Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Guest Opinion: Broaden Your Thinking, Don't Widen Broadway

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2016 at 10:00 AM

I attended the April 5 public hearing on the Broadway project. As I walked the short two blocks from my car to attend the meeting on Tuesday, I passed at least 20 of the brass information plaques that grace our historic sites, as well as countless significant pieces of architecture. I imagined how the immediate surroundings of City Hall would look and feel if these sites had not been preserved, and wide roads were deemed more necessary or worthwhile then our beautiful historic sites.

Upon entering the lobby of the Pima County Administration Building, I was greeted by an attractive and prominent, permanent display of Pima County's varied and significant historic sites. Clearly the city understands how important our unique heritage sites are to our identity, pride and brand. The irony that I was confronted by a celebration of our city’s valuable sites, while lining up to go into a crowded hearing that would decide the fate of some of Tucson’s other historical sites, was not lost on me.

America is becoming more and more homogeneous. Every city has a snarling web of arterial roads punctuated by large plazas with box stores, that add nothing to the unique flavor of their communities. How many cities can boast such a significant strip of mid-century buildings? Tucson has some very important gems on Broadway that were built during what is widely considered America’s heyday.

The thing about architecturally significant buildings is that they get more significant with time, not less. Once they are gone they are gone forever, and it is shortsighted to destroy any of them. Banners celebrating Broadway as the “Sunshine Mile” mark the very area that the project would irrevocably change. Please do not turn it into the “Cloudy Corridor” of Anywhere, USA. Cities rarely, if ever, regret preserving their heritage. No one will ever visit Tucson to admire our six lane strip of asphalt.

I empathize with the Broadway business owners who spoke at the meeting of the extreme difficulty they have faced while being in limbo since the project was first conceived way back in the 80’s. However the fact that this debate has been going on for decades shows that the widening scheme has had problems from the get go. The world has changed a great deal in those decades and the entire project is based on outdated traffic projections that never materialized. The whole reason this was ever conceived was to supposedly deal with the increase of traffic that the city would see during the ensuing years. Traffic is actually the same or less now, than it was when the scheme was first devised.

The most successful cities of the future will be the ones that encourage less reliance on the automobile, not more. When viewed in the context of all the challenges that will confront the city in the future, such as access to water and other major realities, spending $74 million now to shave what has been defined as 6 seconds in one direction and 1 minute in the other, will seem laughable to future generations.

I think most drivers would happily forgo that supposed 6 seconds to avoid what will probably end up being years of MAJOR traffic delays during construction. And what will happen when three lanes have to funnel into two lanes closer to downtown? The city may create a much bigger problem than the one they are supposedly trying to solve. Broadway has suffered a great deal during these decades of controversy and it does need revitalization and improvements, but the widening scheme is not it.

As I left the hearing I looked at the racks of pamphlets next to the display of Tucson history. Titles such as Air Pollution and Your Health, Drive Less. Save More. Go Green., Healthy Air Is In Our Hands: Drive Less, jumped out at me. Not one of the pamphlets was named Make Tucson Healthy & More Livable: Drive More. I encourage the Mayor and the Council to have a walk around the lobby and consider the disconnect between the messages that are strongly and clearly on display there, and this plan, which would take the city backwards not forward.

If you agree that this is the wrong plan at the wrong time, please go to the city’s site,
broadwayboulevard.info and post a comment before April 19, when the Council will make their final decision. Our children will thank us.

Jenny Dow, Tucson Arizona

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