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Feb 02

College Place Redux

Comments (1) 12:00 PM posted by admin |


The saga of College Place is about take center stage again. If you recall, there were negotiations between the former Mayor of Ypsilanti and President John Fallon of Eastern Michigan University to close College Place and turn it into a pedestrian mall. It came before Council at the last meeting (November 8th) before the new Council was seated. After much public outcry from both residents and students, it was tabled.

There was a special working session this past Tuesday night where, among other things, the topic of the Cross Street Neighborhood Improvement Plan was discussed. While we aren’t scheduled to vote on the matter until the status of the grants come back from the State, the wheels are already in motion to jam this through.

CoPAC, Ypsilanti’s Community Policing Action Council, is looking to the neighborhood associations for input so they can write a letter of support for the project at their February 6th meeting. This is interesting as it comes on the heels of some neighborhoods endorsing the extention of Mr. Pizza’s hours of operation to 3AM at January’s Planning Commission meeting.

One email from an elected official that floated my way warned a neighborhood association:

Just as neighborhood associations do not endorse political candidates, I suggest you not get involved in zoning or other kinds of local endorsements…Do your bylaws speak to endorsements?

To be honest, I don’t care if neighborhood associations endorse political candidates or zoning changes or the vacation of alleys. The Historic East Side Neighborhood Association stays away from political issues. We see ourselves more as a group that tries to promote the best interests of the residents, but other organizations are free to operate as they see fit.

Said another way, having CoPAC endorse or oppose the vacation of College Place is fine with me. What I do find a little surprising is they are weighing in having so little information on the matter. There are still questions Council needs to have answered. Why are CoPAC and the neighborhood associations rushing to judgement?

As I often like to do, I’d like to take the time and give you my opinion on the matter. When I was elected I said I would take the attitude that I would rely on the experts and make my decisions based on the information they provided me. I think I’ve used a fair amount of expert information to make the following claims.

Kalamazoo and world-famous architect Victor Gruen is credited with building the first outdoor pedestrian mall in 1959. It was supposed to be the dawning of a new era in urban planning. Throughout the 60s and 70s, the idea was copied so much that Kalamazoo soon starting calling themselves “Mall City” in all of their promotional literature. By the 1980s, however, Kalamazoo’s pedestrian mall was considered a failure as is didn’t deliver on the promises of increased night-time activity and boosting local businesses. It was finally modified to allow auto traffic again in October of 1998.

Greeley, Colorado spent $2.6M to tear out their pedestrian mall. Eugene, Oregon spent $2.4M to remove theirs. In the past ten years, Pedestrian malls have also failed in cities such as:

  • Allentown, West Chester, and Philadelphia, PA
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Battle Creek, MI
  • Chicago, Danville, Decatur, Elgin, and Oak Park, IL
  • Galveston and Waco, TX
  • Greenville, NC
  • Greenville, SC
  • Helena, MT
  • Little Rock, AK
  • Louisville, KY
  • Tampa, FL
  • Tulsa, OK
  • Vicksburg, MS

Most would consider pedestrian malls to be failures. At their peak, there were nearly 200 throughout the United States. Today, there are less than 30. This would beg the question, “Why would a pedestrian mall in Ypsilanti be successful?”

I asked that very question at Tuesday’s working session and Terri Blackmore from the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study wasn’t able to provide an answer.

The business owners on West Cross are very sensitive to on-street parking. The closure of College Place would cause the loss of parking there. Because Perrin would have to be switched to two-way traffic, there would also be a loss of parking on that street as well. While it’s true that people could use the Pease lot, they can already use it today.

The Downtown businesses are excited to gain the 100 or so spots in the EMU / City / AATA lot, but we shouldn’t be improving one part of the City at a cost to another part.

People will point to Boulder’s Pearl Street as an example of a successful pedestrian mall, but a pedestrian mall at College Place isn’t even remotely similar. Pearl Street is a shopping district with businesses along it. There won’t be any businesses in the proposed mall at College Place. It will be a park that will further insulate the University from the City at a time when we need each other the most.

I could go on and on about why this is a bad idea for the City and the University. I’m sure I’ll get a lot chances in the next couple of weeks.

1 Comment »

  1. Comment by Joe
    February 4, 2007 @ 1:55 pm


    One email from an elected official that floated my way warned a neighborhood association:

    “Just as neighborhood associations do not endorse political candidates, I suggest you not get
    involved in zoning or other kinds of local endorsements…Do your bylaws speak to endorsements?
    ”

    Now that’s what we need more of – elected officials telling citizen groups exactly what they are doing wrong. The last thing an elected official would want is an opinion from citizens…

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