Thursday, May 24, 2012

“Is It Just Me Or…”

We all seem to have those “Is it just me or…” moments.  I had one just the other day during a lunchtime walkabout which I take most sunny days.

This was one in which I took a usual route, west on Vine and then either going out S. Broadway or on beyond the Lexington Center.  This day I strolled through Triangle Park over toward the historic W. Short St.  The park, for all of its renovation work, still has little for the noontime pedestrian to do.

The tour down Vine St continues to surprise me these two years since the streetscape was essentially finished.  The pedestrians are few and the service/delivery vehicles seem to park with abandon on the new, wide pavers which are clearly intended for people.  There are a few “smoker’s posts” near the office tower and they can make walking past a chore for the non-smoker but otherwise there is little happening here.

I made an infrequent stop in the Victorian Square Shoppes and wondered, almost aloud, how some of those places can stay in business.  They do and more power to them, as I say about the claims that we have too much vacant office space, just because I see no activity does not mean that there is none.  Victorian Square is alive, maybe not robust, but alive.

Exiting near the corner of Short and Broadway and looking back toward the Court House is about the time that it hit me.  My “Is it just me or… moment” nearly bowled me over, like the cyclist zipping down the sidewalk.  Short St is the vibrant, pedestrian street that we all would like downtown to be.

How many hours over the past decade, and several Urban County Government administrations, have been spent of discussions and negotiations concerning Vine St and what could be done to improve the freeway-like atmosphere which has attached itself there?  How many consultants submitted options on solutions over the years?  After all that, has there been much noticeable improvement?

There it was, Short Street, stretching from Broadway to Limestone in the noontime hour just bustling with sidewalk activity, street activity and the sounds of downtown life.  What I saw before me was accomplished with minimal government dollars and much investment by the private sector.  It was not perfect but it was quite vibrant.  It has been growing that way for a while now, gradually gaining, but this day it just popped.

Main Street still has its pedestrian activity and a number of café dining on the sidewalks but not like the volume on Short.  The one-way traffic and the width may alter the cozy nature somewhat but I am not sure that it makes that much of a difference.  Main St is quite a bit longer, so that may diffuse its activity, but it also has many more blank walls with which the public must deal.

The public spaces along Main St, both Phoenix Park and the Court House Plaza, see fairly consistent use though some may find the patrons a little less than to their liking.  Elsewhere the comings and goings are a bit more sporadic.

The activity on Short St is not all a bed of roses and some of the thorns do prick at me. 

With all of the restaurant and bar venues currently in place, not all of them are open for the lunch hour, there will naturally be a slew of delivery vehicles. I constantly wonder why the restaurants can take delivery before or after the peak pedestrian times but the bars cannot.  Why does it take three men and three or more vehicles, at least two of which are extended length trailers, which block the mid-block crosswalks near Cheapside.  The soft drink companies and the spirit companies can deliver with smaller trucks on these narrow streets, but beer route drivers are special?

I also dislike the encroachment that some café diners make into the remaining walkway.  Each restaurant is allowed a limited amount of sidewalk and will not police their paying customers who - sometimes – snatch more chairs than usual at a table and spill outside the allowed space.  Common sense should kick in at these times but maybe alcohol is involved.

Lastly, there are the cyclists, the dog owners and those with over-sized strollers which try to negotiate or occupy extremely tight spaces, usually to the detriment of good circulation.  If the committee working on the food truck locations can cite pedestrian obstructions as a concern, then they should be looked at for all of downtown sidewalks.  Cyclists are currently prohibited from downtown sidewalks by ordinance, but it is rarely enforced and just plain ignored by the court system.  Should we get all of our downtown streets as active as Short St has become there will be problems, so we might as well begin solving them now.

Well, that is a lot to think about.  Now, I ask you “Is it just me or…”

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