It’s time … to face facts

There must have been an event to bring locals downtown last weekend because the horrible state of our downtown streets has been quite the topic of conversation around town (and this office).

Many of us had high hopes for the moment the train trench became operational. The belief was that once the trains were below ground, we, the owners of the streets, would be able to travel between two points in the most efficient manner. Remember the claims of how much fuel would be saved by not having cars idling at the crossings? Remember the horrible effects of having the city divided by an impenetrable barrier to emergency vehicles?

Now, pray tell, how exactly does closing down Virginia Street for street festivals differ in its effects from the old, street-level train crossings? One way is that instead of having the traffic shut down for a couple hours a day, it’s shut down for three-day stints. Another is that we choose to accept the inconveniences, in fact, we love them.

At various times, we’ve advanced the idea that downtown Virginia Street should be closed to vehicular traffic, made into a beautiful pedestrian mall with public art and fountains and flora from Second Street down to Fourth Street. Maybe make Center and Sierra streets two-way streets. We’ve been told by city officials that it’s serious business to decommission a federally designated highway, and with the plan for decreasing the number of lanes on Virginia Street (and sundry other improvements), the battle seems to have been fought.

OK, so, let’s accept the fact that with growth, construction and weekly street festivals, traffic downtown can never be expected to improve. Many shrinks will tell you the first steps to fixing a problem is recognizing that a problem exists and then wanting to fix the problem.

There’s a problem when, in these days of skyrocketing fuel prices and bursting-at-the-seams pollution dilemmas, a consumer would rather drive six miles out of the way than drive near downtown. There’s a bigger problem when the six-mile detour actually gets a motorist to a restaurant faster than driving one mile that includes the downtown nucleus. If city leaders want locals to continue to avoid the downtown area in the winter, the way to do it is to train locals to avoid the region in the summer.

Here’s a new proposal from the giant minds at the World Headquarters of the Reno News & Review. If we accept that downtown casinos will shut down Virginia Street on weekends, and we accept that is the way it should be, maybe we can mitigate the negative effects by treating Center Street and Sierra Street between Second and Fourth as a giant roundabout—like the “Star” at the Arc de Triomphe. That would mean having traffic lights timed with turning arrows and “only left turn” lanes for turning onto Center and Sierra so that people don’t have to sit through multiple cycles of lights, which is the way it is now. Another solution would be to put traffic officers at the four “corners” during business and evening hours during times when the core is shut down.

Not to be cynical, but the fact is, traffic has never improved downtown. Let’s just accept that this is the way things are and solve the problem.