When the Fairpark downtown revitalization project was conceived, a key component emphasized by planners and consultants was making the area pedestrian-friendly.
The successful mixed-use downtown projects on which Fairpark is modeled combine commercial, residential, governmental and entertainment buildings in easy proximity, allowing and encouraging people to walk among them freely. It’s part of the ambiance of the “new urbanism,” a style of living that reduces reliance on the automobile and gets people out to mix and mingle in public gathering places.
A growing number of organized downtown events and informal gatherings, large and small, in the green spaces in front of City Hall have offered evidence of how well-planned urban design can encourage such community-strengthening togetherness.
Given that background, it’s no surprise that the portion of Tupelo’s Main Street that passes through Fairpark has narrower lanes to encourage slower traffic and greater pedestrian safety. And it’s also no surprise that those who want to see all of downtown become more of a destination point seek ways to slow traffic down there and elsewhere on Main.
At first glance, this may seem at odds with Main Street’s status as a major east-west thoroughfare for the city since it’s actually state Highway 6 as well. But slowing traffic down and keeping it moving efficiently through downtown don’t have to be competing aims.
The Tupelo Downtown Main Street Association recently hired RPM Transportation Consultants of Brentwood, Tenn., to help determine the best way to achieve a traffic flow that will encourage pedestrian traffic and strengthen downtown’s draw as a destination in the future. That future will surely include a continued rise in people living downtown and an increase in the shopping, dining and entertainment venues there.
Some creative traffic engineering should accomplish the dual goals of downtown advocates and those whose primary interest is in keeping traffic moving through the city, such as the Major Thoroughfare Committee. Speed limits can be lowered, for example, enhancing pedestrian safety, while at the same time adjusting traffic lights to keep people from experiencing multiple stops.
Downtown’s role as a place to live, work, shop and play should be enhanced, not diminished, when the rerouting of Highway 6 to south Tupelo is completed. More traffic will be bound for the area rather than just passing through.
But there’s no reason why Main Street downtown can’t still function in both capacities – as a thoroughfare and a destination path. The critical thing will be an understanding by those with different priorities of the necessity of reaching a mutually agreeable solution.
That shouldn’t be difficult. We hope the consultants can help point the way.
NEMS Daily Journal