Mall Crossings: problems caused by ‘design limbo’

The Pearl Street Mall is Boulder, Colorado.

In the debate about the mall vehicle crossings, I see a lot of people taking about the fact that other pedestrian malls across the country have vehicle crossings, like Peal Street in Boulder, Colorado or Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace, as if they were the same as ours….but its worth mentioning that these and other remaining pedestrian malls across the country are designed in a fundamentally different way that our DTM.

All of them were actually built on side/cross streets that traverse main thoroughfares. The Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont, for example, traverses five main thoroughfares, all with two-way traffic. The Pearl Street Mall is Boulder, Colorado traverses several streets, including Broadway, a four-lane road [picture in this post], and the Lincoln Road Mall in Miami traverses a major avenue. As pedestrians approach these intersections its clear the streets dominate the space. They are interruptions in the pedestrian space.

Our DTM is just the opposite. It was not designed to accommodate complete cross streets. It was built on a main thoroughfare [East Main] that traverses several short side streets, and is flanked by two main thoroughfares. The side streets were basically designed as gateways to the mall, stopping short of appearing to cross the pedestrian space [at one time 7th street served as a way to loop around the mall but that way removed to make way fro the pavilion and transit center]. The pedestrian spaces on the DTM are interruptions in the street space.

Indeed, people use the DTM crossings more as “cut-throughs” between Market and Water streets, and must navigate a crossing as pedestrians typically meander in front of them. And they typically aren’t passing through on their way to somewhere else; they are either arriving at or leaving the DTM, as a mall crossing survey the city conducted confirmed. That’s a completely different dynamic than other pedestrian malls, in which cross streets and main thoroughfares that traverse the pedestrian space have been built into the environment, and are used by many people who may be simply passing through on their way to somewhere else…providing exposure for the pedestrian space. Again, our DTM is completely different. Water and Market Streets are the main thoroughfares, and the idea has always been that these main thoroughfares should serve to draw attention to the DTM, not the crossings. Indeed, a 2005 design study commissioned by the City placed no great importance on crossing streets as a way to help the mall thrive, and instead recommended that the pedestrian mall’s recognizable design features extend down all the side streets to the edge of Water and Market Streets so that the DTM would be immediately recognizable to those traveling down Water and Market Streets. Attempts were made to do this on 3rd Street NE, 2nd Street SE, 1st Street S, and both sides of 5th street, but the 7 remaining side street “gateways” to the mall still offer no clear visible cue to passing traffic that a pedestrian mall is nearby.

Again, unlike every other pedestrian mall I’ve looked at, the pedestrian space on the DTM interrupts the street space. And, really, anyone who has ever crossed the mall in a vehicle understands this. You stop, then nose out carefully across the mall, because many of the people in front of you don’t even seem to be paying attention to any crossing traffic. You are entering the “Pedestrian Zone”….dee-dee, da-da, dee-dee, da-da….

Basically, the mall crossings are in a kind of design limbo.

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David McNair View All →

DTM is maintained by Charlottesville journalist David McNair. Got a news item or new listing? Contact me at dsmcnair@gmail.com.

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