Updated: May 25, 2020
Think about some of the most magical urban places that you've visited in your life. Maybe it's a lovely town square in Milan, or a promenade in Buenos Aires, or perhaps it is a small town here in America. What do all of these have in common? Most likely it was a lack of cars, trucks, and buses.
There were 6,227 pedestrians killed in accidents in the United States in 2018, the latest year available, the highest since 1990 and a 4% increase from 2017. The cause of these deaths is being attributed to the proliferation of smart phones and the distractions they cause, more SUVs on the road, a rise in night-time accidents, more people choosing to walk to work, and an aging population.
I'm one of those people who now walks to work most days (in inclement weather I take the bus) and I don't want to become a statistic to some driver who is late to work and not paying attention to their surroundings. Nearly every day I walk to work from Lark Street to Broadway in downtown Albany involves a tense interaction with someone who runs a red light or a driver not yielding to me in a crosswalk that I have the right of way in. Drivers, please pay attention to your surroundings and to those readers from the suburbs: there are more pedestrians down here than you're used to, so please take care and see us.
On that note, I would love to see Lark Street between Washington and Madison Avenues pedestrian only on Friday and Saturdays nights from 7pm to 2am, during the spring, summer, and fall. Imagine being able to enjoy a meal at any one of the restaurants on Lark outside as pedestrians walk freely between the sidewalk and the street. Think about the economic boon that Lark businesses would see. Some of the most festive days of the year on Lark are when there are no cars on the street: LarkFest, Santa Speedo Sprint, Pride, and Art on Lark.
Lark Street's businesses and residents have experience with closing the street down to vehicle traffic for these special events, so why not have a special event every Friday and Saturday evening during the nice weather.
Obviously there are concerns about adverse affects, from emergency vehicles to resident access to CDTA diverting a couple of routes. Perhaps the street could still be open to buses and emergency vehicles during these hours? Lark is a state road and the only two-way access between Washington Park and Eagle Street, so most likely during these pedestrian only hours, the vehicle traffic that would travel Lark would divert to Washington Park, but these hours are outside of rush hour and see less traffic in general so the impact may not be that severe. Let's give a trial run and see what happens.
Other larger cities have been experimenting with car-free boulevards, from San Francisco to New York City and Albany could do the same to be on the cutting edge of urban experiments.
Albany has had experience with this in the past, we did pedestrian only on Pearl Street on weekend evenings in the 2000s in order to promote an 'entertainment district' that never really materialized. I would say that Lark is better positioned to be Albany's Entertainment District because we have what Pearl didn't back then: a large residential population. So why not give it a try?
As the Lark Street study wraps up and we start thinking about bold visions for improving our community, we should think about what we can do to improve the lives of the people who live in our neighborhood, a neighborhood where many people don't own cars. And what an improvement a car-free Lark, if for just a few hours a week, would be!
Church Street in Burlington, VT a car-free pedestrian shopping mall that allows cross traffic at several intersections. The mall was built in 1980.