Talking with urban planners involved either in creating pedestrian malls or in removing them, or “repurposing” them, I learned the key indicators that need to be present for a pedestrian mall to be successful in the United States. They were adamant that it wasn’t just the closed street that determined success. The key, they told me, was in finding the appropriate mix of other factors, as well. One thing was clear; you can’t just close a street and expect to create a public space.
According to a blog that Chuck Wolfe, a Seattle attorney who is considered an urban planning expert, writes, of the 15 percent of pedestrian malls that are successful, most are:
• In communities with fewer than 100,000 residents;
• Located or anchored near a university or other major anchor;
• Situated close to a beach;
• Designed to be short in length, approximately one to four blocks long;
• Located in a major tourist destination; and
• Have desirable and appropriate buildings and how they interact with public rights of way.
It seems that those attributes exist in Plattsburgh, even if they aren’t closely connected.
But, based on their failure rate, should we be considering alternatives to the pedestrian mall? If we’re going to have the conversation, should we not include all the options?
One option to consider is the Complete Streets model. Complete Streets is one of the many topics on which I am not an expert. However, my limited understanding is that Complete Streets “are designed and operated to enable access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders.”
In light of the high failure rate of pedestrian malls, it might be wise to incorporate a Complete Streets model into the discussion. The Town of Plattsburgh’s Phil VonBargen is the local expert and leading proponent for Complete Streets, and it would be wise to include him in any discussion of this topic.