I arrived back from spring break yesterday to find Park Street closed on the UW campus, from University Avenue to the Memorial Union. I learned later that that two-block section will be closed for about two weeks while a pipe is repaired. But I hope the city and the university will consider closing it to cars and opening it to pedestrians and bikes permanently.
The section of Park at the base of Bascom Hill is heavily used by pedestrians, mostly students. At times classes change, it's a clogged mess. But when that section of Park Street was open to easy crossing by pedestrians, the experience there was just great, and it seemed to me that's way it should be all the time.
You will have questions. Let me see if I can answer them.
Don't intercity buses need Park because they pick up passengers in front of the Union?
This is only a temporary set up anyway. The city really needs to build a bus hub where intercity buses can meet local buses, taxis and the B-Cycle system.
Won't this disrupt the route for the campus circulator bus (Route 80)?
That route can still operate on University, but yes, more students might choose to walk up Bascom Hill. That would be good for them. When I was a student I walked up Bascom, and back in those days it was uphill in both directions!
How will I get to the parking lots in this area of campus?
Well, if only the block in front of Bascom Hill was closed to cars you could get to all of them from Langdon or from Observatory Drive. But I would propose something more radical, which is to close Park from Music Hall to the lake, Langdon from Lake to Park and Observatory from Charter to Park. Cars could still access the small parking lots at Bascom Hall and Music Hall, but the university is shutting down the surface lot on the east side of the Union anyway. That leaves Helen C. White as the only lot without access. That's a good thing. In this setting, less parking is good and a small price to pay for all the other benefits.
What about emergency vehicles?
We could convert this part of Park and Langdon in front of the Union into "green streets." That would essentially leave enough of a clear lane for emergency vehicles to use.
You hate cars, don't you?
No, not really. I just got done driving 2,000 miles on a spring break road trip. Cars are appropriate in some places and not so much in others. This is a small area intensely used by pedestrians and bikes. We should focus on making it work for them.
Sometimes the best ideas happen by happenstance. A subsurface pipe got broken by accident during the Memorial Union rehab. That forced a temporary closure of Park Street to cars. It works wonderfully for pedestrians and bicyclists, so let's keep it that way. Cars will adjust.