Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Failure of Newark's South Main Street

S. Main Street facing South, median section

Why has Newark's "New" South Main Street failed to capture the cultural and historic richness that every U.S. Main Street should enjoy? Why hasn't it lived up to the civic and place-making ambiance (albeit eroded) of the City's East Main Street?

Writer and journalist James Howard Kunstler demonstrates the failure of modern U.S. architecture and civic design in this 19 minute TED Talk. The failure of South Main Street begins at 9:22, or HERE, and could not be more apparent.


Unfortunately, such reckless design continues in development and "revitalization" projects today. It remains to be seen if, for example, College Square is truly walkable & bikeable. Odds are, it will be the usual hellscape designed to encourage everyone to drive, and to park as many cars as possible. Place-making and multi-modal provisions, if included, are an afterthought at best. But maybe we'll be lucky, and College Square will be an improvement. You can read about it HERE.

Architecture is but one component failure of South Main Street. This "street" was designed with a mix of highway (12'+ wide) car lanes, numerous high speed slip (turn-only lanes) and even a 18' center turn lane for a portion of it. Traffic calming is all but absent except in the area of Amstel Ave, for the sake of University of Delaware foot traffic. Beyond that, induced motorist speed is much higher than the posted 30 mph, which in a true Main Street environment would be 25 mph or less. Sadly, South Main Street is little more than a "Stroad". Stephen Lee Davis points out the failure of this design in his brilliant piece HERE:

Slip lanes on roads and streets are emblematic of what it looks like in practice to sacrifice safety on the altar of speed, where this underlying goal of “keep cars moving fast at all times” runs counter to the goal of “keep everyone safe while moving from A to B”—even if you say that safety is important. If we truly prioritize safety, as T4America is suggesting in our second principle, we would never build a slip lane on a local street again.

Conclusion: S. Main Street planners ignored good civic design by combining separated and/or raised retail frontage with speed-inducing highway design. They hoped it would appeal at the human scale, but even in the early planning phase of this project 15 years ago, this was a known fail (note: JHK's TED Talk is from 2004).  Marginal sidewalks and bike lanes alone cannot replace traffic calming and facilitate a return to the public realm. Because of this, foot traffic on South Main Street is a fraction of East Main Street, and many (if not most) storefronts remain vacant for years, some occupied by UD or the developers themselves. Unfortunately, this built environment is built and baked in for many years to come.

Divorce complete: The relationship between retail, the sidewalk and street is destroyed upon separation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Abandoned Roads in NCC: Old Harmony

Old Harmony Road was replaced by Harmony Road, a 2-lane arterial with wide shoulders. Fragments of Old Harmony can still be found, including the original bridge over the White Clay Creek. For those with a keen eye, this historic structure is still visible from "New" Harmony Road.

The below stretch between Brookhaven, Green Valley and Richardson's Garden Center serves today as a defacto linear park and non-motorized travel connector. There are no apparent plans to improve upon this wonderful place-making opportunity. It is quite likely that DelDOT owns the property, and that someday the bridge will be demolished. Worse yet, the corridor will be developed or reclaimed as a bypass road. Let's hope that is not the case, and that the community or a non-profit advocacy org will fight for its protection for future generations to enjoy.

Photos below are from June of 2018; it remains virtually unchanged today. At bottom is Google Streetview, to the best location to walk, bike or park your car to begin this trip back in time.






See our entire series on abandoned roads and railroads, in Delaware and beyond, HERE.