by Andrew Wyllie
Here’s an interesting exercise to try. Go downtown and WALK around a bit and try to get a sense of what the city has to offer. Try to ignore the fact that walking along Main Street feels like walking beside a major highway with cars easily getting up to 45 mph and that the sidewalks is closed for no real apparent reason around the possibly future site of the new Center Point project. I have walked through downtown many times trying to imagine what it would be like if we could reduce the amount of traffic that flows through the city and maybe fix up some of the old and empty store fronts. The Lexington Downtown Development Authority has a lot of plans (which can be downloaded from their website) for making downtown a destination as opposed to a cut through for people trying to get across town. Some of the ideas coming from the LDDA include building a linear park down the length of Vine St., converting both Vine and Main Streets back into two way streets and closing Vine St. in front of the Convention Center/Rupp Arena.
Main St. has a number of nice older buildings which add a lot of character to the city. The sidewalks are nice and wide and fairly easy to navigate. Vine St. on the other hand is not really nice for walking on at all, modern buildings (including a couple of really ugly ones that should never been allowed to have been built), the bus station and parking lots.
One thing you may notice as you walk along Main is that there are no driveways that do not also connect to Vine or Water Streets. So the idea to create a park and basically shut down one of these two streets is a good one as access to all of the buildings and parking areas can be maintained. The problem is that we are doing it on the wrong street. Main Street would be much better off being the street with the park on it, simply because it is more interesting and has much more charm. Who wants to hang out in a park across from the bus terminal? Besides the fact that it will be noisy and smelly, you still have to maintain a roadway here which makes it harder for people to get in and out of the park area. Main on the other hand really does not require a lot of vehicle traffic and, if you convert Vine into a major thoroughfare, you can easily take most of, if not all, the traffic off Main. This would allow restaurants on Main to have large outdoor areas, would provide a good space for the Farmer’s Market including the potential to allow some more permanent market spaces as there are a number of empty store fronts along the street right now. This would create a green space corridor that would connect the library, the court houses, Cheapside, Victorian Square, the Triangle Park and the Convention Center. Vine St. would then become the commercial part of town. Vine can easily accommodate two way traffic with two lanes in each direction and would allow access to all of the parking structures and the bus terminal.
The next area to focus on is Triangle park. With Vine as a major thoroughfare, a large deck could be built over Vine to connect the convention center/Rupp on the second floor with the park and Victorian Square (since Main St. will be closed off). This is potentially another good location for a permanent farmers market, using the frontage offered by Victorian Square and the space currently used by Main St. for the market area and public space.
You may have noticed that I have suggested a couple of different locations for a market. I feel that a permanent market is a key ingredient to making the downtown area more vibrant. I’m not convinced that the proposed market on Cheapside is a good idea though. I have a feeling that it will constantly be in the shadows of the Fifth/Third tower as well as the new Center Point tower (if it ever gets built). Being in constant shade would not be a very nice environment for a farmers market.
Overall though, I think think the Lexington Downtown Development Authority has a lot of great ideas and I’m excited to see what the future of Lexington might be like. The addition of a permanent Farmer’s Market and being less car and more pedestrian oriented would help make downtown Lexington a destination again.