Whither Carson Street?

Vision of Carson St at Telegraph St (from Carson City Planning)

On Sunday, September 5, 2010, the Nevada Appeal ran an article entitled “Main Street makeover: Business owners divided over Carson Street plan.” The article laid out the general vision of what might happen to Carson Street now that some of the traffic has been diverted to the freeway and parallel streets have been or will be improved. It provided viewpoints pro from downtown business owners and con from other business owners and individuals. Some of the same con viewpoints were expressed at the last Carson City Board of Supervisors meeting.

I’d like to reply to the article, and to the opposition, with my thoughts.

The terms “narrowing” and “road diet” do not capture what Carson City transportation advocates would like to see on Carson Street. The term “complete streets” does. The National Complete Streets Coalition says:

“The streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities. They ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. But too many of our streets are designed only for speeding cars, or worse, creeping traffic jams.

Now, in communities across the country, a movement is growing to complete the streets. States, cities and towns are asking their planners and engineers to build road networks that are safer, more livable, and welcoming to everyone.”

Several people in the article, and in other public forums, have claimed that Carson Street is just fine the way it is, and that any reduction in lanes would cut off their ability to travel through town. That is exactly the heart of their argument – they want to travel through town. They don’t want to stop at the local businesses in downtown that have made a commitment to the economic and social health of the town, they want to dash from the large businesses at one end of town to the same sort of businesses on the far end of town. Many of these people live out at the edges of town, and feel upset that we might slow their rush to and from the places they want to go. Some people are still miffed that those who participated in the Envision Carson City design charette and other planning processes favored changes to Carson Street. I find it difficult to understand and impossible to support their view.

Carson Street is unfriendly to pedestrians and hostile to bicyclists. Public transit can’t use the main street of our town because buses cannot safely stop in nor pull out of the traffic. For kids, Carson Street is like a wall that they don’t like to cross and their parents often won’t let them cross. Instead of being a street that knits together Carson City, it is a wound that tears it apart. It doesn’t have to be that way, we can heal Carson Street by making it into a complete street. A complete Carson Street might well have fewer motor vehicle lanes so that other uses such as walking, bicycling, public transit, and parking an be included. I don’t want to exclude cars from downtown, but I do want to end that time when motor vehicles were given precedence over all other modes of transportation.

I want a healthy downtown Carson City, in part because without a healthy downtown, Carson City as a whole cannot be healthy. I mean economic health, I mean physical health, I mean a real community. We have allowed Carson City to spread out, to separate home from work from commerce, and have built a place that works well for cars but not for people. Now that the economy has slowed, I think we can really see the folly of that sprawl. We have become very car-dependent, but cars are letting us down.

Downtown Carson City is a place where we can begin to work out a different model of what a community looks and feels like. I think that making Carson Street into a complete street will be a major step towards that goal. I’m not sure exactly what Carson Street will end up looking like. That is the purpose of the studies, to refine our vision of what it could be so that people can grasp directly how it benefits them and their town.

Please join Muscle Powered and others to make Carson Street a complete street! If we don’t speak up for complete streets, the “cars before everything” crowd, which is small but vocal, will stop the healing of Carson Street in its tracks.

Benefits of Complete Streets is available on the Muscle Powered blog, and many more resources are available on theThe National Complete Streets Coalition website. Once Bicycle Friendly Community status has been achieved for Carson City, it is quite possible that a complete streets policy will be our next priority.

I will try over the next month to amplify some of the design elements that are being considered for Carson Street. If you have traveled widely to cities which are addressing livability, you will have seen some or many of these elements, but we have few examples locally.

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