The failure of the downtown merchants, city staff and council to come to some agreement over the past few years on how to make Market Avenue and its cross streets safer and more pedestrian friendly is a huge disappointment for people who frequent the area.
There are no simple answers on how to make an area that shows symptoms of atrophy friendlier, but the issue must be addressed if the downtown environment is to encourage people to spend time in a safe environment – safety is a big issue. A safe place is usually a friendly place.
At the city council meeting on Monday, Dec. 6, the chief administrative officer reported that only half a dozen questionnaires had been returned.
Did the merchants get the questionnaire? Did they not care? Did they think that their ideas aren’t worthy of consideration? Do they prefer the status quo?
Everyone knows that there isn’t much going on in the downtown in the evenings and on Sundays. There is activity when the coffee shops, eateries and stores are open and when a good film is being shown at the GEM.
However, after 5 p.m. on most days, Market Avenue is empty. If there are people present in the evening, they are probably out for a walk or at the theatre.
The question of making the downtown more pedestrian friendly should not be a difficult one to answer.
Closing some parking spaces, installing bicycle racks, and creating parking spots for power wheelchairs will make a difference but there are changes that could be and should be made.
At the top of the list is vehicular traffic. The speed limit is far too high, vehicle owners don’t understand the rights of pedestrians in crosswalks, and they pollute.
The challenge is how to deal with them.
In a column published in 2010, the suggestion was made that the traffic flow on Market Avenue should be one-way for three blocks from Riverside Drive to 4th Street.
Mention was also made of a roundabout at each of two intersections: 2nd and Market Avenue and 2nd and 72nd Avenue. Another roundabout could be installed at Market Avenue and 3rd Street to complete the plan. Roundabouts slow traffic but don’t interfere with flow to any great extent.
Traffic must also be calmed on the cross streets for the safety of pedestrians. A limit of 50 kilometres per hour (km/h) is far too fast in the downtown area. Thirty-five km/h is ample.
If Market Ave. was turned into a one-way street with angle parking on both sides, the widening of the sidewalks in front of eateries and coffee houses would be facilitated.
A crosswalk in the middle of the block between 2nd and 3rd streets would encourage pedestrians to walk safely across the street. They do it now so make it legal.
A preferred option is the complete closure of Market Avenue from 2nd Street to 4th Street, thus turning it into the equivalent of an outdoor mall designed to accommodate people and not vehicles.
Trees could be planted in large containers, benches and shelters could be installed in the centre of the street and the sidewalks could be widened strategically.
It’s time for city council and staff and the downtown merchants to think outside the box.
Quash the idea that vehicles must be given preferential treatment.
Encourage drivers to park and walk a block or so. The air will be cleaner, the streets will be quieter and the downtown will be a nicer place.