OPINION: Downtown idea needs close study

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

An assignment caused me to miss Wednesday’s public meeting about a suggested new traffic configuration for Downtown Tupelo.
My understanding is that Main Street’s four lanes, from Green Street to the railroad tracks, would be changed to one lane each direction with a median turn lane and bike lanes. Parallel parking would remain and perhaps increase slightly.
I am no traffic expert, but it seems to me that if you’re going to drop two lanes of traffic on a busy thoroughfare, you’re asking for congestion and trouble.
I speak from experience in what happened in my hometown of McComb, where decades ago city fathers thought the public would just love something new.
And so, McComb’s thriving Main Street was bricked up to traffic as a “pedestrian mall” with hanging baskets and benches for the weary.
Shoppers were forced to find parking on side streets or to use the shiny new parking garage built a full block from Main Street and down a rather steep incline from it.
Apparently, few planners gave any thought to how shoppers would feel about loss of access to the stores they patronized.
And few thought about how important it is to small-town Mississippi drivers to be able to park near where they plan to shop.
Similar downtown “improvements” occurred in Greenville, Biloxi and Vicksburg.
I can’t vouch for Vicksburg and Biloxi, because I haven’t been there lately, but today Greenville’s downtown looks like an abandoned movie set. You could shoot a rifle down either sidewalk and not hit anything, except at lunchtime outside Jim’s Diner.
McComb’s downtown virtually dried up, except for a few diehards like Gillis’ Drug Store and the banks. A mall far away from downtown draws the customers now.
I don’t completely blame these horrific changes on the decisions to brick up or limit access through these downtown districts. Construction of suburban malls had its impact, too.
But the loss of access was a strong contributing factor to shoppers’ decisions to go elsewhere.
Ultimately, McComb dug up all that brick and reopened Main Street, but it was too late. Same in Greenville with Washington Avenue.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for something new when it’s something good.
I love Downtown Tupelo’s Fairpark District and support its fulfillment as a vibrant place to shop, eat and live. It’s poised to succeed.
But I’d recommend the folks in charge rethink this idea of limiting traffic flow along Main Street or they may find that drivers will just go somewhere else.
I know what I’m talking about.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com. Read Patsy’s blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com or catch her posts on Twitter and Facebook.