Save Gas, Clear the Air, Promote Retail Traffic and Get a Little Exercise; Downtown Pedestrian-Only Should Be an Attractive Idea

Posted by By at 10 July, at 09 : 27 AM Print

A recent thread about sidewalk cafés in Philadelphia reminded me of a thread I’ve followed many years in the town where I live – making a portion of downtown pedestrian-only. The idea – and I’ve seen it at work in numerous other towns and cities – benefits everyone who shops, works and even breathes in the burg that tries it.

For years I have posited that the center of Gettysburg, Pa, and at least one block in all directions from Lincoln Square, not allow parking. It would be difficult to ban all traffic – U.S. 30 goes through the center of town – but banning parking in the center of town would benefit people who shop, work and even breathe in the small, world-famous burg.

At heart, the Borough of Gettysburg is a tourist town based on the most famous battle of the American Civil War. The town also is the seat of Adams County, and home to a Lutheran Theological Seminary and Gettysburg College.

I believe, because I have seen it happen in other U.S. towns and cities, workers in the courthouse and in the multitude of retail shops and eateries in the town center could park their vehicles outside the pedestrian area and walk to work. Make parking in town, but outside the restricted zone, free, or maybe with an affordable monthly pass, and they might even do it.

In Hampton, Va., a couple blocks were brick-paved and accessible to pedestrians-only to shop and visit an eatery.

In Burlington, Vt., several blocks are brick-paved, pedestrian-only. Restaurants line both sides, including outdoor seating. Dance troupes and other street entertainers make good use of the middle ground.

I’ve also have been to Paris, France, and several towns and cities in Spain and a few other nations. Europeans are big on sidewalk cafes, a feature enjoying burgeoning popularity in many U.S. cities. Europeans also are big on foot traffic having priority, followed by mass transit (including taxis).

Personally-owned cars are so far down on the list that in some cities cars are parked too tightly at the curb to even get one out. (They either have really strong bumpers, or an owner brings a few friends to help lift the vehicle out of its space when it’s time to go “on holiday.”)

In Paris, the metro came by every few minutes, and I counted seven levels of track below ground. Parisians have been building that system a long time – but we are close in some places. New York City has an intricate subway system, and the Metro system into and around Washington, D.C. is actually a pleasure to ride.

The Paris metro does not eliminate all highway vehicular travel. Passenger trains provide widespread commuter support, but often sparsely spaced during even normal work days. For a trip into the country to visit Monet’s home and gardens, we rode a chartered bus.

It’s easy to understand our reluctance to adopt any policy that seems to limit our independence. Europe – the whole of it – is only slightly larger than the entire U.S. We weigh in at 3,537,436 square miles, including Alaska and Hawaii. Europe puts all its member countries together to come up with  3,837,081 square miles.

We have a lot of open space, and a nationally-geneticized desire to travel anywhere across it whenever we want. And many of our cities have been built to take advantage of all that space, including wide avenues intended for vehicular travel, whether horse or gasoline powered.

Europe, on the other hand, is well-populated with medieval cities, characterized by pathways between houses that only allow one travel lane for a horse or people-drawn cart – because when the city was built, human and horse-drawn carts were how goods were moved.

Some people object to anything European, and I don’t understand that. It seems to me a good idea is a good idea, even if someone else did have it first.

We complain mightily about $4-a-gallon gasoline. Europeans live with taxes that drive the cost of “petrol” to at least triple that amount.

In London, drivers pay a tax based on engine size to drive into the city.

In Gettysburg, Pa. borough leaders fear the loss of parking fees.

But those “European-style” features to which some of our population strongly object have benefits that outweigh them, at much less cost than the millions spent on the traffic lights recently added to Gettysburg’s complement. A few signs letting drivers know where to drive could be installed cheaply and cost virtually nothing to maintain.

The air would be cleaner, instead of so realistically portraying the 19th Century battlefield while 21st century vehicles pause at the 1.6-square-mile borough’s 15 stoplights and innumerable four-way-stop intersection.

Pedestrians could walk among the shops without worrying about parking meters that will run out on the parking space they spent so long in traffic to find. They can spend their time painlessly exercising, admiring the renovations on which so many tax and private dollars have been spent. They can sit at sidewalk cafés, without being run over by passing foot and vehicular traffic.

Compound the benefits in larger towns, such as Philadelphia, Pa., Hagerstown, Md., or Columbus, Ohio.

I guess I do understand the objections, but the benefits far outweigh them.

Photo by Aires dos Santos
This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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