Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hooked on a feeling...

The dream of the 1970s refuses to die, and Anders Swanson and Albert Street "business owners" (co-op members) are again pushing to have Albert Street closed.

I recently wrote on this idea, since this is not the first time this year the idea has resurfaced. What is funny about this week's story, is how it notes the rain clouds of reality getting in the way of a bright idea. Closing down a block of Albert Street to celebrate Car-Free Day on Wednesday, "[t]he pouring rain put a damper on the scheduled activities, such as street hockey and car-free trivia, but organizers were undaunted.

'If only it wasn't raining, it would be packed," said Anders Swanson, who works at Natural Cycle on Albert Street. "Everybody's inside having cake, but that doesn't count.'"

If only it wasn't raining. No doubt. But the unfortunate fact remains, that some days it does rain in Winnipeg. Other days it snows. Then there's those days where it neither rains nor snows but is just so downright miserable that you wish it would do one or the other (think November).

If the cycling faithful can't get out and enjoy a car-free street in a September rain shower on Car-Free Day, what makes them think everyone else will?

Anyway, I'm looking for examples of cities in North America with streets with roughly the same preconditions as Albert Street that have made a go of pedestrian malls. Many cities that got in on the pedestrian mall fad in the 1970s have since removed theirs by re-allowing car traffic. This includes large cities such as Chicago, Baltimore and St. Louis; small cities like Freeport NY, Rockford IL and Wilkes-Barre PA; and even the two capitals of progressive planning, Portland and Vancouver.

The pedestrian mall dream in St. Louis...

...and the reality. [Credit]

The successful pedestrian malls that come to mind (Sparks Street in Ottawa, Stephen Avenue in Calgary, and Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis), survive as tidy little places that do well during the workweek (straddled as they are by the downtown workforce and department stores), but are largely vacated downtown spaces at night.

This success is something that Albert Street could not hope for, nor should it aspire to; we can do better than that. What is so remarkable about Albert Street today is that it is one of the few downtown spaces where car traffic is on equal footing with pedestrians or bicycles; it is one place where they co-exist. As far as downtown attractions go, a place like that is the Barnum and Bailey's Circus of downtown Winnipeg.

Like the cycling routes that will hurt business and livability on Assiniboine Ave., Sherbrook, or Machray, people like Anders Swanson imagine closing down Albert Street would stick it to Winnipeg's Car Culture. Closing down the street would be an affront to the big SUV driver racing in from Island Lakes, they think; payback for Portage Avenue cruise night and all the times I've been cut off by a lone motorist. What idiotic planning fads like this (cut from the same cloth as traffic engineering that enabled car culture in the first place) are really sticking it to is urban culture; to density, mixed uses, and the ability to live without a car. The scores of tiny firms that operate above the ground floors on Albert depend on drive-up traffic, and on-street parking and loading.

In great neighborhoods, streets serve many purposes. Even on rainy days.

Related: Progressive Winnipeg, Playing Favorites

Semi-related: Policy Frog: Cycle of Confusion [who knew the City of Winnipeg was so flush with cash?]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say Prince Arthur in Montreal is a good example of a successful ped only street, but it isn't exactly centrally downtown.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very insightful,

Thank you for the read.

11:48 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home