Urban Planning

Why do car free places fail? : urbanplanning

Among many urbanists car free places are the end goal.

Famous examples that round the urbanist spheres are Dusseldorf, Germany and Seoul, South Korea – Cheonggycheon highway, among others

However, in North America, small scale endeavors routinely fail as brought up to me by a commenter on a post I had made some time back.

*Ithaca, NY has a pedestrian mall which came at the cusp of the decline of downtown shopping. I may be more partial to the original iteration that came from the mid-1970s, with its brick sidewalks, extensive tree planters, fountains, and … lots of earth tones. It didn’t save downtown shopping but State Street was at least funky and full of stores. The rebuild from a few years back really hurt downtown and while there is a lot of renewed investment in terms of new apartments and condos in massive new developments, State Street was always pretty empty. That could be because it’s essentially a blank slate with few trees and a lot more hardscapes but there were a lot of vacancies when I moved out. Rising crime and extensive homelessness has also become an issue so that’s probably not helping.

*Kalamazoo, MI has a pedestrian mall that was all but dead. Portions are slowly being reopened to auto traffic but I think this one failed as the city itself declined.

*Huntington, WV had a pedestrian mall along 9th Street between 3rd and 5th Avenues but this lasted for about 15 years before it was reopened for one lane of traffic that wound between massive concrete planters and next to an abandoned fountain. It was always very deserted with the storefronts being all but abandoned (I grew up near it back in the 1980s and 1990s). They finally rebuilt it for two-way traffic with parking and the storefronts are now almost entirely occupied.

*Main Street in Buffalo, NY was a quasi-pedestrian and transit mall. It never felt safe when it functioned as that as it was anchored by many shuttered storefronts and abandoned buildings, along with a dead mall, and it’s been reopened to automobile traffic although that’s still awkward to drive on as its an interim solution until the entire thing is rebuilt.

*St. Albans, WV had a pedestrian mall. There were no active storefronts when I went by years ago but it’s been reopened to traffic and there is a healthy mix of stores and offices today. Not the most vibrant but it’s something.

*Wheeling, WV also had a pedestrian mall on the north end of downtown. Early photos made it look special but it just looked cheap to me. I always found random cars parked on the plaza which turned out to be building owners who could otherwise not directly service their storefronts. There are plans to reopen this to one lane of traffic with parking.

*Cumberland, MD has a several-block-long pedestrian mall. When I visited a few months ago, the west end close to the railroad tracks (and a National Park site) was fairly active, almost entirely because of a coffee shop/restaurant that brought in a lot of activity. The east end was practically abandoned with no open storefronts on a weekend; it looked like there were more offices and few residences.

*Federal Plaza in Youngstown, OH was a several-block-long pedestrian mall to help keep several mainstream retailers downtown, but this failed as the city itself declined. It’s been reopened to traffic and arguably, downtown is in much better shape but that’s also been because of the redevelopment that’s taken place down there.

*Eugene, OR had a pedestrian mall along Broadway. This one never had much activity and is being redeveloped.

*Poughkeepsie, NY also had a pedestrian mall but this one failed. That city is so awkward from an urban planning perspective because of the prevalence of four- and six-lane arterials that snake through the most urbanized areas of the city. It’s a frustrating area to drive through and I can’t imagine living anywhere near those roads.

*Louisville, KY had 4th Street Live! (ex-Galleria) which was an enclosed and partially enclosed shopping center and entertainment venue. The mall was barely kicking when I visited back in the mid-1990s as the department stores had long closed. It was redeveloped back in the 2000s but even this is fading. There are so many vacant restaurants and storefronts down there now. COVID didn’t help it, and neither did the soaring crime and homelessness in downtown.

*Baltimore, MD has Old Towne Mall which is an apocalyptic wasteland. I need to edit my photos from this but practically the entire pedestrian mall was lined with abandoned buildings and vacant lots.

*Cuyahoga Falls, OH had a pedestrian mall that was replaced with a new thoroughfare some years back. They were working on its conversion back to what it once was when I lived in Cleveland a decade or so ago.

Why and how do car free places fail in North America?

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