Instead of Increasing Automobile Traffic on East Third Street, We Should Eliminate It

Al Poplawsky, University of Idaho Research Specialist

"For a long time, conventional wisdom held that the needs of people were one and the same with the needs of cars," writes Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City. "But that was never true. And today, more city leaders are recognizing that when the interests of cars and people diverge, people should come first. That shouldn't be a revolutionary concept, but sometimes the biggest changes revolve around the simplest ideas."

All over the world, cities are returning space previously occupied by the automobile to the people. In 2009, the Bloomberg administration returned to the people several sections of Broadway Boulevard which were adjacent to Times Square and other Squares. Vehicular traffic was re-routed around these new pedestrian sections, and traffic times through Times Square actually improved by seven percent. Prior to this change, 89 percent of the area in Times Square was dedicated to vehicular traffic, even though 82 percent of the people passing through the Square did so on foot. If you have been to New York City recently, you have probably experienced this unqualified success.

In Paris, part of the left bank of the Seine was converted to a car-free pedestrian zone in 2013. I remember marveling at this while there a few years ago.

In Madrid, Spain, there is a slowly expanding car-free zone which is to become a car-free city center by 2020. Barcelona now has "superblocks" which are aggregations of city blocks with no through traffic, where intersections and streets are now the domain of pedestrians and cyclists.

Here in Moscow, it seems that we might be going in the wrong direction.

With the city planning to make Third Street a through-automobile route to Mountain View Road, a large increase in automobile traffic will result – especially with the new development that just popped up several weeks ago across Mountain View Road east of Third Street.

Third Street east of Main Street is the arterial essential to connecting critical parts of the heart of Moscow – starting at Friendship Square on Fourth Street, along Main Street for a block, continuing on Third Street past the 1912 Center and Moscow High School, and ending at East City Park.

Friendship Square is the center of major events in town including the Farmers Market, parades and other public gatherings, such as demonstrations and rallies. Moscow High School is, of course, the focus of tremendous youth activity, and the 1912 Center has become a preferred venue for everything from senior meals to weddings. Finally, East City Park is the crown jewel of our parks and the site of several festivals and fairs essential to the arts and character of our fair city. The Third Street route between Friendship Square and East City Park is commonly traveled by crowds of people on foot during rallies, parades, demonstrations and other public gatherings.

The section from Van Buren Street to Hayes should be converted to a People’s Boulevard – a dedicated space for people to hang out in and travel by foot, bicycle or other non-motorized means. Almost all of the residences in this section have vehicular access from side streets and alleys; thus, there would be little impact to the residents in the area.

We could try it on a trial basis – perhaps for a week or two.

 “Crazy,” you say?

That's what they said before the New York City experiment turned into something everyone loves.

Moscow really is a special place, but to stay that way we need to keep doing special things.

Al Poplawsky is active in the Paradise Ridge Defense Coalition

Originally published in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News as “His View: Let’s make Third Street the people’s boulevard” on Friday, October 13, 2017.