North Texas Daily

Pro-pedestrian ordinances could benefit the Square and its residents

Pro-pedestrian ordinances could benefit the Square and its residents

Pro-pedestrian ordinances could benefit the Square and its residents
November 04
14:00 2021

The Denton Square can easily be considered the focal point of our town. It is home to many of our historic buildings and businesses, serves as a gathering place for the community and offers a thriving nightlife scene to our residents and visitors. It is also one of the few places in Texas where one can freely walk the streets with open containers of alcohol.

However, the frenzied vehicle traffic around the Square can pose both a nuisance and a hazard to pedestrians. We can improve the Denton experience by designating the Square as a pedestrian-only zone. 

To many North Texans, the idea may seem preposterous. In 2019, The Dallas metroplex was ranked the sixth-worst large metro area to live without a car. Neighborhoods considered to be “walkable” comprise less than one percent of Dallas-Fort Worth’s landmass, according to a report from George Washington University. We are overall notoriously anti-pedestrian or, at the very least, pro-vehicle.

However, governments around the world have begun to experiment with restricting certain city blocks to foot traffic and bicycles only. Some cities choose to only enforce select days as “car-free,” while others have banned them outright. For example, recent initiatives from the city of San Francisco have targeted the famous Market Street. What was once part of the city’s “High Injury Corridor” is now a bustling safe haven for pedestrians and cyclists. New York, Bogotá and Cape Town have also implemented similar measures.

These laws are an effort to accomplish several goals, both ecological and social. Notably, air pollution impacts our life expectancy even more than smoking cigarettes, according to the University of Chicago’s Air Quality Life Index. Pedestrian corridors and car-free days would help cut down on this unhealthy smog. Such policies would also promote greater mobility and physical activity in the population, leading to a better overall quality of life.

Beyond public health, creating these public gathering spaces allows for more social cohesion within the community. In an urban landscape dominated by cars, citizens’ rights to enjoy their city are often confined to narrow sidewalks and assigned pathways. Removing cars from the Square would provide a vast plaza for residents to safely connect with their neighbors and their city.

Denton has made efforts to join this growing movement in the past. Last month, the city council heard a proposal by Texas Woman’s University that would convert a portion of Bell Avenue into a passenger corridor. TWU hoped to make the road safer for students who frequently had to cross it when walking through campus. However, this proposal was ultimately rejected based on disagreements over cost and the packaging of the bill with other projects.

In 2020, the city council also turned to car-free legislation as a possible remedy for the impact COVID-19 had on local businesses. The proposal planned to close the Square to vehicles on weekends, allowing businesses to easily practice social distancing by operating on the streets and sidewalks. This measure was also rejected after many stores and restaurants spoke out against the proposal.

Opponents of the idea largely cite accessibility and business interests as key issues in the debate. Removing the option to park close to businesses would disproportionately impact those with impaired mobility or other health conditions. It would also discourage shoppers from making large or heavy purchases at the several retail stores lining the Square. These issues could be addressed by limiting car bans to certain days of the week, allowing residents to reap some of the benefits while maintaining equal access for everybody during the rest of the week.

Being a sizable college town, Denton is often seen as a center for progressive ideas in Texas. We have long been aware of the negative effects cars have on our environment and our population. It’s about time we make an effort to shift away from our reliance on them and give our town back to the people — at least on Sundays.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Tanner Woods

Tanner Woods

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