Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Closing Streets

For years we lived on a one-way, residential street that suffered from a lack of street trees and speeding traffic. The auto presence dominated the feel of the street. Neighborhood safety was subordinated to the convenience of the car.

Then one year, we tried something that hadn't ever been done before: we proposed a block party. Lots of other blocks had them, but no one ever thought we could-the street carried too much traffic.

So? Why should that stop us? We went on with the planning. And the block party was a huge success. There was even a police helicopter fly over! Never before did anyone know so many young people lived on our block. As soon as the barricades went up at the end of the block, the neighbors poured out into the street. For that one day of the year we really controlled our own space. The street was ours. It was a neighborhood space, not a traffic cut-through.

It is in this same spirit that I suggest the idea of closing 2 or 3 blocks of Memorial Drive between the Arch and Old Court House downtown. Anyone who has ever attended the VP Fair knows how the closing of that section of Memorial Drive instantly converts it from a cut through for traffic (mostly entering or exiting highways) into an active community space.

There is the sand sculpture. There are water fountains. There are thousands of pedestrians (not fearing for their lives from speeding traffic).

Granted, there are visionary ideas for closing I-70 at the depressed lanes, or lidding over them. They have been talked about for decades. How many years before those plans may become reality? Conventional wisdom is saying 10-15 years. Let's hope those decade-plus projections are way off...

But for the meantime, what about an interim solution? Closing those couple of blocks of Memorial Drive, then programming the park in between the Drury and Adams Mark into an outdoor arts and busker music space, would instantly transform the connection between the Riverfront and Downtown.

How does having 30,000 or more cars each day using Memorial Drive to exit downtown via acces to the PSB, Hwy 70, or Hwys 44-55 do anything to make our downtown more of an interesting, urban space? Let them use other onramps, and free the DT pedestrian.


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