Gaines Street, TallahasseePosted: August 28, 2008
Good intentions lead to incomprehensible consequences.
This is about some strange developments concerning the efforts to redevelop and revitalize the Gaines Street corridor in Tallahassee. Plenty of good intentions accompany the desire to improve this currently somewhat derelict area, that serves as the entryway for almost everybody coming to Tallahassee from the airport: Not only to get some more attractive buildings there, but a pedestrian-friendly environment. To achieve this, is is proposed to narrow the current four-lane Gaines street down to two lanes to slow traffic, introduce on-street parking, wider sidewalks, and pleasant street furniture. All in hopes that this will attract developments to replace the current industrial buildings with appealing commercial and residential projects.
The efforts have had some result: the Marriott Residence Hotel at the corner of Gaines and Railroad Ave. But this cannot be seen as a real improvement: the architecturally well-intentioned facade (small-grain, multi-colored, while not otherwise inspiring) does not offer any reason for any pedestrian (who is not a resident) to stroll along it — there’s nothing to see, nothing to buy, look at, hear, smell. The basic rule of attracting pedestrians: give them a good reason, even excuse, to go there, not only once a year or month, but every day — has not been understood. Since owners of the developments the city would like to attract — even ‘arti’ communities, such as the proposed artist studio/residence project — cannot be expected to honor this rule over the necessity to worry about getting a suitable ROI on every square foot of their property, it would seem that it must be encouraged by the city. Perhaps by an ordnance suggesting that sidewalk level floor are should be used by activities that would attract a minimum visitor frequency. In return for incentives such as higher density or tax credits. Which in turn suggests small-grain establishments. This is difficult ti achieve in new projects, but it can be done with such ideas as a ‘CartMart’ of mobile vendoirs selling daytime-specific wares for part of the day, then move away to make room for other vendors.
In the absence of any decisive moves on the part of the city in this direction, there is reason to fear that future developments will do no any better than the Marriott place.
But it gets worse. The traffic planners now rightly worry about the obvious question: where will the traffic go that the narrowing / slowing of Gaines will inevitably displace? Ahh — it will require a new road — say, the extension of FAMU Way across Railroad Avenue – Wahnish Way to eventually reconnect with Lake Bradford Road. So they have laboriously prepared three variants of routing this new road, each of which will cost considerable money. Never mind whether this new road now will become the new entrance artery for traffic from the airport, and be the attractive entranceway that Gaines was supposed to be. What: build a fancy entryway to the city but then divert traffic away from it ? So we must keep the airport traffic on Gaines? And hope that the aggravation resulting from the slowdown will be balanced with the view of fancy new buildings and wide (but empty) sidewalks? Or what will have to be done to make the new road the appealing entry to Tallahassee?
Here is a different suggestion.
Keep the traffic on Gaines, forget the new road. Instead, use the money to build one or a few pedestrian bridges — using the slope on both sides of the roads there — across Gaines and the railroad. This will possibly make for an appealing arched gate on Gaines as the entrance to the city. Encourage the development of pedestrian zones perpendicularly across Gaines — activating pathways from FSU, the Civic Center, the All Saints neighborhood, to FAMU, Railroad Square, the neighborhood to the South, and the planned Park east of Lake Bradford road. Doing so can help kickstart the development of a second level of pedestrian / commercial use — that will be entered at the higher ground levels on both sides, to safely cross the traffic below .
Any pedestrian areas on Gaines itself, connecting to those North-South pedestrian corridors , should be done as covered arcades on the ground floor of the buildings, not as wide exposed sidewalks. Access to parking from Gaines should be done with appropriate slow-down lanes at a few entries to organized parking between these pedestrian paths.
While I obviously have not done any calculations of costs and revenue figures for this, I suggest that the money saved by not building the new road would be put to much more productive use with a solution such as this strategy.