I took these photos of the 5th Street and Water St. promenade construction yesterday morning. For an update, see the report from Katy Gehler Hess, City Engineer, in last week’s Friday Memo. And in last Wed. Nfld News: Fifth Street work gets behind schedule.
We went to the Rueb last Friday, and we were thinking it would really be noisy right next to the big back hoe, but it wasn’t at all.
Washington is such a great bypass, letting me drop right into the downtown. Hwy 19 traffic routes out to 3 then south.
I think the intersection at FIfth and Division could be permanently closed or at least narrowed (as was done in Faribault) to convert the downtown into a walking and biking mall. It seems to me I’ve heard this idea somewhere before, this little experiment could provide the data (from the businesses) to help evaluate that proposal. Why hire consultants to guess when you have hard data?
Bruce can you give some examples of cities this size where eliminating cars downtown has worked?
“Bruce can you give some examples of cities this size where eliminating cars downtown has worked?”
Jerry, good example, but Madison is much larger, with a giant university and state capitol building and convention center and offices and hotels dumping people onto the street nearly 24 hours a day. Nicollet Mall is another example, yet even with all its natural pedestrian traffic it has been a struggle to keep it going.
The obstacle in Northfield, as I see it, is that you don’t have a critical mass of downtown workers and residents to create a base of traffic to help offset the loss of drivers who won’t park and walk. And you don’t have the kind of hotels and museums and conference centers that would cause people to park and spend the day.
That’s why I was asking whether there are any examples of towns this size. I’d love to see a pedestrian mall, I just don’t know of a place this size where one has worked.
From a fairly thorough and balanced Wikipedia entry on car-free zones:
“In the 1960s and early 1970s many mid-sized cities in the United States experimented with installing pedestrian malls in their downtown areas, as a response to the commercial success of self-contained edge-of-town shopping malls. Downtown retailers wanted to preserve their businesses; the cities wanted to defend their tax base. In 1959, Kalamazoo, Michigan became the first American city to adopt a pedestrian mall for their downtown area, closing two blocks of Burdick Street to automobile traffic. Ironically, they were working from a plan by Victor Gruen Associates, the same firm responsible for the first modern shopping mall in the country, Northland Shopping Mall in suburban Detroit.
In 1997 there were about 30 pedestrian malls in the U.S. Some notable examples are the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont; the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Oak Park, Illinois; the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California; the Buffalo Place Main Street Pedestrian Mall in Buffalo, New York; Ithaca Commons in Ithaca, New York; the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado; St. Charles, Missouri; Salem, Massachusetts; Ped Mall in Iowa City, Iowa; Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, Florida; the Fulton Mall in Fresno, California; the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado; State Street in Madison, Wisconsin; Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, Minnesota; The Grove in Los Angeles, California; Fort Street Mall in Honolulu, Hawaii; City Center in Oakland, California; Downtown Crossing and Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market in Boston; and many others. Typically these downtown pedestrian malls were three or four linear blocks simply blocked off to private street traffic, with fountains, benches, sittable planters, bollards, playgrounds, interfaces to public transit and other amenities installed to attract shoppers.
Most of these experiments were failures in the respect that they cut off automobile traffic from retailers. Most were re-converted to accommodate automobile traffic within twenty years (originally 200 were founded of which around 30 remain). However, some of these areas are still popular attractions today.”
Several of these car-free zones are in smallish college towns/cities (Burlington, Ithaca, Oak Park) not much larger than Northfield. I have experienced and loved car-free zones in a number of cities, and have found them to be thriving, vibrant commercial/public spaces. The Wikipedia entry notes that the majority of the 200 or so car-free zones that have been established in the US were ultimately deemed failures, but that doesn’t mean that Northfield shouldn’t even consider such an approach. (There have been a couple of other mentions of this in previous LGN posts, but I’m not finding them with a cursory search.)
At a time when (finally!) the Car/Minivan/SUV is King mentality is being questioned due to rising fuel prices and global warming concerns, I think this idea merits serious consideration. Of course access for deliveries is needed, adequate parking is needed, blah, blah, blah, but let’s not reject this idea out of hand. I’d advocate a pedestrian mall from Bridge Square to the Archer House, integrated carefully with an expanded library anchoring the north end of the mall….
Thanks, Bruce. Great info and certainly food for thought.
well said Bruce. I believe Boulder CO has a ped. mall. I think Boulder has one of the highest cyclist populations in the country. from bicycling.com:
The most physically fit city in the most physically fit state is an outdoor paradise. No surprise there. Fourteen percent of all trips here are now taken by bike–an almost European figure. Perhaps even more telling is that Boulder is raising the next generation of cyclists: The city’s Safe Routes to School program has had such an impact locally that one school reports that 75 percent of its students now bike or walk to school.
“Gehler-Hess said weather should be the determiner. Weekend work is also being considered.”
weather has been beautiful and they don’t seem to be working on the weekends. The process is messy, but the finished product should look nice.
Bright, the noise is awful at times during the day. My whole building shakes at times. I thought my head might explode yesterday. I’ll be very happy when this is completed.
I estimate my foot traffic is down by 50%. The day is half over and I have $40 in the register. Yikes.
Bruce and Jerry, any idea how other downtown merchants who would be part of this effort might feel about the idea?
In just a very few informal, brief conversations the initial reaction, as I expected, was negative. Most folks seem to immediately think, “if they can’t drive to the front door, they won’t come.” They don’t seem to consider that the positives could possibly significantly outweigh the immediately obvious negatives (e.g. some American refuse to ever walk more than a few feet outside their car or other conditioned environments; deliveries would be more logistically difficult, etc.).
Maybe the NDDC could host a discussion of the pros and cons of a car-free section of Division Street some first Tuesday soon (Ross, whaddya think)??? An objective session with knowledgeable guests could be very informative.
I agree with Bruce, most would oppose it. But think about malls and how far you have to walk from parking lot to store. It is probably further than parking in the Washington street lot and walking to a store on Division.
I realize I am in the minority with my position. I would like to see Ames park become a real park. Bridge Square extended to the river. Imagine a festival like atmosphere on weekends with street vendors and performers.
I don’t think you could just eliminate the street parking. You would have to move it to lots or ramps. Madison has closed State street to cars, but there are lots and ramps throughout the area. many people walk or bike because it is easier, but parking is available if needed.
If this idea has legs it could be an experiment. Close Division to cars every saturday in July or something like that.
Warning: thread drift.
Jerry, I agree that Ames would be a great community park. To me it has the feel of the Duluth Rose Garden, a great spot that draws lots of folks downtown and is a backdrop for wedding photos and even small weddings. Ames could be set up with walkways and plants that would discourage the geese and draw people. It could be designed with space for tents for outdoor receptions and open space to show outdoor movies in the evenings.
Back to the pedestrian mall. It might be good to do test runs during some events to get people use to the idea. Having good parking lots with good signs to get people to Division would be key. And losing parking to a library expansion could complicate things, especially without money for more parking lots and ramps.
Certainly, the ideas about downtown possibilities are more interesting than other topics of late. How refreshing to focus on the future instead of the past.
Ever since I visited Lillehammer, Norway (25,000 people) when I was 12, I’ve fantasized of the idea of Division Street going car-free. Lillehammer’s downtown street, Storgata, is free of any vehicles. As a tourist, it was really inviting — you were encouraged to stroll from store to store, not bustle as quickly as possible along a narrow sidewalk.
Think about the businesses along Division between 6th and 2nd — you have gift shops, book stores, clothing stores, etc: no grocery stores or any other similar store where you’d have large amounts of purchased goods where you’d need your car really close by. Plus, for those aforementioned restaurants, you’d have a heck of a lot more space to work with for sidewalk dining.
I haven’t checked this out 100%, or even 50%, but I know that several stores and offices and restaurants have back entrances. It took me a year to figure that out after moving here. I’m kinda slow sometimes. lol.
Anyway, if all or most of the businesses do have rear entrances, isn’t there a way to light up the entryways and point up that fact so that people could drive to or near their destination business and enter from the alternative door, thereby fostering both the having and the eating of the cake?
A Northfield City worker told me today that Division St. is targeted to open on Sept 3.
Let’s hope it’s sooner!!
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