Car free zone a possibility for downtown Columbia

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COLUMBIA — A biking and walking advocate wants part of downtown Columbia to be free of cars.

“I think it’s an interesting idea to people. I think it’s something we don’t have anywhere around here,” said Jason Patrie, chairman of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Commission.

His idea caught the attention of one city council member.

“Where I’ve seen them in places like Denver, the 16th street mall, in Burlington, Church Street, they’ve been very well used. They’re very attractive. We can have landscaping and public art built in,” City Council Fourth Ward Representative Ian Thomas said.

Patrie thinks the best place for the car free zone would be on Ninth Street, between Broadway and Locust Street.

One manager at ACME Hot and Fresh T-Shirts said he thinks it would be tough to do his job sometimes if the street didn’t allow cars, but overall he believes it would help the store.

“I think that would be great. I think that foot traffic would bring us a lot of business. I am worried about parking, and one of the things we kind of do is, we kind of run orders out to people so having to walk all the way up to Broadway would suck, but overall, if done correctly, it could help business a lot,” Mitchell Gerringer said.

Other areas of the street could be used in a variety of ways as well.

“People can kind of set up activities in the street itself, whether it’s sort of like a little market, selling merchandise. Whether its organizations presenting information about their issues. Whether it’s opportunities for games,” Thomas said.

Patrie said he knows a transition would be hard to swallow for businesses, so he points to the car free zone in Times Square in New York for how to handle that transition.

“They said, 'well what if we close it for a day. We’re going to close it for a day we’re going to put out chairs and people are going to come out and be invited and we’re gonna just use Times Square as a pedestrian area', and they did that once and it worked well, so they said 'alright well maybe we’ll do it again' and through the course of time, they brought it to a permanent closure,” Patrie said.

He also said the idea is still very preliminary but that it has picked up more traction than expected at this point.

Patrie plans to talk to more businesses and other commissions about the idea next, and hopes to then get enough support to present it to the city council.

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