Improved ‘Walkability’ Is A Two-Way Street

Walkable?

What’s not walkable?

Downtown Wheeling? Not walkable?

But there are sidewalks and crosswalks and push-button “I-wanna-walk’ buttons at every intersection, and trekking to DiCarlo’s or Depasquales or Vagabond  Kitchen or Subway or the Cheese Melt seems to be popular on fair-weather afternoons, so how is downtown Wheeling not walkable now?

“‘Walkability’ has become a buzz word that a lot of people are using now in conversations that involve transportation choice,” said Dougherty, the director of ReInvent Wheeling. “There are a lot people who now want to be able to walk down a street sidewalk and get your needs fulfilled by going into restaurants or stores. Those kinds of areas have a really strong social fabric because the people are interacting more with each other on the sidewalks instead of just driving by.

One way traffic in the downtown district is a traffic pattern Elliott would like to see change.

One-way traffic in the downtown district is a traffic pattern Glenn Elliott would like to see change.

“The concept of ‘walkability’ is about a lot more than just having sidewalks and having the ability to use those sidewalks,” he continued. “It’s a social thing, yes, but it’s also an economic thing that I believe is very important to consider because the economic impacts of ‘walkability’ are very, very strong.”

And that’s because “window shopping” still takes place in America, but not often in downtown Wheeling.

“That’s something we don’t have much of because so many people choose to drive instead of walk,” Dougherty said. “When we are driving, we are going past those stores and restaurants too quickly to notice anything that may be new in their windows, and it’s been the same here in Wheeling since the 1950s, when suburbia was really getting more popular.

“We don’t have a lot of those connections taking place anywhere in Wheeling right now because our business areas have been set up for vehicles for a lot of years now. Right now we have the adequate infrastructure, but I also believe some changes could be made to improve the many environments that we do have here in Wheeling.”

Slowing the traffic, Dougherty explained, is one of several goals that he believes will improve revenue generation for downtown businesses and will increase the area’s level of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“Our traffic flow in downtown Wheeling right now is flowing too fast for pedestrians to feel at ease while walking the district, and the way a lot of people make their turns at the intersections is very wide, and that involves pedestrian safety, too,” Dougherty said. “Slowing down the traffic is a change that I think should be made because it would be a great improvement.”

This throughway connects Main and Market streets in downtown Wheeling.

This throughway connects Main and Market streets in downtown Wheeling.

Another concentration Dougherty hopes will be adopted in the future involves the differences that exist between suburbs and urbanized downtown districts. Too often, he said, the goals for improving both such areas are intermingled and confused.

“We need to keep those two areas separate because they function differently. That’s why we need to quit trying to suburbanize our downtowns, and we need to stop trying to urbanize suburbia,” Dougherty said. “So when we think about the downtown, we have to ask ourselves how an urban environment thrives?



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“If we had two-way traffic on Main and Markets streets in downtown Wheeling, each operating storefront would get twice the views from motorists, and that’s always good economically for those businesses. It would also encourage people to park their cars and walk,” he continued. “Right now in downtown Wheeling if someone who works on Market Street between 12th and 14th streets want to go to DiCarlo’s for lunch, most often they get in their cars and drive all the way up past Market Plaza to gain access to Main Street. That’s not a very efficient traffic design.”

Main and Market streets in downtown flow as WV Route 2.

Main and Market streets in downtown flow as W.Va. Route 2.

Main and Market streets? Two-Way Traffic?

Not only does Dougherty believe that two-way traffic on the pair of downtown throughways that supply W.Va. Route 2 – a state highway – passage through downtown Wheeling would be beneficial, but so does Glenn Elliott, the owner of the Professional Building and an announced candidate for mayor of Wheeling in 2016.

“As a downtown resident and building owner I have been thinking about the ‘walkability’ issue for some time now, and it is clear when you look at our downtown streets that they were designed with the primary intention centered on vehicular efficiency,” said Elliott. “That is not uncommon across the country because during the urban sprawl in the 1940s and ‘50s it was common for downtowns to have loops in them like we do in downtown Wheeling.

“The idea was to get the traffic from one end of the downtown to the other end to get you through it, but there’s nothing that encourages someone to drive to downtown, and there’s a big difference there,” he continued. “I think that is something we can take a hard look at, and creating more two-way streets is a good starting point in my opinion.

“As someone who walks his dog to Heritage Port almost daily, I can tell you that I have to make sure that he doesn’t go anywhere near the traffic because if he did, he would die instantly. It’s not just a theory, but it’s also fact that the downtown is designed for those cars and not for me and my dog, and I wonder why anyone would want a downtown that’s just for cars and trucks?”

Not many current Wheeling residents – if any – have ever driven north on Main Street or south on Market Street unless doing so illegally. An effort was made by the state of West Virginia in the late 1970s to construct a bypass for W.Va. Route 2 through the “Goosetown” part of East Wheeling, but the full scope did not come to fruition because of a lack of full funding. That is why the “ramps to nowhere” can still be seen in the area where the state highway connects to U.S. Interstate 70.

Elliott is well aware that local motorists have grown used to the longtime traffic patterns in downtown Wheeling, and he also realizes the state’s Division of Highways may also have a difficult time digesting the two-way suggestion for Main and Market.

“I know it would require some cooperation with the Division of Highways to make that change for Main and Market streets, but most often when government organizations conduct studies concerning these issues, they are always traffic studies done by traffic engineers who are always more concerned with just traffic,” Elliott said. “If that is the basis by which they look at downtown Wheeling, then it will only put us right back to where we are today. But redesigning the downtown in a way that it’s based on people and not just the motorists would not take much effort or rack up any significant costs.

The primary business district in the Elm Grove section of Wheeling is not very safe for the walking consumer.

The primary business district in the Elm Grove section of Wheeling is not very safe for the walking consumer.

“If they can take their perspective away from the flow of cars and concentrate on the pedestrians and the bicyclists, then we could realize improvement in the downtown and in other areas like the main business district in Elm Grove,” he said. “If you’re visiting that Elm Grove area, where businesses line both sides of National Road, you probably aren’t going to try to cross that street to visit a business on the opposite side, and that’s because it’s not very accessible to the people on foot after they find a parking space.”

Dougherty reported that he believes state road officials are already familiar with the two-way premise, and that’s because Wheeling is not the only municipality in West Virginia making such traffic-flow requests.

“They are listening to what we have to say because there are other cities looking into the same issues and asking them the same questions about those issues,” Dougherty said. “The process is very important, and getting the community involved with that process is essential. It makes sense when people actually talk about it, so we need to engage as many people as possible.

“And thanks to our ‘Local Places, Local Foods’ initiative, we are having a conversation with the folks with the Federal Highways Administration right now that involves transportation and mobility. We are working with them to take a good look at our downtown with pedestrian accessibility and bike-ability in mind,” Dougherty explained. “It’s all about transportation choice, and they have been very helpful.”

The city's two meter maids issue more than 100 parking tickets each week in downtown Wheeling.

The city’s two meter maids issue more than 100 parking tickets each week in downtown Wheeling.

The Problem with Parking

Employees of businesses located in downtown Wheeling feed the parking meters during their workdays, and the parade of people can be witnessed between 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. near the City-County Building, along Market Street between 10th and 16th streets, and along Main Street between 14th and 16th streets.

One after another, quarter after quarter, and that’s why there is zero turnover that takes place with many of those parking spaces, and receiving a parking ticket is not an expensive ordeal either.

“If you stand out in front of the Professional Building on any given business day, you will see a lot of downtown tenants and employees feed those meters all day, and I guarantee that that’s a problems for those businesses in that area,” Elliott said. “I know people who take the $3 parking ticket every day, and they go pay them off at the end of the week. It’s the same cost for them as if they parked in one of the  garages, so why would they do anything differently?

“They are no financial disincentives for them, so they just leave their cars there all day long,” he continued. “So that’s what they do day after day, and anyone who walks along Market Street can see it take place every single business day.”

“I believe we have an inefficient parking system in the downtown, and that’s because, while we have great deck parking in the district, so many people instead choose to park as close to their workplace as possible and feed the meter all day,” Dougherty said. “What would be great to see in downtown Wheeling is an increase in the number of parking tickets and the time of stay reduced because if we can encourage people to stay in that parking spot for only two hours, then people would only park in those spaces when they needed to do business in that area. If that were to happen, we would see our downtown businesses do better, and we would have a better parking situation.”

Dougherty would like to see more employees of downtown businesses utilize parking garages instead of metered spaces.

Dougherty would like to see more employees of downtown businesses utilize parking garages instead of metered spaces.

These issues are not unique to Wheeling, and that is why cities across the country have commissioned studies to project what improvements could take place that could promote the increase in “social capital.” According to the American Journal of Public Health, “social capital” is an umbrella term that measures things like involvement in local government and community trust. Greater social capital has been linked with better community health, decreased crime rates, and also increased economic activity.

The Journal also reported that, “…by regularly walking in their communities, residents will also interact more frequently with their neighbors creating a denser community network which can increase individual peace of mind, community trust, and may decrease crime rates.”

“There are many cities across the country where these walking issues exist, but when I look at cities that have made the changes, I see economic growth,” Dougherty said. “I don’t think it’s an issue where people don’t want to walk anymore, but instead I believe it’s been this way for so long in downtown Wheeling that people are now trained to think that they have to park right out front of a business they want to go into.

“Walking a downtown has to feel comfortable for people to do it, and there are ways to make the streets more inviting. If it becomes more inviting, we’ll see more people willing to walk from one end of the other. That’s just not the case right now,” he added. “The fabric of a community is vital when you are trying to have a vibrant downtown, and improving access for pedestrians is an important part of that. It’s the collisions of people that ultimately inspire new ideas.”

 

The sidewalks in the downtown are usually busy during the day, but not during the evening hours.

The sidewalks in the downtown are usually busy during the day, but not during the evening hours.

(Photos by Steve Novotney)



13 Responses

  1. Chris Baker

    I drive as fast as anyone on open roads and highways. This article reminds me of why I respect urban speed limits. If you want to make an area walkable, put enough officers out there to enforce them. I don’t know why police seem so focused on giving out tickets on Interstate Highways in the middle of nowhere.

    Reply
  2. Mickey Speaker

    You are overlooking that: 1) people who want to walk on their lunch break go to the heritage port trail.
    2) A lot of employers have employee parking.
    3) People commuting from Warwood, Wellsburgh, & Weirton to jobs down river Glendale, Moundsville really are not going to appreciate slowing down even more yo get to work. Unless we change lane in the tunnel we have to go through downtown on our commute. Of course if you slow it down enough we can always take route 7 down to work and bypass Wheeling all together.
    Many bigger city’s make use of walking bridges over busy streets. Probably here is Wheeling is not a big city. If we actually get more jobs in Wheeling there would be more people able to shop. I do shop in Downtown Wheeling on the weekends and find no problem parking or walking around.

    Reply
    • Steve Novotney

      Mickey – A few people go to Heritage Port, but as many as you may think.

      If so many employers supply parking, then why do we see the “parades” of people paying the meters in the areas mentioned in the article?

      As far as heading north and south on commutes, we slow down through Benwood, McMechen, Moundsville, Warwood, Wellsburg, and Follansbee, and the alleged speed limit through downtown Wheeling 25 mph.

      I look forward to seeing you, and hearing from you, during the next meeting concerning this topic.

      Reply
  3. Peggy Niebergall

    I am so impressed by the sincere “new eyes” viewing Wheeling. It is exciting to see that issues are addressed with solutions.

    I grew up in Mt. Olivet and we always caught the city buses not just to attend Catholic schools but to also go to different events and visit our downtown friends.

    When my grandchildren visit, it is a big deal for them to catch the city bus right in front of my house and go to Centre Market to stroll, shop, and eat and just to take the bus ride.

    I agree with Wendy Scatterday’s idea to look at different bus routes-especially for elderly people who may like to be dropped off and picked up in front of the City Building where they can vote, pay taxes, go to the Health Department &/or increase foot traffic in the city.

    Keep the articles coming, Steve. The articles keep us thinking!

    Reply
  4. Jay D.

    I think getting young professionals and other self-sufficient citizens to start moving to downtown Wheeling to live is going to be the big key. It appears some nice apartment options are starting to be incubated including North and East Wheeling as well. At first what will follow will be a start of demands for shopping for everyday items so their cars can remain parked. If downtown builds up it’s resident population with people with disposable income the new stores will start to take root too. As Steven Wright famously opined, “Everything is within walking distance….If you have enough time.”
    But for now..As Margie commented in the DC Ventures article, a downtown Trader Joes would be phenomenal. It truly would be a magnet store. It fits the new “Hipster” (sorry) demographic with it’s healthy and unique (for Whg) assorted food selection but still not as upscale and expensive as a Whole Foods store that might not completely fit here successfully right now. I know many local folks who travel to Pgh. just to shop at Trader Joes and Whole Foods.
    Just thinking out loud….

    Reply
    • Ally H

      Jay,

      I completely agree that Wheeling needs to draw in young professionals. In order to do so, living spaces for these young professionals is need in the downtown and surrounding areas. Wheeling needs to re-create iteself into a more hipster area while embracing the historic buildings, etc. Coffee shops, botiques, small restaurants, bars (not too many) and other businesses will be needed to attract this target population. Wheeling has potential and needs work!

      Reply
    • exile of the ex-city

      I know you said “sorry” but please please no marketing towards “hipsters”.
      1) Hipsters are not some cool new phenomenon. They’ve been around for years. If you care about “what’s next” they are not it.
      2) A key characteristic of hipsters is that they hate hipsters. If you market something towards hipsters, actual hipsters will hate it. People who hate hipsters will hate it. Only hipster-wannabes will like it. Wannabes are sad. 🙁
      3) It makes you look like you don’t “get” it. Which you don’t. And that’s not an insult, it’s compliment, because if hipsters don’t mystify you, then you’re probably a hipster and therefor terrible.

      Bottom line: it’s way cooler to be authentically uncool than it is to fake “hipster”. Wheeling has “authentically uncool” in spades. Just roll with it.

      Besides, Wheeling’s got Jebbia’s and Grow OV, who needs a Trader Joe’s?

      Reply
  5. Becky Clutter

    I worked at Stone & Thomas in the 1960s and so enjoyed walking up and down Wheeling’s sidewalks, especially going through the old Market House. Back then, there were plenty of stores and windows to “shop.” In addition to the big stores, Sears, Penneys, the Hub, Hornes, LS Good, Murphys and Stones, there were many small stores, Baker’s Shoes, Bernharts, Colvigs, the Men’s Shop, Joy Shop, Thom McAnn, to name a few. First to cause a shock was Harts, in Bridgeport, then of course, the Mall. I don’t see downtown Wheeling drawing more stores and shopping unless there are people living downtown too. Also, everyone today seems to be in a hurry, get in, get out quickly. No more window shopping! Concentrate then on the downtown area being maintained as a business zone, banks, hotels, medical offices, insurance and real estate offices, etc. and build up the smaller local areas, such as Center Market and Elm Grove as shopping and walking destinations.
    Everything changes … we need to adapt!

    Reply
  6. Karen Merritt

    I could not possibly agree more. Thank you for this article. So much yes!!! Thank God people are thinking about these problems.

    Reply
  7. Christopher K

    Good article Steve. I can understand why a business in downtown would want more foot traffic and vehicular exposure but does having two-way traffic on Main & Market help accomplish this? Wouldn’t two-way streets make it more difficult for pedestrians to cross as you would now have twice as many places to watch for oncoming traffic?

    Part of the problem is definitely having Route 2 through downtown. Finishing the “ramps to nowhere” would help tremendously. You could still mark the route through town as “Business Route 2” as many other municipalities do so as to give the motorist the option. If the concern is the speed and flow of traffic plus available parking why not make Market & Main each one lane and have diagonal/slanted parking instead of parallel on each side. That would slow things down considerably. Cycling the streets light changes differently would help too with better marked cross walks. I also think making 12th Street two way again would be helpful too.

    I’m enjoying the articles on Weelunk very much. Keep up the good work!
    – Christopher

    Reply
    • exile of the ex-city

      Two-way traffic helps walkability mainly in that it slows down traffic. Cars tend to move slower and with more caution and awareness when the traffic is two-way. Personally, when I drive through Wheeling’s downtown, it’s easy for me to go into zombie-mode, maybe even speed, because all the traffic is in one direction and the road is so open.

      Reply
  8. Mike Breiding

    Great article. And, to me it is an important discussion.

    As a long time resident of Morgantown I experienced first hand the problems involved with pedestrian issues. There it was primarily safety as Morgantown has a small downtown area compared to that of Wheeling’s but lots of auto and heavy truck traffic.
    It took *decades* to get the DOH to sign off on center street placement of crosswalk signage. And it is still not complete.
    But, enough about Morgantown. We live in Wheeling now! 😉

    As an avid walker I can tell you crossing the street in *any* downtown area (or elsewhere for that matter) can be a risky business.
    Slowing down traffic is always a good thing, unless you are driving. Many motorists see pedestrians and bikes as nothing more than a nuisance and an impediment to keeping their speed up. It will take a long time to change this attitude.

    Now I sound like I am preaching so I will close this missive.

    Thanks again for the article.

    Reply
    • Steve Novotney

      I agree with you, Mike. I walk a lot – especially in downtown Wheeling, and the pedestrian does seem to be an afterthought for most motorists. They act as if they are surprised that I am even there.

      Reply

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