Some say cockroaches will long outlive the human race.
And like the cockroach, the bug that refuses to die, some ideas tend to stick around for decades – even after they’ve seemingly been shot down for good.
An example: The idea of building a pedestrian-only mall on Durango’s Main Avenue has floated around for the last 40 years. It has never been officially proposed or executed, and though it has failed time after time, it keeps crawling up through the cracks. One city official said he hears someone suggest the idea once or twice a year.
In the 1970s, Colorado went through a phase of building pedestrian malls, although many failed. Durango was among the cities that visited the idea then, and it continued to do so, going so far as to have a full-fledged study done in 2002. Still, no pedestrian mall. Most business owners and city officials are reluctant to dramatically alter the heart of Durango for logistical reasons.
“There’s a reason why Main Avenue has remained the way it is,” said Greg Hoch, director of planning and community development for the city of Durango.
It’s been 12 years since the Durango Research Group revived the idea and surveyed several downtown businesses. The results showed that business owners are more than content with the daily traffic that cruises past their shops.
Most of the pedestrian malls failed, Hoch said, citing Greeley as an example. Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, opened in 1977, and Denver’s 16th Street Mall, opened in 1982, continue to thrive.
Hoch said there are a handful of good reasons, three major, why the project is unlikely to happen in Durango:
Most property owners and business owners would not support the idea.
Off-street parking would be eliminated, and the city would have to build an adequate, nearby parking facility. If that were to happen, the ideal spot would be the Durango Transit Center, he said, but the city does not have the revenue for such a project.
Traffic would have to be rerouted around the perimeter of the pedestrian mall. That would likely mean that East Third Avenue or East Second Avenue and Camino del Rio would become more congested. East Third Avenue residents, who already see downtown workers park by their houses, might not be happy if their street became a commercial roadway.
Plus, Durango has a very unique feature: a historic railroad in the heart of its downtown. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad disembarks with hundreds of passengers a day a good portion of the year.
The city has, however, made repairs and accommodations to make downtown appealing to pedestrians. Restaurants such as Seasons, Carver Brewing Co. and many coffee shops have asked permission to use the public sidewalk for outside dining.
An alternative idea
Amber Tracy, manager at Animas Trading Co., 1015 Main Ave., said the store has always been in favor of widening the sidewalks. It wouldn’t want to completely eliminate traffic, but having only two lanes running both ways would still allow a flow of traffic while giving pedestrians more room to wander.
Some business owners and hopefuls see positive benefits to a pedestrian mall.
Tom Mulligan, owner of Magpies Newsstand and Cafe, 707 Main Ave., said he would be in favor of having south Main Avenue pedestrian-only.
Mulligan said a majority of his clients, who aren’t necessarily regulars, encounter the shop on foot, not by driving.
“I’m in favor of creating a destination area for locals,” he said. “It would be a little bit easier for people to hang out.”
Steve Swisher, manager and partner of Brown’s Shoe Fit, 871 Main Ave., said he would neither be in favor nor opposed to a pedestrian mall until he had all the available information.
He’s aware of the success of Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, but said Durango and Boulder are structured completely differently. Of the tourists who wander into his shop, he said, a majority stumble upon it just walking by.
Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, said he recalled the idea being revisited in 2006, and the general consensus was against it. In 2006, the city revisited ideas on how to improve downtown such as making sidewalks wider. Not much really came of the proposal, Walsworth said, but in 2013, the city made several repairs to sidewalks downtown.
In a nutshell, Hoch said, the attitude and culture of Durango can be summarized in the expression: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
So, will the idea ever die?