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.

How to (temporarily) fix the empty lot at 3rd and Division

3rd and Division has sat empty, dilapidated, and decaying for more than five years. We might have a temporary solution. (PHOTO: Google Street View)
3rd and Division has sat empty, dilapidated, and decaying for more than five years since the Best Western Peppertree Inn proposal was abandoned. We might have a temporary solution. (PHOTO: Google Street View)

You heard it here first, folks: 3rd and Division is officially the worst intersection in Spokane. No, it doesn’t have the ruts and crumbling asphalt of High Drive and Grand Boulevard, but it does have an empty lot with extremely unsightly rebar and concrete, remnants of an abandoned low-rise hotel project which will be the subject of a future If It Had Happened post.

City leaders have repeatedly tried to entice developers to this site, starting with the original owners, who are presumed to have finally sold the lot in the spring of 2013. Naturally, 3rd and Division serve as a gateway to Spokane and the south end of the Division Street Gateway project, so it’s not surprising that the City is attempting to get more involved. But despite this interest, the site still sits, languishing further by the day. Literally nothing has been done to improve it in the interim, despite the fact that an extremely small investment could result in a much more pleasant intersection.

Here’s our short term solution: erect a temporary construction fence and set local artists loose. What do we mean? Check out some examples and a call to action after the break. We want to make this actually happen.

Continue reading “How to (temporarily) fix the empty lot at 3rd and Division”

Idea #7: Public Squares

Seattle’s Westlake Park offers a signature gathering place for the city’s residents, tourists, and businesspeople. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Spokane should invest in a public downtown gathering place, a public square for its people. Seattle has Westlake Park, shown above. San Francisco has Union Square, below the fold. We believe that a public square should be a priority for downtown as it continues to work to cast off the seedy image of its past.
Continue reading “Idea #7: Public Squares”

Idea #6: Popup Art Galleries

Spokane has its share of vacant and abandoned buildings. Fortunately, it also has a wealth of artists and designers. What happens when you put the two together? Enter a plan for popup storefront art galleries highlighted in last week’s Inlander. The idea is to develop “a corridor that carries visitors from one lively part of town to another by getting art into…empty storefronts on First Avenue.” Terrain co-founder Ginger Ewing and Laboratory owner Alan Chatham are spearheading this plan, which they believe will help make the pedestrian experience in downtown Spokane much more pleasant and enjoyable–and perhaps even safer. We just hope that it will get an airing from building owners.

The full article, including more of the excellent artwork featured above by Collin Hayes, is available here at the Inlander.