Thursday, April 14, 2011

I love Patch polls. Thoughts on Pedestrian Mall

Salem Patch has another poll going on Facebook today. The question: "What would you like to see happen with the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall?" This one appears to be a landslide.

Currently, 56 have answered "Revitalize but keep it pedestrian."
2 have answered "Allow traffic but only from the months of Nov-Feb or March"
1 has answered "Doesn't bother me either way"
8 have answered "Nothing, leave as is"
0 have answered "Allow traffic"

We keep hearing that people are split on this, and the consultant keeps saying open it, open it, but while not scientific, this poll seems pretty clear. People want this to remain a pedestrian way. I tend to agree with them. It is one of the spaces that make Salem unique. Why strip that. I'm sympathetic to those who support opening it during the winter months, but I wonder if, once it's configured to allow cars, you'll see a strong push from certain businesses along the street to open it up throughout the year.

I think the concept of opening the street up during parts of the day is bound to create a nightmare. Remember that many drivers here during the busiest parts of the year aren't from here, and won't know these rules. They'll be relying on GPS systems that won't know these rules. What happens when that GPS tells them to go down the closed street? Panic ensues, and person stops in the middle of the intersection. More gridlock. I'm certain that model will create a mess. Short of the this month, to that month concept, I think you have to go all or nothing. I vote pedestrian.

I think David Pelletier's remarks in the comment section on this article are completely true. I recall seeing pictures of the little boards people stuck stickers on and it seemed quite clear that the strong bias was towards the pedestrian side. I'd love to see which options they counted as being pro-car.

Does the Snews have something against Kate Leavy? She owns Roost, The Beehive, and Scrub, and has become a big part of downtown retail. Today, in their not-quite-factual about public sentiment editorial they spelled her name wrong. Kate's great, give her her due.


  1. I just don't see any point to trying to get cars on Essex Street, and I have no idea what it would fix. It's a narrow street anyways, and doesn't really connect anything at this point. If there were cross streets that would break up the mall nicely (as I've said before, like they do in Cape May, NJ's pedestrian mall) that would work, but the northern side of Essex Street is an unbroken wall of buildings. Central Street would have to be extended through the mall to make a cross street work.

    The solution for the pedestrian mall isn't to send cars down it. That ruins one of Salem's unique spaces, and makes it less attractive for walkers. The solution is to use architectural features (like a gateway at the Washington Street end), signage, and another destination spot like a restaurant to draw people in, performance space by the India Square fountain to attract more people (maybe in conjunction with the farmers' market), and relandscaping to make it more attractive as a leisure place. Nicer benches, maybe a couple of grass plots, and fewer cobblestones.

    Also have a police presence that nudges the high school dropout crowds into hanging out elsewhere, too. It's not badly broken on the mall, but cars won't fix it.

  2. I love Patch polls, too. But in this case, it's a false choice. There are more options than just 'allow cars,' and 'don't allow cars.'

    That was the entire point of the mall meetings. There is middle ground.

    There are also ways to solve the problems you mention. 'Bollards' could be used to block traffic from entering the mall when it is 'not allowed.'

    I'm not partial to allowing traffic. But it's not an either-or type of proposition. I think the mayor said it best. There are ways to have your cake and eat it, too.

    People seem to be missing that crucial point.

  3. I think I addressed that. And it is an option in the poll. Shared might be ok, ad long as it's cars in winter only. The GPS thing will still be a problem.

  4. It would be nice to be able to keep the street a strictly pedestrian zone, but businesses along such a street often suffer because of it. I think they ought to try a couple of these non-permanent approaches and see how they go. It might not be as bad as some people think.


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