Our View: Keep historic looking traffic signals in Ravenna

Published:

Ravenna's upgrade of its traffic signals is a good move for the city in terms of savings, but we wish the city would retrofit the few old box signals within its historic district.

Barry Williams of the American Streetscape Society has said the old, historic box lights can be upgraded with modern light bulbs and provide similar savings to what can be achieved by the installation of the LED light fixtures. He maintains they can be upgraded in a way that meets with federal standards, the presumption being that conformation would not interrupt the federal money that AMATS has approved for the overall upgrade. He adds that the controllers, not the lights themselves, are usually the source of the problems and can easily be replaced.

Williams apparently became aware of Ravenna's upgrade activities through a New Philadelphia traffic signal restorer. The city in 1995 bought the old-fashioned signals from OMJC in Iowa as part of its Streetscape program, which enhanced Ravenna's late 19th and early 20th century architectural themes that despite a few exceptions remain predominant in the downtown.

Streetscape did not set off an economic boom and was paid for by a property assessment levied on the frontage of property owners. Unfortunately, it became a convenient target for its detractors. However, it did improve the looks of the downtown and, accompanied by a more vigorous effort to market Ravenna and plan for its future, would have helped strengthen the city's economy. Such an effort was never undertaken proactively, at least not at the level that would have made the city a strong player in the scramble among municipalities throughout Ohio and the nation to attract industry and business. To be fair, Ravenna has been business friendly when approached by business and industry inquiring about available sites. It just has not been very aggressive in pursuing outside businesses and industries that may not be aware of its fine assets.

Those who see Streetscape as a wasteful distraction are misplacing their blame, we believe. Business and industry actually like being in a community that is well-run, provides good services at reasonable rates, has decent zoning, but also has takes pride in itself by showing an appreciation for its architectural heritage. The departures of big employers like Oak Rubber, Pyramid and White Rubber were not the result of programs like Streetscape. They occurred because of rising labor costs and an inability to compete with communities elsewhere that were offering amenities like generous tax breaks, state-sponsored job training, and lower labor costs. These may have been beyond the city's abilities, we realize. Nevertheless, a strategic follow-up effort to replace these employers, would have helped. Going negative and blaming programs like Streetscape for lack of progress is easier than the hard work of putting together a coordinated effort to pursue new industry and business.

It sometimes is argued that Streetscape was a luxury the city could not afford, but that investment is done so why start undoing it by not making the effort to determine whether the box lights might not be retrofitted and give Ravenna virtually the same savings? Ravenna's downtown historic district is one of the most attractive of any in Northeastern Ohio. Its buildings and street plan surpass the ones of those vaunted, prosperous retail meccas, Hudson and Chagrin Falls, where style and ambience are understood to be germane to the marketing effort.

Ravenna is just as deserving as Hudson and Chagrin Falls and only the few street light intersections in its historic district are at issue in this matter. Why not stretch a bit and investigate the possibilities?

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