Harrison Avenue is a two block long thoroughfare running from east to west and connecting Main and Chestnut streets. Across Main Street it is called Boland Way in honor of the long-serving US congressman, and there is a small memorial to him on the southeast corner of the intersection. It is the key to generating critical mass between the commercial and retail center of the downtown and the cultural center of the downtown. Jeff Speck writes about “picking winners” in his book “The Walkable City” and both Main Street, with its new pedestrian friendly design, and the Quadrangle, with its nearly two decades old decision to exclude cars and prioritizing people, are certainly that. Connecting them could create economic returns far in excess of the cost of some small scale improvements.
Dwight Street is the worst pedestrian street in the downtown. For now, all we can realistically hope to do is create one or two places where it is no longer an obstacle to walkers. Harrison Avenue is one of two possible locations for a truly pedestrian friendly traversal of this otherwise barren streetscape.
*The street is wide enough to allow for almost any redesign option.
*It’s there. Without it only State Street would connect Main Street directly to the Quadrangle and Mattoon Street.
*While neither terminating vista is awe inspiring, both ends of Harrison do give closure to this “outdoor room”.
*Once a pedestrian leaves the pedestrian plazas on the east side of the intersection with Main Street the entire length of the avenue is made up of blank walls, parking garages, fences, and surface parking lots.
*The steep incline between Dwight and Chestnut streets is daunting.
*The key crossings of Dwight and Chestnut streets are almost devoid of pedestrian markings and are too wide, especially given that Dwight and Chestnut act here as one way urban highways, with Dwight Street especially encouraging speeds of up to 50 mph in terms of its breadth, the width of its lanes, the lack of tree cover, the cobra street lamps, and the abundance of surface parking. The Chestnut crossing only allows for pedestrian movement on the south side, which itself is intimidating to pedestrians because cars are not visible coming from the south due to a steep incline just beyond the intersection. Cars do not travel as fast on Chestnut Street as on Dwight because of the uneven terrain, narrower lanes, fewer lanes, greater tree cover, and relative absence of surface parking.
(The truly awful Dwight Street)
*Unlike much of the downtown, none of this stretch of sidewalk has any decorative elements.
What to Do?
*Widen and extend the median strip running from Main Street to Dwight Street all the way to Chestnut Street making it a pedestrian promenade for going east and west, and a mid point safe zone for going north and south. Amend the soil and expand the pits for the trees already in the median.
*Widen the sidewalks and add trees and benches, and decorative brick accents along the entire stretch of the avenue.
*Add a crosswalk on the north side of Chestnut Street at Harrison Avenue, and re-stripe and accentuate all of the crosswalks along this stretch.
(The more pedestrian friendly Chestnut Street)
*If a replacement “Civic Center” parking garage is built behind the TD Bank building make sure the design at least includes storefronts, windows, and doors along its Harrison Avenue length.
*Repurpose the brick elements of the fencing along the surface parking lot for “Museum Park” as pedestals for sculpture, giving walkers some encouragement as the near the entrance to the city’s greatest museums.
(Almost there…stay on target)