DONALD: The headline at the top of the front page is big and the implications are huge: “Grant to drive Fulton Mall debate.” Bee reporter George Hostetter writes that Fresno landed a $16 million grant today that will help open the long-troubled Fulton Mall to cars. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, will hold a news conference at the mall Friday (updated) to make the official announcement.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin favors restoring traffic to the mall, but in a way that keeps much of the public art on Fulton. The grant may in fact only be good for the mayor’s option. The City Council will get the final decision.
So, Joshua Tehee, what do you think? Could this really be it? After many years of debate, it seems as if the project to open the mall to cars could move forward. What do you think will happen next?
JOSH: I’ll try to be optimistic, and say this is it. It does seem like the kind of catalyst we need to finally get some actual, forward progress instead of the holding pattern that we’ve been in for years. But people are passionate, like super, highly passionate, about the mall and whatever happens it won’t be without a fight. And it will probably be a dirty fight. This is the kind of thing that could end friendships. Also, we need to be asking what happens after … There are those who think the mall was a failure in design (and they have legit proof). I’m still not entirely convinced that traffic (vehicle traffic that is) is the magic bullet. Do you think a walkable pedestrian mall could ever work?
DONALD: I guess I’d describe myself as hopeful. I think of the successful outdoor pedestrian malls in California I frequent, most notably the Pacific Garden Mall in Santa Cruz, and I do think that the single-lane, one-way traffic that creeps along that mall does add a certain bustle to the area. (I’m not sure what the configuration of the traffic through Fulton Mall will be, but I’m hoping it’s still minimal compared to a regular thoroughfare.) I wish a no-traffic pedestrian mall could work, but in today’s car culture, I’m not sure it could.
So I support the mayor’s plan. Here’s my question for you, Josh: What do you think the City Council will do? Will Lee Brand vote against the federal money just to pander to his North Fresno constituents who would just as soon see the Fulton Mall razed?
JOSH: Ha! That is the fear, right? The Mayor has always asserted (as have mayors before her, no doubt) that a vibrant downtown is vital to the overall health of the city. The assumption here is that a vibrant Fulton Mall (or Fulton street corridor or whatever it becomes) is vital to the overall health of downtown. If the council doesn’t agree with those assertions, then it becomes a crapshoot, and I would say the odds are against the Mayor’s plans (any of them). Make no mistake, something needs to be done with the mall and soon, if for no other reason than to update the area’s crumbling infrastructure. The idealist in me thinks a restored and renovated pedestrian mall (no traffic) is worth fighting for. The realist in me would be happy with a single-lane, one-way road.