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Look carefully at pedestrian mall

We urge Denton City Council members to proceed with caution as they continue to discuss proposed improvements to Walnut Street.

One suggestion calls for closing the street to traffic between Locust and Elm streets for a pedestrian mall, and while that idea might be aesthetically pleasing, we have questions about its feasibility — especially in light of the current downtown parking situation.

Parking spots, especially any close enough to the Square for a comfortable walk, are already in short supply and special events can create a traffic nightmare for several blocks.

In our view, the city needs to make parking improvements an immediate priority. Unless a solution to the current situation is developed soon, the future growth of the downtown area could be at risk.

We question whether people will continue to visit the Square to patronize businesses and attend special events if they are forced to park blocks away and deal with continued traffic frustrations.

Access of another type — the ability of commercial vehicles to serve existing businesses — is also a concern. Walnut currently functions and looks almost like an alley, with truck deliveries coming and going between several commercial trash bins that line the street.

Such accessibility may not be pretty, but it’s got to be considered in any long-range plan that would drastically change the downtown landscape.

The cost involved with developing a pedestrian mall along Walnut is another consideration. During a presentation to the council in a recent work session, city staff members estimated that the overhaul of Walnut would cost about $763,000, with about $325,000 required for the electrical work and $227,000 for new pavement.

Council members were concerned that a pedestrian mall would be a significant investment on the city’s part and asked whether the businesses were ready to make investments, too.

Initial downtown improvement plans called for Walnut to see improvements similar to those recently completed on Cedar Street, including utility work, pavement, sidewalks and lighting. But when the council agreed to fund the “grand street” project for Hickory Street, about $900,000 meant for Walnut Street improvements was reallocated to help pay for it.

Merchants along Walnut, including the owners of Sweetwater Grill & Tavern, have proposed the council reinstate plans to improve the area, but upped the ante by proposing that the city close the street and build a pedestrian mall instead.

Bob Moses, co-owner of Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Soda Fountain, said it would take some careful planning to make sure the business could receive and make deliveries if Walnut were closed to traffic. But on his travels and stays in Europe, he’s seen such plans work.

The council has asked staff to round up more information about business participation in any pedestrian mall plan, as well as better estimates on the cost of accessibility features the project would need.

We believe the council is wise to thoroughly do its homework before making a commitment to the downtown pedestrian mall concept. For such a plan to work, it’s got to benefit all involved — including the taxpayers.

Downtown Denton is a tremendous asset, and we don’t want hasty action or incomplete planning to put it at risk.