Tear Down This Fence!

The plan for making downtown more pedestrian, bike, and business friendly was presented and voted on at the Board of Supervisors meeting on the evening of April 18. It was a special session that made it more for convenient for the public to attend. The Mayor chose not to hold speakers to a time limit, giving everyone a chance to speak their mind. And that they did.  The meeting began at 6:30 PM with an overview of the project from Public Works, followed by public commentary, and didn’t wrap up with the final vote until 10:30 PM.

Board of Supervisors Meeting
Final discussion for the vote at 10:20 PM

Although there was passionate and emotional dialog traded between both sides of the issue, order and respect remained until the very end. It didn’t have the Sports Bar feel of the last meeting. After nearly four hours of discussion, it was time for the visibly exhausted Board of Supervisors to vote. Motions were made, but there were no second motions. Nobody could seem to agree.  It was finally decided to table the plan to re-stripe the half-mile stretch of Carson Street through the downtown area of Carson City between Fifth Street and Ann Street. The entire room seemed to generally agree that we needed to do something downtown, and cost didn’t really seem to be an issue, but it was reducing travel lanes from four to two that was the show stopper.

Everyone looked around wondering what to do next.  After so much momentum, it was obvious the wind was suddenly let out of everyone’s sails.  But then to everyone’s surprise, a motion was made to tear down the fence! It was quickly seconded, and was voted on unanimously. At first I was shocked. Would bringing down the fence without the protective barrier of parallel parking be safe? This wasn’t an outcome I had even considered.

Fences on Main Street
Tear down this fence!

Although the rest of the project is tabled for now, Mayor Robert Crowell directed City Manager Larry Werner to have staffers work with the new Downtown 20/20 Action Advocacy Group, and return within 60 to 90 days with a more complete plan. In addition to the temporary re-striping, a well thought out and documented vision of the future of downtown needs to be created and agreed upon. It is hoped that city officials, developers, business owners, and residents can come together to take joint ownership of the solution, and defuse any confrontational attitudes.

So what does the fence removal alone buy us? It gives us quite a bit of sidewalk room back. There might even be enough space to install a few low capacity bike racks along main street like you see in other cities. Cyclists like their bikes nearby, even in view, when locking up. Fence removal will also visually open up the downtown, and the buildings will no longer look like they’ve been barricaded to keep people out.

On the Road in Colorado
With the fence removed, it may be possible to add new low capacity bike racks like this one in Durango, CO)

A common theme at last night’s meeting was “traffic”. But only in terms of speed, delay, throughput, and congestion of automobiles. How would more or less auto traffic affect downtown? Part of what I got up to talk about last night was to remind people that traffic comes in more forms than just automobiles. Thanks to our compact city design, many citizens in Carson City enjoy the luxury of traveling on foot, bike, and even public transportation. And since we’re not throwing money into a car, we have more money to spend downtown. There are plenty of studies that show when you make a street safe for bikes and pedestrians, usage increases by cyclists and walkers. You may lose some automobile traffic, but you gain other forms of traffic. Traffic is reallocated.

Congestion was also a big topic last night among the opponents. One lady said it took her 22 minutes to drive just 3.3 miles during recent road construction on main street. It made me think that I never have to worry about congestion when I’m on my bike. It’s just too easy to ride around or avoid. Construction or no construction, I could have made the same 3.3 mile trip by bike in less time, even riding at a leisurely pace.  Bikes are faster in cities than people realize.

West Side Cruiser Ride
Bikes and pedestrians are traffic too!  Cyclists riding Carson’s west side.

Opponents to the project also frequently made claims that there are little to no pedestrians downtown. This struck me as odd, because I see people everywhere. How did they get there? Who are our pedestrians? As someone who often commutes to work on foot, I certainly am. But really, anyone who walks for any distance is a pedestrian. Even people that arrive downtown in a car eventually become pedestrians. They park their cars and then have to walk through parking lots, use the sidewalks, and cross the streets. We also have a lot of kids crossing downtown on their way to and from school. Walking may be the only option for some people.  Pedestrian safety for all is a big issue.

We should know early next week when the fences will come down. It suspect it’ll be in the near future. While we’re waiting to go forward with the rest of the project, I think there are things that we can start working on. I already mentioned new bike racks on main street. What else can be done? Improved crosswalks and lighting for nighttime crossings? What are your ideas?

More news from this meeting can be found on the Nevada Appeal’s website.

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