What Difference Could a Crosswalk Make? The Herald Street Story
Herald Street is one of those almost amazing places. Especially the two blocks between Douglas and Store Street. It has pockets of great stores and restaurants and people keep seeing the potential and want to get in before the street takes off, yet it never really does. In the late 1990s, I worked at the Herald Street Centre for the Arts, this place was the epitome of before its time. It was a cool roadhouse theatre that also had an art gallery and a cafe, few ever went there, now it is a furniture store (the horse hair sprung stage is still there though!).
The theatre may have been the largest flop along Herald Street, but there has been a string of cool businesses that have opened and then closed. Some of the most interesting places that I remember were a great little cocktail bar, a skateboard shop, a cafe/bookstore, a wrap place, even an adult novelty shop. A few have stayed for a while longer and some may have a strong enough city wide draw to stay forever like Opus or Jam. Still overall the revolving nature of the commercial on this street has to do with two fundamental challenges. First to be successful as a commercial centre there needs to be enough people living in the vicinity. Secondly, the commercial centre needs to be accessible and cohesive.
When it comes to the first challenge facing the area, this is already changing, with a significant population moving in up the street in the Hudson District and a large project about to get underway at the other end with Chris Lefevre's Iron Works project. These two are on top of several other residential projects that have already popped up in the area. It would seem to me that the population is there and looking at the quick turnaround that Lower Pandora has had, there is something else holding these two blocks back.
The second issue is something that is so easily fixed and comes down to how people move. As it is now, it is difficult to move across Government between the western and eastern blocks of Herald Street. Even as a car driver you will be drawn to park your car on the block of Herald that you need to spend your time. Compare that to any block of the city to the south where a block is not a burden when it comes to finding parking. For a pedestrian the psychological barrier is even bigger. Of course, you can run across, but the four lanes of traffic make it daunting and walking a block either to the north or south to cross the street is a lot to ask of most people.
The idea of a crosswalk here is not a new idea, it is not even a new idea for me. I raised it originally on Vibrant Victoria in 2011, during the construction of 601 Herald. I have also raised it with the City proper numerous times and each time have been provided assurances that it is coming soon. Here are we are though with the Cityzen (formally Kunju) project almost complete and still no easy way to move along Herald Street.
This is mere hypothesis, but I think with the addition of a pedestrian controlled light here we will actually see a substantial decrease in the commercial vacancy along the street and likely the addition of a couple more projects before the decade is done. There are excellent sites along the northeast end side and southwest end, just waiting for new developers to come forward.
As an example of what is possible, just recently the City added a new crosswalk in North Park Village at the precise place that has needed it for years and the feel of the village is completely changed. There is a freedom of being able to access it in a way that wasn't possible before.
Can you think of any other commercial district in Victoria that could be improved by a crosswalk?