By Josh Niesse from Underground Books
As a downtown business owner and homeowner living just blocks from Adamson Square, I’d like to express my enthusiastic support for the current proposal the City of Carrollton is considering for managing traffic and encouraging vibrant pedestrianism. For any that may have missed the news, a group of urban planning experts specializing in downtowns spent last week meeting with business owners, city officials, and residents to discuss what we think is working well, and what things need improvements. After collecting input from various downtown stakeholders, the proposal they revealed on Friday included replacing the traffic lights in the square with a roundabout, while eliminating all parking from the square except for some handicap spaces, loading and unloading zones, and emergency right-of-ways.
Before proceeding, it’s important to note that all of this is in the planning and exploration stage – none of these ideas are in stone yet, we are simply exploring as a community how to manage the future and growth of our downtown district and city in general. We may feel disempowered in so many ways about the larger national political dramas unfolding, but this is an issue where our voice can have a real impact. Let’s talk about it.
The goal of the proposed plan is to accentuate downtown Carrollton as a unique destination, rather than an intersection people use to cut-across town, which just happens to have restaurants and shops. The plan builds on successful city planning projects such as the greenbelt and the AMP. These projects increase our quality of life and make our community even more attractive places for new investment. Turning the already limited parking and confusing/dangerous traffic patterns on the square into a vibrant public plaza, with slow-moving and reduced traffic will foster a renaissance for downtown businesses. Celebrating what is unique and wonderful about our downtown, it’s “placeness” if you will, is a sure win.
There are two main arguments I’ve heard people express for why they don’t like the proposal: lack of parking and simple dislike of round-a-bouts. Let’s address these one at a time.
1. First let’s talk about parking. It’s important to keep in mind what makes our downtown special, and that is our ability to walk around a cozy public space that feels like an outdoor room while we browse shops, restaurants, cafes, etc. I’ve never once heard anyone say “Let’s go to Douglasville, they have great parking!” Parking isn’t what creates a unique sense of place to attract people. Now that said, there is no question that planning for adequate parking for the downtown’s future is essential. The 14 parking spaces in each quadrant of the square can be offset with more efficient use of existing parking areas and by making use of the parking garages more attractive with better lighting and paths connecting to the square. For every grouchy customer we might lose because they can’t park right on the square we’ll gain 2 or 3 who are willing to use alternate parking because our downtown is such an amazing, pleasant place to spend their time and money. Assistant City Manager Tim Grizzard assured attendees to last week’s meetings that the city will be giving serious attention to addressing parking issues as a part of this plan. Additionally, the plan’s flat plaza design will also make the square area much more accessible for the elderly and those with disabilities.
2. The second argument I’m hearing is simply a knee-jerk dislike of roundabouts. While they may take some adjustment for drivers who are not used to them, the facts and statistics about their safety don’t lie. The other part here is that people are imagining round-a-bout similar to the one on highway 16 near the jail in Carrollton, which is a higher speed round-a-bout, and would not be an especially pedestrian friendly version. What people don’t understand is that this plan is recommending changes to the downtown roads that will slow traffic down dramatically. If cars are only moving 5-10mph through the round-a-bout, and the square is designed to give pedestrians the right-of-way, it will be much safer than our current model. The downtown will feel like it belongs to people, not cars, and the entire atmosphere will shift.
In summary, I believe the current proposal is visionary and in keeping with the downtown planning trajectory already established with the AMP and Greenbelt projects. Carrollton city planners are doing an outstanding job and I would like to see debate about this project shift to the best ways to implement it, rather than short-sighted reactions against round-a-bouts, or hyperbolic predictions that losing a few parking spaces in the square will cause shops to go out of business.
So far, opponents of the plan have been encouraging people to contact the city with their opinions. I suspect due to this, city officials have mostly been getting negative feedback about their plan, often from people who don’t fully understand the options being explored. If you support Carrollton’s move to make the downtown more vibrant and people-centered rather than car-centered, please call them at 770-830-2000 and let them know.