Utica is considering creating a pedestrian commons by closing Varick Street between Court and Edward St.
It is good that city leaders are thinking of ways to improve city life, particularly on Varick Street which is developing as a center of social activity of sorts. Certainly the creation of off-street parking and wireless internet will enhance the street as a destination.
But actually closing Varick Street is a bad idea.
While wanting to make Varick Street a destination, city leaders must be careful not to destroy its function as an important traffic artery. If that function is destroyed, it may actually make Varick Street less desirable as a destination because of the complications in getting to, from, and around there. And planting trees in the middle of the closed off portion of Varick Street will create a barrier effect, visually cutting the remainder of the street off from the Finish Line Shops area on the other side of Court Street, essentially dividing the neighborhood into two areas that will be less able to support each other.
The city should consider alternatives that accomplish the objectives of a pedestrian commons without sacrificing Varick's function as a street. Here are some suggestions:
Pave the entire length of Varick Street (at least from Court to Columbia) with cobblestone (or, to be consistent with Utica's past, brick). That will give the street a different "feel" (literally!) that recalls the past.
Where off street parking is being created, eliminate the on-street parking by widening the pedestrian areas and covering them with suitable paving and "furniture" such as park benches, hitching posts, tables.
Encourage the use of the widened pedestrian areas as sidewalk cafes during good weather.
Of course, landscape with trees, hanging baskets, planter boxes and banners.
Varick Street is not the Champs-Élysées , but there is something there to emulate. Paris did not have to close part of the Champs-Élysées to make it a pedestrian magnet.
Let's enhance Varick Street without destroying it.