Laura/Lolly @ Reimagine An Urban Paradise, comes to Pittsburgh with a new perspective and I find myself referring to her posts because, she sees the city somewhat like I do and also because, there just aren't many people posting on these subjects at all here, let alone actively debating them.
She, like me was inspired and envious of New York's now very popular and successful move to turn close Broadway in Times and Herald Square to cars. Something I posted about at least once. She wonders if we couldn't do this on busy Saturdays along a stretch of Penn Ave in the Strip.
"If you’ve ever walked down this packed shopping district on Saturdays in Pittsburgh you’ve noticed how crowded every spot is. Traffic moves slowly because there are so many people and those cars could easily be diverted onto the parallel streets.
If they can move cars off the main street of America, we can do it on the main street of Pittsburgh."
Yes, there are strong similarities. Both Times Square and the Strip have hectic active shopping areas in which cars, vendors and people fight for space (although we all know at other hours the Strip can be quite dead). However, the differences are also very big. Closing these small areas to cars was the easy reward New York could reap for having a dense, much more transit oriented city.
Over 1.5 million people live in Manhattan, with likely at several hundred thousand within a 30 block walking distance of Times Square. Many, millions more fill it's midtown office and shopping districts almost all of whom use a form of transit other than cars. In fact, I think, the stats show that 90% of the people in Times Square on a work day got there through some other form of Transit, from Subway, LIRR (To 34TH, Penn Station) ; Metro North (To nearby Grand Central), PATH (To Penn Station) City Bus, Express Bus, Ferry, Amtrak or by walking. Even so, the remaining ten percent was taking the bulk of space. (Although in honesty, NYC would have traffic issues just from delivery and needed service vehicles on a busy weekday)Even if I'm off on these numbers I'm not way off.
Sadly, Pittsburgh is not in that position and most people shopping in the Strip likely drove there.
While I support the idea and the thinking behind it, I'm pretty concerned that a big dead space of parking would be required around the pedestrian shopping area. If it was popular, People might demand a huge permanent amount of parking. Well, that's sort of what they are doing now anyway. But we have to move away from and make the city work for city residents and businesses.
This is part of my response to Lolly.
"If one actually wants to make lots of progress here, a lot more details and meat have to be put on these bones.
What happened in NYC, came after a large consensus already existed among business and property owners that this might be OK for them. They know, their customers are not driving into Times Square. NY or at least Manhattan, has generally engaged in a series of policies which enhanced the benefits of density, and thus progressively maximized the use and value of it’s land. We have done very much the opposite.
We need to get beyond the green and traditional leftist moralising and talk about why moves like this are likely to not only improve the quality of life for city residents, but increase business, lower costs, and increase property values. Denser development that extracted more value from the land would also allow for decent city services with lower tax rates.
Did you experience last years snow? Any guess as to what it cost to plow all those remote hills? The whole situation was absurd, since it was so obvious what the problem was. Narrow streets were blocked by parked cars and couldn't be cleared. Telling people to get them off the street for even a few hours was too politically difficult. Meanwhile, much of the best flat land in the city, is wasted on stadiums, surface parking lots, or highways.
The previous car oriented policies have so clearly not worked. In spite of efforts to hide it, the difference between The South Side and The North Side should be obvious to all.
What exactly is Transit Oriented Development and why is it so smart for Pittsburgh? That’s what we need to talk about.
Still, one needs to be somewhat understanding of Pittsburgh’s history. These flat areas were the central sites of Pittsburgh’s industry and many people still equate them with jobs, jobs, jobs. Even though the number of good jobs in the few trucking depots and warehouses in the Strip today is not very significant. A lot of folks still think they should wait and a big new mill will open. (Even though modern steel mills don’t need many workers)
Also, Pittsburghers for the same reason saw most of these places as dirty and undesirable. Notice that houses become fancier and more elegant the further one gets from the old waterfront mill sites?
The North Side’s “Millionaire’s row is a partial exception because it began to develop after Pittsburgh was industrial, but before the truly giant mills came into being in the late 19TH Century."
One very good idea that might help the Strip while enhancing density and promoting pedestrian shopping and development would be a free or very low cost mini shuttle or bus circulator running from The Downtown through Lawrenceville. even if it only ran a few hour it would give people idea of what is possible.