which aims to capitalize on the renewed interest in this corridor.
“Fourth Plain is Vancouver’s international district. It serves a diverse community and is home to culturally specific markets, food and services. Until this year, there was not a lot of development activity within the Fourth Plain Forward focus area. Now, we’re seeing both public and private investment in the corridor, new businesses are filling long-vacant commercial spaces, and there is an increased interest in multi-family housing development. This is a great time to strengthen the businesses on Fourth Plain and boost economic opportunities so that existing businesses and residents can benefit from these investments in the community,” said Rebecca Kennedy, city of Vancouver economic development planner.
Utilizing the above-mentioned 2015 study results, the city identified five focus goals; many of which are being supported in partnership with previously-mentioned agencies. Some current projects underway are establishing a business district organization to promote the welfare of the Fourth Plain businesses; façade improvements; small business workshops; business assistance programs including pre-lease and adaptive reuse; and creating marketing materials.
Although separate from Fourth Plain Forward, all growth along the corridor supports the objectives of this program. Kennedy cited The Vine, Clark College’s new STEM building, a 49-unit affordable housing complex for senior citizens and a new fire station at Norris Road as some current developments being completed in the next six months.
“Fourth Plain has tremendous potential to become a thriving international business district,” said Kennedy. “There are a hundred small businesses in this three mile stretch, and they provide unique products and services and serve a diverse population. Moving Fourth Plain forward means fostering a distinct, special place in Vancouver where residents and visitors alike want to stop and spend time. The city is working closely with community partners to help realize this vision for Fourth Plain.”