On October 6, 2002 a child was struck crossing North Market Street at the Public Square; we can all be thankful that this youngster was not injured worse than what he was. This trajedy could have been much, much worse. And while there is plenty of speculation as to why this occurred or who is to blame, there are very few people that are surprised something like this happened. To many, this was simply a matter of time. There are people who don't feel safe walking downtown and this episode does not help with those perceptions. If people don't feel safe going to and walking downtown, they are going to stay away, no matter how many great events, beautiful buildings or quaint shops our downtown has.
And no one can argue with the fact that we need a better solution. We can all cite traffic speeds, poor design, pedestrian inattention and a whole laundry list of issues, but none of them get to the nub of what the problem really is -- the crosswalks at the square aren't really well designed. One of the issues I have personally encountered is that when I drive to the square, if there is a group of people congregating near the crosswalk, it's not clear whether they want to cross the street or if they are just standing there socializing; there is not a ton of space between the front door of a shop near the crosswalks and the crosswalks themselves.
Every intervention that our community has tried to improve the situation has come up woefully short. Signage improvements aren't solving the problem. Concrete planters in the middle of the street seem to cause more confusion than they solve. Solutions seem even more elusive. If we try to install stoplights at the crosswalks, there is a real concern that traffic congestion will get worse. What sense does it make to have traffic stop at the crosswalk, only to stop thirty more feet to yield into the square?
So, what can we do? Well let's think about it a little bit. What would it look like if we just eliminated the crosswalks at the square and encourage folks to cross at Water, Franklin, Cherry and Walnut Streets? Of course, we would have to reinstall the traffic light at Cherry Street and West Main Street, but I am sure that could be accomplished. What if we arranged the downtown seating in such a way to block off the crosswalks to make a larger and more inviting environment for those shops near the crosswalks? What if we encouraged folks to walk in front of more downtown businesses? Increasing foot traffic further away from the square and down one block each direction away from the square will undoubtedly have a positive economic impact for downtown businesses, it would decrease the number of conflict points between a pedestrian and a vehicle and it will make our public spaces in front of stores on the square more inviting. All of which will create a safer environment for pedestrians and vehicles alike!
Will this idea work? Maybe, maybe not. But, one of the great things growing up in Troy was that if this community saw a problem it took action and it fixed it. And while we looked at these problems, we brought citizens along in the process of discussing and solving these problems. Twenty years ago, the traffic flow on the public square was basically opposite than what it was today. Instead of yielding to get into the circle, you drove into the circle and yielded to traffic coming into it. It was a mess.
At the time, groups like Troy Main Street helped lead the change that occurred downtown. In the end, common sense and strong community-based leadership helped solve the problem and the number of accidents and fender benders in the square dropped like a rock.
We can do better. The answer starts with new ideas and conversations with our residents. Our future depends on actually listening and working with community based groups to talk about collective future and to create Troy to be a great hometown for future generations.
UPDATE (November 2, 2022):
On October 31, 2002, City Council met in Workshop Session and heard a presentation from the City Engineer and KZF Designs to have the first discussion on downtown streetscape/sidewalk improvements.
The current streetscapes in the downtown core are at least 20 years old and were installed under the leadership of former Mayor Peter Jenkins. Many of the brick pavers can not be replaced with like pavers and are nearing the end of their useful life.
KZF Designs provided proposals to improve and enhance safety in the Public Square including curb bumpouts and raised/elevanted traffic islands. Both of which would provide a better and safer alternative to what is currently on offer downtown.
This project is in the very beginning stages and would not commence until 2024 at the very earliest and would begin once the West Main Street reconstruction project is complete.