Friday, January 13, 2012

Banning Traffic on Congress Street is Great Start for Making Tucson More Pedestrian-Friendly

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 9:01 AM


Despite Tucson’s copious amounts of crosswalks, being a pedestrian in Old Pueblo means taking your life in your hands.

Many motorists have neither patience nor tolerance for pedestrians, with 2010 Tucson Police Department statistics showing seven pedestrians hit and killed by vehicles and 210 hit and injured, with 52 of them hit and runs. Statistics from 2011 are even worse, with at least 16 pedestrians killed by vehicles and 220 injured, with a total of 71 hit and runs.

Man versus car does not fare well for the man.

All that could soon change, at least in a little pocket of town, with Mayor Jonathan Rothchild’s revival of a long-dead proposal of making Congress Street open to pedestrians only. The proposal was shot down in the past, and may be again because it still has one big problem: it’s much too limited.

Shutting off Congress to traffic will only make the die-hard drivers shuttle their vehicles to the surrounding streets, making them more clogged up and blocked than they already are. To truly benefit from transforming any downtown area into a pedestrian-only jubilee, the proposal needs to go the whole hog to get rid of road hogs and make all of downtown vehicle-free.

Those who cry and moan that’s there is nothing to see downtown don’t go there anyway, so it would not matter either way if cars, trucks, buses and those strangle little vehicles that look like motorized shoe boxes are allowed or banned.

The rest of the downtown complaints are valid and could even be fixed with a no-traffic downtown proposal. For starters, it’s not like there is ample parking down there. Unless you happen to have a Jetson car which folds neatly into an easily portable briefcase, you’ll end up circling the blocks for eons while trying not to make a wrong-way turn down one of the one-way streets.

Lots and areas that used to provide free parking are tough to come by. Two were recently annihilated with one being transformed into a paid parking area while the other was fenced off and filled with cinder blocks. Metered parking can be a joke since it involves high-tailing it back to feed the thing every so often after subjecting your car to dents, dings and scratches from that contortionist activity called parallel parking.

Jaunting about downtown is another joke, especially in a vehicle. The traffic moves slower than a limping dog, which means you could walk faster than you can drive and there is not much point in driving. Wrong-way turns, red-light runners and motorists texting down Broadway add layers of danger to crossing the road.

Making downtown traffic-free could turn the imbecilic set-up into a pedestrian oasis where people are free to stroll, jaunt and window-shop without worrying about being rundown by an impatient SUV. Granted, we’d have to get a bit more windows to shop in, but once shop keepers realize how so much downtown foot traffic can benefit their businesses, they may be breaking down the empty storefronts to be first to sign the lease.

Of course people will still need to drive to get downtown in the first place, in which case a perimeter of parking can be established around the central pedestrian-only zone. Any parking facilities that fall into the vehicle-free area can easily be transformed into open-air markets, such as the annual parking garage flea mart in Royal Oak, Michigan, that sells an array of wacky items that once included a medieval mace.

Walking can improve your health, elevate your mood and create some killer butt muscles, but it’s evident not enough folks enjoy it. If we eliminate the traffic puttering willy-nilly through downtown, we’ll have a prime walking zone that benefits many. Those who would rather drive than walk a half-block to a coffee shop can get their java elsewhere. They can steer clear of downtown — literally — and let the pedestrians play.

There are plenty of places around town where you can sit trapped in traffic, enjoy a walk about town without getting mowed down. Downtown should be one of them.

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Ryn Gargulinski, aka Rynski, is a writer, artist, performer and poet. Her column runs in the “Tucson Weekly” print edition monthly and weekly on Friday on “The Range.” See more writing and art from RYNdustries at ryngargulinski.com and rynski.etsy.com.

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