How a Port City Transformed its Downtown-Lewiston, Idaho
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How a Port City Transformed its Downtown-Lewiston, Idaho

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  • Alternative Title:
    FHWA's Livable Communities Case Study Series
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  • Abstract:
    Lewiston is a small city facing big transportation challenges. Situated at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, Lewiston, Idaho hosts an inland port through which goods are transported by barge and ship between Lewiston and the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River. This results in large volumes of freight that move through Lewiston on public roads by tractor trailers and trains. While the port contributes heavily to the economic stability of the area, heavy industrial land uses that generate truck traffic as well as active freight rail lines in and around the city make the development of amenities that support a higher quality of life, such as bicycle and pedestrian facilities, more challenging to implement. Under these constraints the City’s overall livability goal was to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, urban atmosphere that connects the heart of downtown Lewiston to the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. For many years U.S. Route12 passed directly through Lewiston’s downtown via Main Street, but it was moved to Levee Bypass, a road just north of Main Street, in the mid-1970s. This alleviated much of the through traffic downtown, but residents speculate that this caused businesses to leave the area, which reduced activity and investment. Construction of the bypass road created a barrier between downtown and the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, but it also created an opportunity for a more pedestrian-friendly downtown environment. This is evident today with renovations of several existing buildings, and the addition of new businesses in downtown Lewiston. Lewiston has a strong blue-collar economy that includes retail, professional, and service jobs as well as a hospital, college, and medical insurance company. It is somewhat isolated from other cities and towns in the region as it is situated in a deep river valley accessible only by US 12 to West, one bridge to the North, and an airport with limited service to the South. These circumstances can make it difficult to attract developers and investors. As such, the city primarily funds many of its revitalization projects and often goes to great lengths to gain community support to implement livability-focused projects. The City is making progress in convincing residents that investing in amenities such as benches, pedestrian scaled lighting, bike lanes, or historical markers, will increase foot traffic for local businesses and improve the quality of life.
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