Indio moves forward with drive for a more connected community

The plan focuses on building at least 500 new housing units along Highway 111, with an emphasis on affordable and walkable mixed-use developments and what’s known as “Missing Middle Housing” like duplexes and townhouses.
A more walkable Highway 111 corridor in Indio is the goal of a plan approved last week by the city’s Planning Commission.

The Indio Planning Commission took a major step last week toward transforming a major path through the city.

Driving the news: On Aug. 24, the Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the Highway 111 Corridor Specific Plan, which describes in detail the long-term plans for reshaping the thoroughfare.

  • It’s basically a vision document for the distant future, so don’t expect shovels in the ground any time soon. Any major changes would require multiple hearings and approvals by multiple governmental entities.

Looking back: Just before the pandemic began, the city received a state grant to develop a plan for a four-mile stretch of the Highway 111 Corridor that spans from Jefferson Street to Indio Boulevard.

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  • The plan focuses on building at least 500 new housing units along Highway 111, with an emphasis on affordable and walkable mixed-use developments and what’s known as “Missing Middle Housing” like duplexes and townhouses.

  • As adopted, it also advocates for a more connected and inviting public space that’s friendlier to pedestrians while also encouraging new businesses.

During the research period for the plan, Indio residents were surveyed about their thoughts on the future of 111 and the city itself. Many said they want more of a sense of place for year-round locals. Offered one resident:

  • “I was born and raised in Indio. Yes, we are the city of festivals, but please also remember that we are the city of families and heritage. … Make the city a place fun for families, young adults and adults who live here year-round.”

Why it matters: Kevin Snyder, the city’s director of Community Development, said that Indio and other suburban cities traditionally use roads like Highway 111 only to get people and their vehicles efficiently from point A to point B (sometimes called a “Stroad”). That approach can chip away at a sense of community.

  •  “It’s all about just getting traffic through communities and the movement of vehicles,” Snyder said. “But this plan makes 111 a shared space for other modes of transportation.

Yes but: While residents who responded to the survey were supportive of a pedestrian-friendly approach, Snyder told commissioners he expects there will be backlash.

  • “It’s going to make people uncomfortable; I guarantee it. I’ve already spoken to some of them. People are a little nervous.”

Looking ahead: Don’t expect your commute along 111 to be impacted anytime soon. Snyder told commissioners that, “Likely the planning horizon for this is beyond 20 years.”

Respondents to the survey about the Specific Plan seem broadly supportive of an overhaul to 111. One respondent said, “[I would hope in 10 years] that’s it’s more pedestrian friendly, and not just all roadway for cars.”

Yes, but: Snyder told commissioners he expects there will be backlash from business owners and homeowners. “It’s going to make people uncomfortable, I guarantee it,” he said during the meeting. “I’ve already spoken to some of them. People are a little nervous.”

  • Snyder was quick to emphasize that the plan doesn’t mean they’re shutting down 111 to vehicle traffic forever but, “Perhaps the city might someday seek to narrow down parts of Highway 111, in what’s called a ‘road diet’. That means less lanes for vehicles but more lanes for bicyclists.”

The big picture: Debates over envisioning a new city aren’t just happening in Indio. “Every city in the valley talking about this,” said Snyder. “Our friends in La Quinta, Rancho Mirage, and Palm Springs are having this conversation. Palm Springs doesn’t even call it Highway 111 anymore, and they’ve made efforts to make it much less of a thoroughfare.”

  • Palm Desert is one of the most recent cities to test out a new walkable environment with their San Pablo re-design, which included a “road diet” of removing one vehicle lane in each direction.

  • Nationwide, young people are advocating for safer streets thanks to several popular YouTube channels, Podcasts, Twitter profiles, and even TikTok accounts.

Bottom line: Don’t expect your commute along 111 to be impacted anytime soon. Snyder told commissioners that, “Likely the planning horizon for this is beyond 20 years.”

  • He also wanted to remind the Commission and residents that any drastic changes like reducing lanes and putting in new housing would have to go through the City Council and be up for public comment.

More information: You can look through the staff report presented to the Planning Commission last week by clicking here.

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