Finishing touches on 4th Street parking garage—from pretty to practical

Bloomington’s new 540-space parking garage on 4th Street has been open for people to park there since Aug. 23.

Since then, elements like the payment system and solar panels have been installed.

On Wednesday, the installation of the public artwork called “Urban Fabric” resumed after a two-day pause, in order to get approval from the board of public works for a lane closure on Walnut Street.

The art consists of vast panels of multi-colored aluminum wedges that are meant to evoke a quilt.

Also this week, the two public toilets on the north end of the garage were open for use, after a delay due to a lack of parts for the doors. According to public works director Adam Wason, a late issue arose with the compatibility of the electronic locking mechanisms and the door jambs.

The restrooms will be open around the clock through the whole week, with regular monitoring during overnight hours, according to Wason.

Public toilets

There was a strong push from the public for inclusion of public toilets in the design of the new parking garage, specifically toilets with 24/7 access. That push stemmed in large part from a concern for those who live on the streets unhoused, and for whom finding toilet facilities is a challenge.

One of the two toilets on the north side of Bloomington’s new 4th Street parking garage.

The toilets were already incorporated into the design of the parking garage by the time the controversy unfolded about the way the Seminary Park encampment was handled last year. Campers were twice displaced from the park—in December and again in January.

The importance of more public toilet facilities was a frequent point made during community discussion of the Seminary Park situation. Advocates for the park’s camp community at the time, including city councilmembers, pointed to the provision of toilets, even temporary portable toilets, as a vital need for park campers.

The Monroe County Democratic Party issued a statement at the time calling for toilets and sanitary facilities as the bare minimum the city should provide.

Forrest Gilmore, who’s executive director of Beacon, Inc.—which offers overnight shelter at A Friend’s Place and day shelter at Shalom Center—has spoken about what it’s like for people who don’t know when or where they will be able to use the bathroom.

Based on a B Square photograph, Gilmore gave the design of the 4th Street parking garage toilets a mixed review. About the stainless steel fixtures, Gilmore wrote in an email, “The materials look tough and easy to clean. The drain in the center of the room was smart.”

Gilmore added that he would have recommended a more open-air design, with running water on the outside, similar to the something called the Portland Loo.

About the 4th Street parking garage design, Gilmore wrote, “It makes it hard to check on someone if they’ve been in the bathroom for a long time. Also, with the water inside, it invites more long-term stays, making it unusable to others.”

Public art

The installation of “Urban Fabric”—the panels of multi-colored aluminum wedges now hanging on the north side of the garage, got a good start last week.

Ignition Arts worked to fabricate the pieces conceived by Project One Studio.

At the start this week, installation activity stalled on the east side of the garage.

The reason for the hiccup became apparent at Tuesday night’s board of public works meeting: It was discovered that the lifts being used to hoist the art panels into place need a few feet of the traffic lane on Walnut Street to maneuver. So an approval of a lane closure from the board of public works was required.

On Tuesday, the board of public works approved a Walnut Street lane closure and a sidewalk closure through Dec. 21.

Installation on the east side of the garage got started again on Wednesday.

Approval of a previous closure of the parking lane on Walnut Street, and a partial traffic lane on 4th Street, had been granted through an engineering staff-level approval, not the board of public works, according to a corrected news release from the city of Bloomington.

Under Bloomington’s one-year-old ordinance on maintaining pedestrian pathways, when sidewalks are blocked due to construction activity, a “walkaround” is supposed to be provided for pedestrians.  Ideally, the walkaround is supposed to be on the same side of the street.

But the wording of the ordinance allows for a detour to the other side of the street under some circumstances. For example, “The transportation and traffic engineer may require a pedestrian detour or other accommodations instead of a walkaround if necessary in accordance with IMUTCD or OSHA guidelines.”

A detour, instead of a walkaround, is what’s being implemented in connection with the Walnut Street lane closure, in order to install the public art on the east side of the garage.

As director of public works Adam Wason put it on Tuesday, “We just can’t figure out a way to safely do the walkaround, given the way that these lifts need to lift the big metal, sharp structures with the art on them.”

Wason described how the panels had to be swung a bit over the sidewalk. For that reason, a full closure is being implemented, with a sidewalk detour to the east side of Walnut.