Today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pays California’s fifth largest city – Fresno – a visit. Foxx’s purpose in being in Central California is to present Fresno with a check from Uncle Sam in the amount of $16 million.
“… Foxx on Friday told a crowd of about 400 that Fresno will get a $16 million federal grant to help pay for the opening of Fulton Mall to cars,” The Fresno Bee columnist George Hostetter wrote in “Transportation Secretary delivers $16 million for Fulton Mall makeover.”
Allowing cars access to the office and retail complex has long been a dream of Mayor Ashley Swearengin, apparently. The Fulton Mall serves as the centerpiece of the Mayor’s prodigious downtown revitalization plan.
In its current form, the six-block-long mall is a pedestrian-and-bicycle-only venue and first opened in the mid-1960s. However, subsequent to the mall’s completion, area developers turned their attention northward and with that a mall left bereft of sufficient patronage, resulting in the venue falling on economic hard times and it has been that way since.
When it comes to transportation in Fresno, the car is king, obviously. So, quite honestly, it comes as no surprise really that in an attempt to cure the Fulton Mall of its modern-day affliction, adding the motor vehicle element as catalyst to try to boost mall business and patronage and in the process alter its pedestrian-and-bicycle-only orientation, is what is presently being pursued and hence the federal cash contribution. But, wait. Will opening the mall to traffic do the trick, though?
It really doesn’t take much to see that motor vehicle traffic in the city of Fresno is pervasive. To understand the broader issue here – Fresno downtown renewal – considerations like parking, appeal, environment, amenities, and others, regarding the revitalization plan should be taken into account.
For typical suburban malls with retail shops, eateries and entertainment establishments aplenty, ample parking spaces are provided. The Fulton Mall, on the other hand, in allowing motor vehicle traffic to traverse the site, will this likewise be the case? Will such parking be free of charge?
Next. The majority of the city of Fresno’s residents live outside the central city core in suburbs; some of whom are close, others not so much. Will the mall have enough of a draw on its own to attract masses of locals to shop, dine and be entertained, that is, without an attached additional element of some kind to help bring this outcome about? Incidentally, the attached additional element I’m thinking of is residential space in the form of on-the-mall and nearby housing. Provided such is part of the Fulton Mall and downtown revitalization plans, it would make sense then that the pedestrian element of the mall, not only should it be preserved, but, in fact, enhanced as well.
Arguably, if the Fulton Mall revitalization plan pans out and people by the hundreds daily descend in private automobiles upon the office and retail complex in question, air quality in the city will be adversely impacted. Already, the area air is known for being notoriously bad. So, I ask: In contemplating introducing automobile traffic to the site, should public health not itself be a consideration as it has to do with that? Remember, according to a recent survey, only three percent of San Joaquin Valley residents have a motor vehicle like a hybrid or electric car that adds few or no emissions to the air, respectively, for example.
While it is indeed a noble vision to want a revitalized downtown, a central and key part of which in the city of Fresno is the Fulton Mall, there are those who insist transit-oriented development (TOD) is the quintessential element in bringing such transformation about, some of whom declare outright rail transit being by far the more preferable mode.
In the book: “The New Transit Town: Best Practices in Transit-Oriented Development,” what I consider to be an extremely authoritative volume on TOD, in Chapter 1 – “An Introduction to Transit-Oriented Development,” authors Hank Dittmar, Dena Belzer and Gerald Autler state:
“Rail systems usually enhance the value of adjacent land, and transit agencies and the federal government see large-scale real estate development on property owned by transit agencies as a way to ‘capture’ some of that value. While this return is not necessarily sufficient to pay the total cost of the rail investment, it at least partially reimburses public coffers. For this reason, transit agencies and the federal government have an interest in promoting intense development around transit stations. This ‘joint development’ approach has been used with notable success in locations around the country, including downtown San Diego, Washington, D.C., and Portland [Oregon].”1
This being the case, I fail to understand how bringing cars to the Fulton Mall in Fresno – autos so commonplace in this city of half-a-million people – will do for the inner city what has been lacking and in need of for too long.
If cars were the answer, I truly believe Fresno would not be in the financial – or health impacting, polluted air – straits it is currently.
Conversely, via clean and efficient, comfortable and safe, reliable, frequent and quiet, and hassle- and stress-free electrified passenger train travel, suburban folk visiting the mall could come and go in relaxed fashion with little to no negative impact to the air.
On the Fulton Mall, it should be people, bikes and “transit,” not “traffic.”
Cars on the Mall: Is there something I’m missing here?
- Hank Dittmar, Dena Belzer, Gerald Autler, Chapter 1 – “An Introduction to Transit-Oriented Development,” “The New Transit Town: Best Practices in Transit-Oriented Development,” Hank Dittmar and Gloria Ohland editors, 2004, p. 6).