by Michael R. Allen
There are concrete culvert-pipe barriers in Olive Street at the west side of its intersection with Whittier Avenue. These barriers block automobile and scooter traffic on the 4200 block of Olive, best known as the first block of the ongoing Gaslight Square redevelopment project. Thus, the new homes built on a block famous for its social prominence in the city now are inaccessible to the average motorist. Even more important is that Olive Street, a well-used east-west artery, is now effectively blocked between Whittier and Pendleton. Westbound drivers have to veer north to Washington Boulevard (Westminster Avenue to the south is one-way in the opposite direction), but they can’t simply take their journey to that street. Washington is blocked by a gate west of Pendleton!
When the new houses on Olive went on display, Olive was not blocked. Even after people moved in, Olive was not blocked. The reason for the blockage has to be homeowner complaints about traffic. However, expansion of the redevelopment project to the 4100 block of Olive to the east is moving forward. Having the street blocked in the middle of the development area seems extremely shortsighted. Not only will connectivity be lost, but the barriers carry strong negative connotations. Not only do these barriers often mark areas that are crime-ridden, their presence can make crime easier by blocking routes used by emergency vehicles. Fear of vandalism may play a part in the closure, but every residence on the block has a new garage — many of which are two-car garages.
Also, another option for traffic flow that remains that seems worse than driving down the 4200 block of Olive: driving down the alleys on that block. Both the north and south alleys behind the new homes are wide open and newly-paved. They make for a smooth ride that can keep a journey down Olive in motion.
However, with all of the blocked streets in this part of the Central West End, do we want all of these meandering paths? Congestion only becomes worse when there are no logical routes between points and when most traffic is forced onto a few streets. An open grid may enable greater traffic on Olive, but it would keep traffic orderly and predictable.
Most important, traffic flow would help revive some of the dead pockets of the northern and eastern Central West End — areas where there are the most street barriers.