There continues to be a great deal of discussion about the proposal by some to eliminate travel lanes on Carson Street, ostensibly to improve pedestrian atmosphere and safety. Recently, the city removed the iron fencing that was along the curbs on several city blocks.
This fencing was erected to protect pedestrians at a time when all interstate traffic, especially truck traffic, on Highway 395 and Highway 50 moved through the downtown core. Some argue that the majority of that danger has been removed with the partial completion of I-580.
Apparently, this was the justification made by the majority of the Board of Supervisors in approving this change. I have heard from others who think the implied liability remains, as there has been no real mitigation of the proximity of vehicular traffic to pedestrians.
The Downtown 20/20 group believes that eliminating a lane of traffic in each direction and replacing it with on-street parking is the solution to this problem. Others, myself included, see that elimination of vehicular traffic flow downtown as a potential death knell to struggling retail businesses and, therefore, think the four lanes should be retained.
Widening sidewalks, without removing medians or eliminating traffic lanes, may be an acceptable alternative. Since the early 1990s, when it was finally realized that the I-580 freeway was going to be a reality, talk began about what could become of a post-freeway Carson Street. More than one director of the Nevada Department of Transportation testified before the Board of Supervisors on this topic. It was disclosed that each of the four travel lanes downtown was wider than the federal or local minimum standard, at some locations by several feet.
One example was an existing 14-foot lane that could be reduced to 11 feet, 6 inches. Taking just one lane in each direction and reducing it to the minimum standard width could provide an additional 2½ feet of sidewalk on each side of the street. Doing the same with all four lanes could add up to 5 feet.
The national Institute of Transportation Engineers documents that narrowing the width of lanes, adding bicycle lanes and other such tactics while maintaining the existing lanes of traffic naturally would slow driver speeds, and create a safer atmosphere for drivers and pedestrians.
Could this not be a more favorable solution for improving pedestrian safety and environment without impeding traffic and discouraging downtown visits? In addition, the schism created with the discussion among business owners could, hopefully, be averted. Of course, as with any public improvement, funding is the next crucial issue. Instead of all taxpayers paying the full tab, many communities have opted for sharing the cost with downtown property and business owners by taking a business-improvement district approach. This option should be included in the discussions.
Rob Joiner is a commercial real estate agent, economic development/redevelopment director of Carson City and a member of the American Planning Association, Institute of Certified Planners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.