Sunday, March 12, 2006

Tucson issue: downtown, 4th Avenue, and progress

So our neighborhood sits to the south of an enormous empty lot (total blight in my opinion), which itself is south of Broadway across the street from the now-abandoned Greyhound Bus Station. For years, the city has planned to raze the station (it may even happen this decade!) and renovate the existing underpass to the north that allows bikes, pedestrians, and cars to reach North 4th Avenue from downtown. At the same time, the city's plan involved building a new underpass adjacent to the historic one - the new one was to carry bikes, pedestrians, cars, and the new streetcar, while the historic one was to carry pedestrians and...oh wait, just pedestrians. Right.

Along comes a developer (immediately making many people suspicious), and he's got a proposal to develop the land on which the Greyhound Bus Station currently sits. This plan was quite interesting and innovative, though one of the thorny issues it produced was a reduction in the number of underpasses from two to one. It also rerouted some downtown traffic in order to make reasonable use of land that otherwise would have been bisected by this street and that street, so the proposal actually enabled that land to be more productively used as a gateway to exciting downtown Tucson.

I sit on the board of our neighborhood association, and recently at a general meeting of the neighborhood, with about 60 people in attendance, the city transportation people presented this proposal. The reaction from about 90% of the neighborhood was vocally opposed to the proposal. Here are some of the reasons that were given:

(1) The proposal will cut Armory Park off from the rest of downtown.

(2) I won't be able to drive to downtown in under 20 minutes.

(3) This developer thinks we're all brown and poor and that he can take advantage of us because of that.

(4) The city spent years developing the original plan, so how can it be changed now?

Let me try to address each of these. Here is how my brain responded to each of these concerns:

(1) The proposal will NOT cut Armory Park off from the rest of downtown. There will still be access via Toole Ave to the underpass, as well as 6th Ave and Stone Ave (which will be become two-way streets).

(2) If you drive downtown instead of walking or biking there, you should consider moving into a gated community, from where you can drive everywhere you need to go. Get out of your cars, you morons!

(3) The racist presumption of reason (3) are too gross to dignify. Even if the majority of our neighborhood were poor and brown, I doubt this developer would be thinking he could walk all over us because of that.

(4) Even if the city did spend years developing the original plan, it has serious flaws. Who needs TWO underpasses, anyway?

Thankfully, several people in the meeting had the sense to point these things out, but the overwhelming attitude of the meeting shocked me: the level of contradiction, hypocrisy, and selfishness on the part of many participants was very unfortunate. Just because the developer's plan has some serious problems doesn't not require us to react so immaturely; the appropriate course of action is to ask for these troublesome elements of the proposal to be modified.

Ten days went by, during which some city council sub-committee met, and last Thursday, made a recommendation to the city council itself to adopt the developer's proposal with certain modifications. The modifications involve:

(1) A single underpass, created by renovating the existent one and widening it to accomodate all forms of traffic - yes, even bikes and pedestrians, who had been ignored in the developer's original proposal.

(2) Keeping Congress St open all the way through, thus avoiding a problem many people had with being "cut off".

(3) Turning Herbert Ave into a walkway between Broadway and Congress, making the site even more pedestrian friendly.

My reaction upon seeing this new plan was one of total relief, because it affirms my suspicion that the developer is a reasonable person who heard the concerns of the neighborhood and modified the plan accordingly. Apparently, city official also like the modified proposal and think it can be safely engineered. This is a win-win, folks! That awful Greyhound lot will become useful as a mixed-use space, with a very cool tall tower at the eastern edge of downtown - exactly the kind of landmark needed at a gateway interaction. I look forward to stepping out of my yard on South 4th Ave, looking north, and seeing this building (though I wish it were going to be much taller). I look forward to being able to safely cross Broadway and Congress on foot and on my bike, and I look forward to a wider, friendly 4th Ave underpass.

I really hope my neighbors feel the same way. There seems to be some bitter acrimony on the part of many people that I feel is unjustified. Get over it folks - you're getting just what you asked for! And please be nice to your hard-working city council members.


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