Should Main Street be closed to traffic? This idea comes up regularly. It’s typically from those who, with good intention, want to increase the social experience we all love during Main Street events. In response to this enthusiasm, most business owners downtown are quick to offer a firm, but polite, “No.” More than a few experts have said that closing Main Street in Tucker would be awful for business and traffic. We agree.
Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City Rules, points out that roughly two hundred US towns closed their Main Streets to cars in the twentieth century and between 85% and 95% failed and failed quickly. Speck says that to “avoid repeating that experience, we must create new pedestrian zones . . . and we must get the details right.”
How can Tucker get the details right? Some of the answers are in the Downtown Tucker Grid Plan. Answers that support the demands of both the auto world and pedestrians without undermining either. In addition to restoring the alleys for pedestrian use, the Grid Plan goes back to 1892 and traces the history of land transactions up to the present with an emphasis on the original right of way. This is where the forgotten former Second Street, just 400 ft. from Main Street, comes into focus.
When we start talking about the former Second Street it begins to sound like an Abbott and Costello skit. We’ll skip that dialogue for now and say that the current Second Street was originally named First Street. At some point the original Second Street was sold to private property owners, was no longer used as a road, and First Street was renamed Second Street.
This is where opportunity enters. Roughly half of the former Second Street, or “Old Second Street” for the sake of clarity, has remained undeveloped for over a century. It sits in the middle of property that, as a result of the Downtown Tucker Grid Plan, was acquired by the City of Tucker last year to develop into a town green.
The focus of the Grid Plan is the restoration and expansion of Downtown Tucker’s street and alley grid. It’s the kind of thing urban planners dream of having an opportunity to work on, but seldom see.
Rather than closing a street, and rather than creating a green space so expansive it feels like a soccer field, the concept in the Grid Plan restores the available section of Old Second Street to a pedestrian plaza within the framework of the town green.
It becomes an outdoor living room. A space for dining and conversation where hundreds can gather. The same width as the former street with trees on each side to create a sense of a closed in space like Main Street. Demarcations on the ground, similar to the spaces dividing the sidewalk from a street, string lights, and of course all of it for pedestrian use only.
The opportunity to resurrect Old Second Street in Downtown Tucker is a strong nod to the wisdom of the past and a way to accomplish many of the spatial, social, and economic goals of closing Main Street without the disastrous pitfalls endured by other communities.