Idea #24: Convert Main Avenue to a Pedestrian Mall

The Church Street Marketplace in downtown Burlington, Vermont was originally conceived in 1958 and constructed in 1980. In the time since, it has been recognized time and again as a prime example of good urban design for public space. It’s managed by a public commission. (PHOTO: vermont.org)

I must admit that this is an idea that’s been gnawing at me for some time. It struck me last June during Terrain’s Bazaar, which was taking place on Wall Street between Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard, then grew on me during my time in Germany this past fall. In many of Europe’s cities, the central avenue in the city center is closed to vehicles. The result is a much more pedestrian-centered experience with a vibrant, exciting city life. What if we took this same logic and applied it to downtown Spokane?

Let’s convert Main Avenue between Lincoln Street and Bernard Street into a pedestrian mall.

At first glance, this may seem like a radical idea. Why would we want to convert six city blocks into a limited access, pedestrian-only experience? Why would we want to restrict vehicular access? The answer, of course, is vibrancy. The on-street experience would be greatly enhanced by the addition of new street trees, new public gathering places and amenities, and pedestrian-specific features. Imagine farmers’ markets, food trucks, flash mobs, and handicraft vendors all gathering in one place downtown. Imagine winter carolers and summer gallery openings. And imagine it all being outside of the control of the Cowles family, which recently proposed to take 17 feet of public right of way at the Wall Street pseudo-“pedestrian mall” for a “mystery national retailer.”

The prospect is tantalizing. But it would require a concerted effort at programming. A public commission or non-profit board a la the Seattle Center’s management structure or that of Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square would work well. And we’ll have to work on finding solutions to the traffic problem (especially cross-traffic on Stevens and Washington) as well. But we can do it. We can replace lost parking, improve traffic flow downtown, and build a vibrant community all at the same time. So let’s get behind a pedestrian on Main Avenue. Let’s make it happen.

What do you think? Do you support the idea for a pedestrian mall on Main Avenue? Do you think it could spur investment along that street, where parking lots have languished undeveloped for years and years? What would you like to see programmed at a pedestrian mall downtown? Share your thoughts below in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.