Ralph Hitchcock: Mill Street closure a bad idea
Unfortunately, the closure of Mill Street to vehicles is now a fait accompli. As a more than 40-year user and appreciator of Mill Street, I am very saddened. There have been many very good reasons to keep Mill Street open pointed out by concerned people.
Although it is now a hopeless pursuit and too late, I have an important reason that I don’t think was ever considered.
But first I want to point out an interesting juxtaposition of two recent city actions, which should be completely unrelated but because of the timing created an unintended false impression of a connection between losing on street parking and approving a parking structure.
First was the decision to permanently close Mill Street to traffic. Thereby losing about 40 parking spaces. This was followed by the City Council approval of a two-story parking structure for 32 spaces at 309 Mill St.
The close timing of the two decisions was unintentional, but provided some of us with some homegrown irony, without the usual humor.
No one can deny that more parking is needed downtown and it is in the city’s plans for the future. The city lots on Church and/or South Auburn streets could well have future multi-story parking facilities. It is interesting to note that regardless of how many spaces are provided in the future — at the very significant cost for multi-story parking — the city will never recover the cost of getting rid of those 40 spaces on Mill Street, which cost nothing.
Finally, getting back to the real world, the following is a factor I don’t think has been considered by public criticism or in the city’s ultimate decision to close Mill Street to traffic:
Travelers driving to Gold Country towns along Highway 49 get their first impression of a town’s historic character by driving through the historic main street. Even if it is not their ultimate destination, this impression will help base their decision on whether to check out the town, to shop or eat, or whether it would be a place visit in in the future.
Consider Nevada City, Placerville, Sutter Creek, Jackson, Angels Camp and Sonora, all of which have historic main streets accessible to vehicles. Grass Valley is now the only well-known Gold Rush town on Highway 49 where a traveler cannot have the convenience of observing an old historic main street from a vehicle. Another advantage of an accessible historic main street, with parking, is that it would show visitors that Mill Street is a thriving historic street, not just a tourist museum.
As one of the many oldsters in the area, I am disappointed that I am now making fewer trips to Mill Street for some of my favorite stores. This is because when it was a real downtown street, there was always a chance to find convenient street parking. By no longer having those spaces on Mill Street, even finding a space in the city parking lots is now more difficult.
It is very sad that with the city’s planned major investment to “improve” Mill Street, the decision to ever reopen it to traffic has now become virtually irrevocable. That is unfortunate because it may never have a realistic chance to become a successful mall for many reasons, but especially because of hotter, smokier, longer summers and the usual cold winters.
Spending leisure time sitting outside may not be attractive during many months and people will probably choose to eat inside most of the year just as they always have.
Ralph Hitchcock is a retired civil engineer and lives near Nevada City.
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