Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Charlottesville Pedestrian Mall Could Be Model

Downtown pedestrian mall.
On a recent trip to the Virginia city of Charlottesville, VA I had a chance to enjoy its pedestrian mall. Initially it looks as if it could have been an organic, original part of the downtown, but it was constructed fairly recently, 1976. 

C'ville is small  --population 43,000-- but it has a defined downtown area with offices, shops and other city amenities. The pedestrian mall is a major presence there. It is about 8 blocks long and as wide as any other street downtown. One end is anchored by a 3,500 seat outdoor performance pavilion and a new green transit center. The pedestrian walkway of the mall is divided into three sections: two 15 foot wide walking areas adjacent to the shops on each side and a 30 foot wide median/plaza area with public art, seating, lighting and outdoor dining areas for the many restaurants on the strip. 

The city claims over 120 businesses on the mall. I saw a great mix: a museum, at least two really awesome indie coffee shops, multiple restaurants, art galleries, a cupcakery (of course!), a real theatre, a newer Regal movie theatre, sports bars, a hotel and much more. Also, City Hall! So, as far as retail options go, there was a decent mix. No residential buildings (that I saw), but institutional, open space, industrial, and commercial sectors were all represented. That's mixed-use by definition. My favorite aspect was outdoor seating for the restaurants. Made the whole 8 block expanse feel alive.

The only downside was that a few of the cross streets allowed automobile traffic. And drivers on those side streets often sped through with at least one in particular not respecting the fact that I was in the road and the fact that he had a stop sign. At only 8 blocks, I would have liked to see traffic forced around the whole pedestrian area. There is plenty of parking, including a massive surface lot (next to additional garages) only one block form the pedestrian mall. Pretty cool when the farmer's market is on the lot, but pretty unattractive at other times.

I'm wondering if the C'ville mall could be a model for a small scale similar set up in DC. We have residents in Cleveland Park asking for automobile controlled space to be turned back over to pedestrians. Adams Morgan is currently getting more sidewalk space for its patrons. And one of the largest downtown development projects in the nation is taking shape at City Center. Southeast DC has two decent examples of this with Eastern Market and surrounding streets closed off on the weekends as well as Half Street's closure during Nationals games. 

Where else could we incorporate a permanent pedestrian mall? 8th St NW b/t D and F? F St NW b/t 6th and 7th? M St in Georgetown (could you imagine?). Adams Morgan? Tweet me ideas @The42BusDC with #dcpedmall. Meanwhile, go Charlottesville. I was very impressed.

Cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington.

Transit center
Dining outside.