Fresno’s Fulton Corridor: A street named ‘Inspire’?

If main drag Blackstone Avenue is variously known as Fresno, California’s “boulevard of dreams,” once the Fulton Corridor for six blocks between Tuolumne and Inyo streets reopens as Fulton Street, will it become variously known as the street named “Inspire”?

For you see, on Oct. 21, 2017, on this section of the road for more than half a century which was the Fulton Mall, is, interestingly enough, going to become a full-fledged street again. Since its completion in 1964 as the Fulton Mall, it was turned into an outdoor pedestrian venue replete with promenade lined on both sides by storefronts, above many of which were offices in high-rise office buildings; probably the best example of mixed-use development this side of the Sierra Nevada in the San Joaquin Valley at that time. This was all accompanied by and accented with hundreds of shade trees, fountains, sculptures and a thoroughly modern-looking – for its time – clock tower – the mall’s main focal point or centerpiece. But, the good times lasted only so long and in response some stores’ owners literally and figuratively closed up shop. Others, meanwhile, had relocating on their minds. (Note: It is helpful knowing that N. Blackstone and E. Shaw avenues and other parts farther to the north and northeast had become all the rage and had tremendous draw and shopping complexes like Manchester Center and Fashion Fair malls were to become places where much of the shopping activity in town would be centered).

In the owners so doing, the Fulton Mall was dealt a devastating blow and, frankly, what once had been the main downtown attraction, had fallen on hard times.

But that misfortune may completely disappear what with times changing the way they have. In March of 2016, the city embarked on the undertaking to replace the half-a-dozen blocks of the mall and return that portion to Fulton Street.

Then-U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in 2013, made an in-person visit to present to the city a check from the fed in the amount of $15.8 million, enough to pay for three-fourths of the total $20 million street-replacement cost. Five million dollars is what it cost to have all of that artwork (the accents) restored to its original luster. The clock tower, incidentally, had to be moved to a location 30 feet from where it was originally placed.

Meanwhile, in addition to the two-way road going in, generous provisions for walking have been made, sidewalks for such flanking both sides of what is now an atypically narrower street. Hopes and dreams are that this transformation will catalyze downtown revitalization and encourage a so-called reoccupying of storefront property and the building of residential dwellings nearby so as to spark pedestrian activity, and return vibrancy to the area as well as prompt something that has never been part of the experience before – facilitate an active and thriving nightlife.

Those are both hopes and dreams and, as such, it’s a big gamble.

Hit or miss

Bottom line, this is a street – nothing more, nothing less. And, as a street, this thoroughfare, like practically every other, has the potential to bring to it problems (read: “traffic”), which, if in abundance, the vehicles themselves being mostly of the internal-combustion-engine-powered variety, spells more in the way of pollution, further tainting area air, especially if those frequenting the venue in their autos find themselves puttering around looking for an on-site parking place or one located nearby.

On the other hand, if a flop, then the air there should not be any more adversely affected than what it is ordinarily.

Whether this move will promote or stymie Fresno downtown revitalization remains to be seen. If the former or the latter, the curious side of me will be forever curious as this has to do with whether the $20 million in all that was spent will have been put to the best use and whether or not adding but more pavement to a metropolitan area where there is so much similar pavement already in today’s environment makes any sense at all.

A couple of other points to consider: In preparation for the addition of the currently-being-constructed California high-speed rail system, one bridge that will cross over the high-speed train line through town – Tuolumne Street – will serve in place of two – the second such overcrossing being on Stanislaus Street. That second bridge is to be razed. Where once there were four lanes to accommodate traffic on both bridges, there will be but two lanes total on the surviving bridge – one lane for each direction of travel. And, on that bridge on Tuolumne Street, add more traffic to the new-and-improved structure and there is the potential for congestion and the fallout that comes from that; namely delay and a worsened air quality.

The second consideration consists of plans for a downtown-located Fresno high-speed-rail train station to be sited a block away from the Fulton Corridor on Mariposa and Tulare streets. Should parking provisions for high-speed rail increase multifold and should driving to and from the station become the order of the day, it being the mobility option of choice, such could seriously negatively impact traffic on streets not just at the station proper, but on nearby streets, too, and that includes on this at-present new Fulton Corridor section.

I’m thinking, before the Fulton Street replacement received all that federal funding, there had to be an environmental review and I would like to think that review was a thorough one. I would hope.

Thinking again, my thoughts turn to a scene of Fulton from the 1920s where electric streetcars (aka trolleys and trams) regularly trod and wonder if Fulton, Fresno, its people and air would not be better served with emissions-free transit on this order.

Ironically, trolley tracks in Fresno on Fulton were recently unearthed during construction activity (and taken away).

So, should it come to pass that five-tenths-of-a-miles-worth of street going in where there previously existed one in the same spot a little more than half a century ago is the catalyst that brings about the reinvention, revitalization of downtown Fresno and such is unequivocally proven to be the cause, I will eat my words, dirtier air in downtown, notwithstanding.

Smarter transportation and travel choices is what the world needs, not a stronger dose of (meaning more) polluted air.

Fulton Corridor: A street named “Inspire”?

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