Main Street Worcester Should Be Pedestrian Only
If you have ever driven through Worcester, MA, you have probably experienced many frustrations. Roads seem to twist and wind in every direction, traffic lights change colors seemingly based on their moods and pedestrians largely ignore crosswalks and walk signals. It can be really challenging to get between any two parts of the city, particularly if you are traveling from West - East as highways tend to serve North - South traffic. Sure, the city is old and has made plenty of mistakes over time, but it could do one thing to help improve the current situation: take cars off Main Street!
Okay so fine, not all of Main Street, just the portion that runs between Highland Street and The Hanover Theater. This ten block area really represents the downtown portion of the city that is shown in the first picture at the top of the page. While this may seem just like a whimsical idea, I feel that I can present a solid case for why this is a good idea.
Main Street Is Inconvenient For Cars
If you are a car, you probably have no desire to drive along Main Street anyways. The main reason for this is that Main Street tends to have one lane of traffic in each direction, at least in the area that I have flagged for closure. Making you way down this narrow street brings you just about nowhere in either direction; it does not connect well to highways or other routes for getting through the city. Just one block to the East, Major Taylor Boulevard is a higher capacity street that readily brings traffic to I-290 and Route 146. If you are trying to get on the highway, you would normally be directed this way. West of Main Street is a primarily residential area where residents can either walk to work downtown or will likely take the highway out of the city. The North end of the street is meaningless; you have to navigate a six-way intersection to enter the street and sometimes when you try to turn off Main Street you are forced to make a U-Turn. To the South of The Hanover Theater the neighborhood deteriorates a bit and you are no longer in downtown.
Main Street Is The Heart of Downtown
Most areas in Worcester really could not support pedestrian friendly development because they are not dense enough. But Main Street actually has more than a handful of mid to high rise residential and office buildings. There is enough of a critical mass of people and businesses here that it would be feasible to be within walking distance of most everyday needs. I'm not trying to say that you could be fully car independent here as you could be in Boston, but you could free yourself from needing it to get everywhere. If only pedestrians were allowed to walk on the street, they would be more likely to actually do so without having to fear getting run down by a vehicles that notoriously run red lights!
Walkable pedestrian friendly zones tend to increase property values and encourage new businesses to move in. Worcester is in the midst of trying to recreate it's image and attract new commercial and residential tenants downtown. It's CitySquare project is trying to build mixed-use development just off of Main Street. Bringing pedestrians to the area is a great way to increase the likelihood of the success of this project.
If Worcester wants to really become the world-class city that it aspires to be, it should adopt some forward thinking measures such as creating pedestrian only zones downtown.