Permanent pedestrian-only possibilities?

Something for y’all to chew on while I work on a few posts I’ve been meeting to get to. I was in Denver last week for the first time and it reminded me of one of my favorite urban planning concepts: the pedestrian-only street (something about the feeling of sticking it to the man by legally jay-walking? The marriage of sidewalk and street sans curb?)

The 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver is chockful of restaurants, shopping, movies, etc. The only vehicles are buses that can take you from one end to the other. It’s not quite as offbeat as Burlington, Vt.’s Church Street Marketplace but it is a flurry of activity day and night. There also was the Summer Streets experiment in Manhattan this past August as well as a recent push in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to make the main drag there (Bedford Avenue) pedestrian-only.

By no means am I comparing Rahway to any of those cities. For one, Denver’s mall is 16 blocks long — though it is only 1.25 miles, not much longer than the stretch of Irving Street. But these are major metropolises that also draw on a big tourist population. The closest thing I can think of in New Jersey is Cape May’s Washington Street Mall, which is credited with “rescuing” that downtown in the early ’70s.

On with my point for discussion: How about making East Cherry Street pedestrian-only? It’s closed for some downtown events but would making it permanent be an improvement (I only say East Cherry because it seems like it’d make the most sense of any downtown street)?

I’m not sure that “pedestrianisation” is necessary for East Cherry Street as it’s not exactly dominated by vehicles and you’d lose parking spaces at a time when they seem to be at a premium. There would be an issue of adequate access to Lot B behind The Waiting Room, where a parking deck is planned, and hopefully future residential development. But ped-only areas also generate foot traffic, a primary goal of Rahway’s redevelopment. What do you think, would it help or hurt local merchants?

Regardless, it’s just food for thought. In the meantime, here’s another interesting New York Times story about various concepts to draw people out into the streets.

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5/8/12 UPDATE: I came across this recent piece from Atlantic Cities, “The Uncertain Legacy of America’s Pedestrian Malls,” which is a good read — and check out all the comments!

8 thoughts on “Permanent pedestrian-only possibilities?”

  1. They should have done that when the implemented the traffic reconfiguration. There aren’t that many parking spaces on Cherry Street in the first place and they would pick up some parking spots at the no longer needed entrance.

  2. A quaint idea, but unfortunately most of the businesses on Cherry are not so quaint and there’s no reason for people to want to stroll from one to the next. There’s no cohesive attitude or perspective to bring the desired consumers to the area- people need a “theme” and right now it’s a mishmash. Montclair’s Church St, which is not pedestrian only, seems to thrive with their mix of gifts, clothes and restaurants with a few other pleasant businesses mixed in. It is likely that a person would find a handful of interests on the stretch, whereas here one is lucky to find two.Then I think, wIth pedestrian areas, you need seating. With seating, you invite loitering. If the shoppers aren’t there, someone else will fill the void…

  3. When the street becomes a true destination for more pedestrians than the sidewalks can handle, sure, turn it into peds only. To do so right now removes another path for cars traveling between Main St. and Irving so you will end up with more traffic on Poplar and Milton and an empty Cherry St. Let’s face it, making Cherry St. peds only won’t bring customers, cleaning up the boarded up buildings and putting viable businesses in there will make it appealing. Cart before the horse here.

  4. I agree you first have to make it a place people want to shop, eat and mill about. I feel if its closed off at first it might become a “back ally type of place”. At least if the parking garage was there people would have no choice but to pass by.

  5. Cherry Street has so many possibilities, I can see the side walk cafe’s. Great idea. Great location. A little bit of the village in Rahway, what a concept.

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