Last Friday, like many New Haven denizens, I was on College Street, between Chapel and Crown, enjoying the New Haven Grand Prix/Pizza (And Other Stuff) Food Festival.
The weather was gorgeous as professional bicyclists flew by. Long, but cordial lines stretched out from brightly painted trucks, their smells wafting in the air as people sipped from the Sierra Nevadas (and Various Other Cocktails), catching up with old friends and saying hello to new friends.
All up and down College Street, patrons of Pacifico, Oaxaca, Owl Shop, and Anchor all enjoyed bustling traffic as people enjoyed the relaxed, pedestrian-only environment. I doubt a single person missed the cars or loud motorcycles motoring by.
And it occurred to me: Why do we even need this road to be open to traffic, ever?
Why do we only do this once a year?
I understand College Street sees a lot of traffic. And presumably, there’s at least like… four parking spots on there. Legend tells of a man who once even got a spot there. But I can’t speak to such fanciful stories.
Nonetheless, there are dozens of other roads one can use to get up and down downtown New Haven. There’s Church Street. Temple Street. High Street. Good ol’ Orange. Come on, who doesn’t love Orange Street? It’s classic.
But I think we could live without cars on College Street and turn it into a nice little pedestrian mall. An oasis in our urban desert.
One of my favorite cities is Burlington, Vermont. And one of the best parts of downtown Burlington is the pedestrian zone which dominates their city streets. For several blocks, there are no cars or motorcycles. Probably no mopeds. We can only hope no mopeds.
Yet they make it work. While we’re just sitting here, pretending to enjoy half-price bottles of wine at Pacifico on a Sunday afternoonwhile some jerk blasting Tupac rides by. I’m not saying I dislike Tupac. But maybe I’m just not in a Tupac mood right this second.
Isn’t It A Bit More Complicated Than That?
I mean, probably. I don’t know. I’m not a city planner. I’m just a guy with a blog.
Obviously, some kinks will need to be worked out. If I’m Ah-Beetz and I just opened on Temple Street, I’m pissed that suddenly all the property a block away is now way better situated. Fine, Ah-Beetz Owner, let’s do it on Temple Street. I don’t care! I’d gladly pit neighbor against neighbor as long as I get to sit down and enjoy an ice cold beer in the middle of the street.
Cities all over the United States have managed to pull this off. I mean, come on, if Ottawa can pull it off, so can we. Are you trying to tell me we’re not as good as Ottawa? Home of The Senators? Come on.
New York City elected to make Times Square pedestrian-only, along with a host of other streets, and while the infestation of Spider Men is deplorable, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Lincoln Mall Road, in Miami, used to be open to traffic, but was closed in 1960, and is now one of the main attractions in Miami.
Am I saying that closing College Street to vehicles will make us better than Miami?
Uh, yeah, pretty much.
How Much Is this Going to Cost?
No idea. Probably like a bajillion dollars. What am I, a money scientist?
But there are probably ways to offset the costs. Charge high permit fees in order to do large, al fresco dining on College Street. Sell permits for permanent food trucks there — I bet that’d fetch a pretty penny.
I mean, how expensive is it to put up some caution tape? I’ll yell at cars if they try to drive by. Let’s crowd-source this thing. That’s still a term, right?
Okay, I’m In. Now What?
I made a SeeClickFix issue. So you can click on that, and vote for it. And if enough of us vote for it, the government will be forced to ignore us more vocally, which if fun.
I suppose you could contact your local Alderhuman. But if you don’t live downtown, it probably won’t matter. Maybe if we harass Doug Hausladen enough, he’ll do it for us? That seems… theoretically possible?
Either way, I think it could work. Being there last Friday, enjoying the lovely late summer weather, the smell of pizza in the air. It was, for a night, a bit of magic. And I don’t think it has to be rare magic.
So let’s do this. Sure, they never built my pedestrian bridge to Long Wharf, but they are planning to make Long Wharf more pedestrian-friendly. YOU’RE WELCOME.