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Thread: Failure of Auto Free Zones (pedestrian malls)

  1. #1
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
    May 2003
    City of Low Low Wages!

    Failure of Auto Free Zones (pedestrian malls)

    I'm asking this in the FAQ because I know there was a discussion of this but I can't find it now. Specifically, someone mentioned a town in Germany who had a AFZ failure (five roads leading in to the square, first two were successful, after the third closed, the downtown started to decline).

    Does anyone know what happened to that discussion?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
    May 2003
    Northwestern Ohio
    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    I'm asking this in the FAQ because I know there was a discussion of this but I can't find it now. Specifically, someone mentioned a town in Germany who had a AFZ failure (five roads leading in to the square, first two were successful, after the third closed, the downtown started to decline).

    Does anyone know what happened to that discussion?
    I don't know where the discussion thread is but I do remember the grand 1950's attempt in downtown Toledo to have pedestrian malls. They closed a main downtown street.

    It didn't work. Downtown Toledo was already "terminal", as some suburban shopping centers were just starting to crop-up. The pedestrian mall went away after a year or two.

    Bear At B.R. Bakers

  3. #3
    Mar 2004
    Toronto's Yonge Street was turned into a pedestrian mall (during the summers I believe, as who would want to venture out there in the winter?) during the 70's. The idea was welcomed with fanfare but never really took off. The project only lasted a few years. I'm guessing it had something to do with the content (i.e. shops and businesses) of the pedestrian mall rather than the environment itself. Since I wasn't born at the time I'm going by second-hand stories.

    Residents in the Kensington Market area though have advocated that their neighbourhood should be an auto free zone, saying that pedestrians should be free to wander the shops in the market without worrying about cars. However the shop owners are against it saying banning cars would make it difficult to make deliveries and keep the stores and shops stocked. Kinda like a catch-22. Keep cars out and you boost the number of patrons, however they will quickly run out of things to buy if the road remain closed.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian nuovorecord's avatar
    Dec 2003
    Portland, Oregon
    There's a school of thought that Auto Free Zones went too far in what they were trying to do...create a vibrant downtown or regional center. Eugene, Oregon opened their pedestrian mall to auto traffic again a couple of years ago, and it has appears to have perked up the area again after years of being in the doldrums.

    However, the idea seems to work in Australia. Here are some good images of best practices:


    I think that for America, the best we can do is to calm the traffic to the point where it does not pose a major threat to pedestrians. There are many good examples of this in Europe, as well as Canada. Granville Island in Vancouver is another example. This seems to be the best way to create a vibrant place.

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
    Mar 1996
    Upstate New York
    Blog entries
    From what I've seen, in the US auto free zones only work:

    1) in areas that have good weather,
    2) where residents tend to be "outdoorsy," and
    3) when it's only a small part of the CBD that's malled off.

    Some successful auto-free zones I've experienced firsthand are the 16th Street Mall in Denver, Pearl Street Mall in Boulder and Old Town Square in Fort Collins. Why are these malls successful? The weather there, although cold, is dry and sunny, and condusive to walking. The outdoorsy-oriented population of those areas would rather be under the open sky than the roof of a suburban mall. Denver's downtown is square-shaped, so closing off one long street doesn't have a major impact on the dynamics of downtown. The mall in Fort Collins is two blocks long, and it's a diagonal off the most prominent intersection downtown; it doesn't affect traffic, and the major traffic route downtown (College Avenue) isn't affected. Boulder is ... well, it's Boulder.

    Las Cruces, New Mexico has a long downtown pedestrian mall, and it's dead. Why didn't their mall work? It closed off the major street in the linear downtown, and it's several blocks long; the mall covers up most of what was the downtown shopping district. There was a canopy over the mall, intended to shade the bright New Mexico sun. Instead, it just plunged Main Street into darkness; the mall designers didn't realize that New Mexicans like sunshine.

    In the case of Buffalo, I think a short pedestrian mall along an east-west street would have been successful. Buffalo's downtown is linear, though, following Main Street; it's about two to three kilometers long north to south, but only one to three blocks wide. The mall shut off the major street in downtown, not only affecting its traffic patterns, but also the dynamics of the place. Besides, Buffalo is a cold-weather city, and its residents aren't outdoorsy or athletic - it doesn't have the elements that Boulder or Denver had that made their malls successful.

    All my opinion. Your mileage may vary.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  6. #6
    A lot of the success of a pedestrian street has to do with scale and density. They have to seem very very active to work. The longer and wider they are the harder it is to fill them up with people. toss in a few public plazas and adjoining parks and you have almost assured failure.

    Buffalo has all of these negetive elements. The pedestrian street is long and wide and is not consistently dense. It has several public plazas attached and one very wide street associated with a park crossing it.

    Thanfully there is very serious talk of removing it

  7. #7
    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
    Feb 2004
    Chicago, IL
    In alot of cities in England pedestrian malls are quite common and seem to be quite sucessful. The weather in England is not great, but then again its never too extreme. Even in January temperatures tend to be in the 40s. Of course a key element to their sucess is the lesser role that cars play as a transportation medium. Alot less space is deicated to parking as public transport plays a larger role in the overall transportation picture.

    Ithaca, NY has a sucessful ped mall "the Commons" but Ithaca, I would have to say, is not an average town. I think it could be compared to Boulder. Plus their is a significant college population there, which is going to have a low rate of car owbership, plus Ithaca is likely to draw tourists who may like to wander the commons more for recreation (shopping) but also for the novelty of a vibrant, downtown business district which of of course becoming increasingly rare in the U.S.

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