We talk a lot at Strong Towns about how a street designed around automobiles with little regard for people has an assortment of negative consequences. One of them is economic vitality. Particularly for store fronts in downtowns with a stroad running past them.
A case in point is downtown Sebastopol with California Route 116 running right through the heart of their downtown. Some shops have struggled to survive in this environment. Member Paul Fritz elaborates:
I’ve noticed something a bit troubling recently. There are a couple of vacant storefronts on Main Street. In addition, there is another that is about to close and a recently closed business was replaced with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu studio. I don’t know about you, but a martial arts studio opening on a main commercial street in a community is often not a good sign. Storefronts on Main Street should be just that, the fronts of stores. Stores, restaurants, bars, cafes generate pedestrian activity which is necessary for the vitality of a downtown commercial district.
Another interesting piece to this story is that a rehabilitated former warehouse/light industrial area adjacent to downtown has been doing quite well. Called The Barlow, this area features a mix of light industry like wineries, breweries, a coffee roaster, a distillery, a bakery, a glass blower and a foundry. But there are also retail shops, restaurants, a local co-op market and cafes.
The Barlow was designed with wider sidewalks, narrow streets, and on-street parking. In general, "it's just a nicer place for people," Paul observes. Main Street downtown on the other hand...
It feels like a highway, and it is, California Route 116. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Main Street needs a face lift. To start with, returning streets to two-way traffic, and reducing the lane width would help. The one-way traffic, wide lanes, straight street and limited traffic controls encourage speeding, particularly once traffic is ‘freed’ from the light at the main downtown intersection. Traffic literally takes off at that point and speeds over the posted 25 mph are a regular occurrence south of Bodega Ave.
The Sebastopol market seems to be exhibiting a demand for walkable urbanism. Unfortunately, the downtown core with it's wide one-ways and speeding traffic is not meeting that demand so businesses have set up shop in another area. A place that is built to a more human scale.