Sep 12, 2012 9:45 PM

Tucson mayor has idea for a car-free Congress Street

TUCSON - Tucson's mayor is imagining the future of Congress Street: car-free.

The 'Pedestrian Zone' idea started with the realization that drivers have already gotten used to detouring away from the area for the modern streetcar construction.

"I actually see it as a really positive thing. We come down and walk a lot," said Downtown patrol Susie Lelli.

"Cars are just not stopping at stop signs, they're running red lights," said John Lelli. "And when you have kids and dogs, it gets to be a little hazardous."

John and Susie Lelli would like to see congress closed to traffic, but Downtown merchants have mixed feelings about the idea.

"Well there's obvious concerns about how are people going to get downtown from the northwest side, from the east side," said Karlen Ross, who works at Hotel Congress.

"Tucson is a city on the grow, and to model our city after Denver and other cities that have pedestrian thoroughfare, it requires a little more input from the community, but I think it's an interesting idea to say the least," Ross said.

"I want to do it in- house, I'm not envisioning this costing a lot of money at all."

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild says "foot traffic" will give downtown merchants a boost. Between new residential units, the street car, downtown links and garages going in -- he calls it a win-win for businesses and pedestrians.

"There's sort of this old culture of, I need to park in front of the store I'm going to," Mayor Rothschild said. "And that's not what downtowns are like now."

Not everyone sees it that way, while others do.

"And you know parking is one of those major things, there's not enough parking down here as is," said pedestrian Amanda Buckner.

The mayor's idea is just that: an idea. He wants input from downtown merchants and city traffic engineers first.

If the project goes forward, he said, "I want to do it in- house, I'm not envisioning this costing a lot of money at all."


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