A lot of people, including me, love successful pedestrian malls. Those of us who like them tend to throw the idea around from time to time as well. But as appealing as they may seem, pedestrian malls don’t always work as planned.
Case in point: Denver.
According to The New York Times, Denver’s 16th Street Mall is a bustling, lively place during the day. Then the sun goes down and things change. Dramatically:
At night, though, the streets can feel eerie and empty, as if the bustling daytime party has departed for restaurants and cafes in areas like Larimer Square or the newly renovated loft neighborhoods along the South Platte River. Fights break out, and people are sometimes stabbed or shot. In May, the City Council banned camping along the mall to scatter the homeless people who sleep there.
I’m unaware of any recent murders in downtown Provo (and I would know), but the problem of vacant streets and too-few visitors is similar.
It’s also important to remember that Denver has a larger population and more density than Provo, meaning it has greater potential to fill a pedestrian mall.
And yet it doesn’t fill up, or at least not all the time.
So what can we do to increase foot traffic and cultivate a more pleasant downtown?
The details of possible solutions will have to be the subject of future posts, but generally we should be considering multi-modal streets, or spaces where different kinds of transit — cars, bikes, pedestrians — can co-exist. That’s more or less the argument I made back in July, but the Denver example helps emphasize the dangers of an all or nothing approach.