Vol. IV No. 15 8/1/2023
A Walking Street
by Haas Regen
Stockbridge Updates: What if we were to create a pedestrian-only thoroughfare—aka Pedestrian Mall, Zone, or Plaza—on Main Street Stockbridge?
Let's consider the section between Pine and Elm Streets. Some may argue that a closure there would redirect and overburden the traffic on side streets such as Vine and Shamrock. But here's where we may need to be thinking bigger: what about the area beside the railroad tracks? Carole Owens wrote a compelling piece in the Berkshire Edge last month about the history of Stockbridge Train Station. If we can't bring a train back, shouldn't we at least use the space somehow—or research the possibilities? By minimizing or redirecting traffic from Main Street, we may also solve long-standing and controversial issues with the RLI intersection.
Austin Cassidy, an advocate for New Urbanism, asks an important question: "Can typical rural towns in America match the walkable and vibrant atmosphere similar to their European counterparts?" Many of the towns and villages he studies throughout Europe were built before the automobile. His captivating piece, "Rural Urbanist Towns: A Contradiction or the Future?" appeared on CNU.org (the Congress for New Urbanism) earlier this year.
In a 2021 article, "Lessons from the Rise and Fall of the Pedestrian Mall," Cornell professor Stephan Schmidt offers insight into today's pandemic-inspired street closures and where city officials may miss opportunities. Linda Poon, Feargus O'Sullivan, and Amy Yee do an admirable job looking at the bigger picture in their 2022 article, "The Cities Keeping Their Car-Free Spaces," with a "non-exhaustive list of the most transformative projects." Meanwhile, there is a fascinating Wikipedia page on the history of pedestrian malls in the United States.
Ann Arbor, Michigan's City Council voted to approve a resolution to partially or fully close one of their main streets in June. In a statement, they noted that such a plaza would serve as "a gathering space for special events such as concerts…and a space for bordering restaurants and retailers to serve and vend…it also would align with the city's transportation goals by creating a safe pedestrian space along a key downtown block and help facilitate a transition away from car-centric infrastructure toward a more sustainable, people-friendly design."
The RLI intersection feels more dangerous now than ever before, and, to my eyes and ears, truck traffic has increased significantly. We may have to take drastic measures to ensure that pedestrians remain safe.
Photo: Joan Gallos