by Pamela Powers Hannley
If you want to read about Mayor Jonathan Rothschild's latest big idea for downtown Tucson, don't look for it online — except here at The Blog for Arizona. The Arizona Daily Star published Rothschild's brain storm only in the "dead tree" editon, dooming it to the recycle bin tomorrow morning.
As the light rail tracks are laid on Congress Street, Rothschild is proposing converting Congress into a pedestrian mall. I think this is a GREAT idea, and I also think that the Star— which is beholden to a certain wealthy car dealer for most of its print advertising– is trying to bury the idea by putting it in the print-only edition.
Rothschild says that a pedestrian-only Congress Street will complement the modern street car, the new apartments and dorms downtown, the businesses, and the music/art scene. He's spot on, in my opinion. Alluding to Denver's 16th Street Mall– pictured here– Rothschild goes on to say, "Where it works, it's a great attraction."
In the past, some Congress Street business owners have lobbied to increase traffic congestion on Congress by proposing that it be converted to two-way traffic. Somehow they equated more congestion with more business. (Luckily, the City Council didn't fall for that one.) On the contrary, I think reducing traffic congestion and promoting foot traffic, light rail, and bicycles would be good for business, good for downtown, and good for the citizens of Tucson.
With several cousins in the Denver area, I have spent quite a bit of time there. The ambiance of Denver's 16th Street Mall is relaxed and eclectic. The light rail comes in from the suburbs, right passed the Denver Convention Center and the famous blue bear statue, and glides through the pedestrian mall, which is dotted with cafes, outdoor seating, trees, trendy retail shops, and hotels. It is the perfect place for people sip wine or coffee and watch the scene. There are also bicycle rentals downtown to facilitate taking the light rail.
Allowing customers to move freely around Congress Street without worrying about dodging cars promotes a symbiotic relationship among the entertainment, retail, and food venues downtown. A pedestrian mall on Congress would be business-friendly, arts-friendly, tourist-friendly, and more sustainable and less congested than the current car-based downtown. Dream big. Let's do it, Mr. Mayor.
More photos after the jump.
1) Light rail passing the Denver Convention Center
2) Another view of the pedestrian mall.
3) Blue Bear peering into the Denver Convention Center
4) Bikes for rent
5) Larimer Street– restaurant district off of the pedestrian mall in Denver