Friday, July 25, 2008

Main Street Mall For All?

Even if vehicular traffic doesn't return to the Main Street Mall, Center City Commission president Jeff Sanford says the controversial idea might result in some improvements to the mall.

"We've been saying for several years that the maintenance on the mall has been lacking. In fact, we determined that the metal infrastructure hasn't been painted in 15 years ... and the trolleys are 15 years old," Sanford says.

The Center City Commission (CCC) held a meeting earlier this week to solicit public input for its controversial idea of returning vehicular traffic to the north end of Main Street. CCC staff members are expected to present a recommendation to the CCC's traffic and transportation committee in mid-August. That committee will then take a recommendation to the CCC's main board.

Main Street Now

But even then, nothing would be a done deal.

"If the CCC board agrees that any kind of change on Main Street would be good for downtown, they would communicate that to the city," says CCC president Jeff Sanford. "It's the city of Memphis that has the authority to make any and all decisions about the public right-of-way."

In addition to the public meeting, the CCC has met with representatives from the fire department, the police department, MATA, and the city engineer's office to discuss the idea. The CCC also held a separate meeting with Main Street property owners.

"We've had three highly respected consultants in Memphis recently, all of of whom, independent of one another, suggested that we should consider putting cars back on Main Street," Sanford says. "However, the public's opinion, the local opinion, is just as important to this discussion as is the consultants opinions and the experience of other cities."

One of the consultant's, Jeff Speck, said he thought it would only cost about $50,000 to remove a few curbs and add a few teaser parking spaces, but that the lane sizes were just right to control the speed of vehicular traffic.

"We don't drive the speed marked. We drive the speed we feel safe," Speck said. "If you're a teenage boy, you drive the speed you feel dangerous."

There were once about 200 downtown, outdoor malls in America, but there are now fewer than 30.

Main Street 1906

"In the end, I think the ultimate question we will try to answer is, if we knew then what we know now, would we have designed and constructed this mall in the same way? Not wanting to leap ahead of the staff's opinion, I would say the answer is probably no," Sanford says. "But that definition of no could be a lot of things."

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