“Give my regards to Broadway. Remember me to Herald* Square …” has a completely new meaning for New Yorkers. It's something Columbia should examine as we continue the planning process for The District.
New York did it. Denver and Boulder did it. Other cities have done it. They've increased foot traffic, improved their economies and increased real estate values. How? Simple. They all got rid of cars and promoted walking with pedestrian malls.
As the Columbia Downtown Leadership Council examines what should be done to improve our fair city, we need to consider blocking off Ninth Street from Walnut to University avenues and make “The Stroll” Columbia’s pedestrian mall.
New York is a walking city. Broadway, which cuts diagonally across the street grid, causes both pedestrian and traffic problems. It is not unusual for pedestrians to bleed into the streets. Something had to change. One year ago, the New York City Department of Transportation tried a grand experiment, “Green Light for Midtown.” Broadway from 42nd to 47th streets, the western half of Times Square and Herald* Square, home to Macy’s, were closed to traffic. Pedestrians and cyclists only.
At first, it was lounge chairs and curiosity that brought people to the middle of the road. Change is difficult, and many were skeptical. Today, according to Monte Dean of New York City's Department of Transportation, traffic flow has improved, pedestrian-auto injuries are down by 35 percent and more people are enjoying the two greatest shopping districts New York offers.
Downtown Denver closed 16th Street to all traffic and in 1982 opened a mile-long pedestrian mall as part of its downtown redevelopment plan. What use to be a run-down area with empty storefronts and too much surface parking is now one of the top visitor attractions in Denver. Visitors are treated to some of the best shopping, eateries and attractions any city could hope to boast.
Sarah Neumann of the Downtown Denver Partnership said that the free shuttle buses carry more than 15 million passengers annually up and down the 16th Street Mall, which features more than 200 trees, street vendors and places to relax during a lunch break or a stroll to dinner. Or you can take a ride by horse-drawn carriage if you please.
Closer to the size of Columbia, Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall has been a mainstay for that college community since 1977. Shops, restaurants, entertainment and festivals are all part of the downtown Boulder community. Vendors, entertainment and art grace the five blocks on weekends and weekdays.
Pedestrian malls in Denver and Boulder are now well-established and part of the lexicon for locals and tourists alike. More important, they attract business.
As we continue to look at the development of Columbia, including the expansion of The District to include points north, we must look at our fair town as the Midwestern bastion for the American green movement. Our buildings and bicycling and walking trails are all a good start. So why not extend the greening of Columbia to The Ninth Street Stroll?
Close Ninth Street from Walnut to University to all traffic except for deliveries (at designated times), emergency vehicles and those with special permits. Expand the park-like setting with more trees and flowers, park benches and tables (some with checkerboards). Encourage the use of the three-wheeled cycle taxis to get about Columbia. Sell permits to street vendors.
Rezone The Stroll so that all new and remodeled construction maintains the architecture of the area, making the avenue historically and visually pleasing.
Make The Stroll the center for celebrations and parades, for festivals and concerts without the “interference” of diverting traffic. It will bring more business to the core of our city as a visitor attraction and more tax revenues to our coffers. It also means less crime and a reduction in pedestrian-auto accidents.
I only have one thing to ask. The final public meeting, or charrette, will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday in Dulany Hall on the Columbia College campus. I plan to be there with copies of this column in hand. I will make my mark. Will you?
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.