Two articles in the Nov. 20 Empire described the efforts the city is making to improve downtown streets for both vehicles and pedestrians. At least one of these, the widening of South Franklin Street, is clearly necessary. Unfortunately, this necessity is at least partially due to poor planning and should be recognized as such.
The Alaska Marine Lines' terminal location on Thane Road means that a large portion of all the goods and materials arriving and leaving Juneau must pass down South Franklin Street. Geography and historical waterfront development have limited the number of suitable locations for such a freight handling operation. At the same time, demand for space for gift shops has placed what could pass for an amusement park directly in the most constrictive bottleneck in the downtown Juneau area. Rather than recognizing this problem and shifting retail growth to more appropriate areas, we have allowed the situation to worsen every year.
At the same time, the city and the Assembly are wrestling with how to deal with loading zones, delivery trucks and other traffic issues in the downtown core. I would like to propose a possible partial solution to both problems. Closing Front Street and Franklin Street to vehicles between the new roundabout and Seward Street, and making these streets pedestrian-only, could eliminate many of the problems of trying to make cars and people co-exist, and revitalize the downtown core.
I have been in two cities (Burlington, Vt., and Boulder, Colo.) where the center of downtown has been made into a pedestrian mall and in both cases the results were staggeringly positive. The center of downtown was made once again into the center of life in the city, a place where it was obvious that a city was made up of people, not just a place where cars drive around. These streets became places where children played, public art was on display and cafes could let their patrons eat lunch at sidewalk tables. Compare this to downtown Juneau, where often there is not room enough on the sidewalk to simply walk.
The need for designating special and inconvenient hours or zones for delivery trucks would disappear, as they would be the only vehicles allowed on the street. Access could be controlled as on Church Street in Burlington, where easily removable barriers allow delivery trucks to pass and drive slowly to their destination. Making the downtown core a more attractive place may also draw tourist traffic away from the South Franklin strip, easing congestion along that artery.
As the city seeks ways to deal with downtown crowds and vehicle traffic, I urge planners and the assembly to consider this idea. Enough of our city is already dedicated to cars. Let's make more space for people.