Walking tour looks at 'de-peopled' downtown

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Alan S. Manoian, economic development assistant for Auburn, looks at traffic on Court Street on Monday afternoon. He said the traffic situation is one of the major reasons the downtown is not "pedestrian friendly."

AUBURN — Walking through downtown Auburn is a lonely experience, according to Economic Development Assistant Al Manoian, and it's pretty much that way by design.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Alan S. Manoian, city of Auburn economic development assistant

"The mindset of so many people is, 'I have to go downtown because I have an appointment or I have to get something,'" he said. "'I'm going to take my car, of course, and I'd better find a parking spot right where I need to go. I do not want to be burdened with having to walk, even a minute or two up, that street.' Because, what is there to experience?"

Manoian will lead city and economic development officials on a walking tour of Main Street, Great Falls Plaza and Court Street, hopefully seeing the area in a new way. He calls it de-peopled.

"No one would say that he sidewalks of downtown Auburn are covered with people," he said. "No one should be surprised that we have very few retailers left on the streets and that very few retailers see it as a place to engage in successful enterprise."

The character of Auburn's downtown dates to design decisions made between 1951 and 1961, Manoian said. That's when city leaders decided to tune the downtown for drivers, not pedestrians.

"That's when they decided to eliminate pedestrians from this equation, because they were just slowing things down — meaning cars," he said. "This is when they sped up the street, got rid of on-street parking and decided the pedestrian was just obsolete. Nobody was going to walk anywhere, if you put your mind into what was going on in 1951 in America."

The tour group meets in front of Gritty McDuff's at the corner of Court and Main streets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The tour will include Main Street, the view downtown from the center of the Longley Memorial Bridge, Great Falls Plaza and Court Street past Turner street.

Each area has its own character. The short block of Main Street looks like a walkable, inviting downtown area.

"But then just the other side of Court Street, Great Falls Plaza, is a completely automobile-oriented environment, with high rise buildings and large surface lots and confusing driveways," Manoian said.

Court and Turner streets are little more than speedways.

"I will challenge anyone to actually cross the crosswalk at Turner Street," Manoian said. "We'll see how many automobiles actually stop for them."

Manoian said Wednesday's tour would be the first of several he'd like to schedule around the city.

"My victory will be the person that says to me 'Alan, I have driven down Court Street every day of my life for the last 30 years,' " he said. "'After I went on this, I'm looking at it in a completely different way.' My objective is get them to look at downtown differently."

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Melissa  Dunn's picture

It would be nice to get to

It would be nice to get to the bike paths easily.

I think the de-peopled idea is ridiculous. Its going to take a person who gets seriously hurt before people nix that idea.

I am on foot and on bike for my travels in the twin cities. I currently reside in Auburn and have been looking for a home in Lewiston because I love Lewiston for one, but the commute is a potential killer-and that is even crossing in the cross walks.

As for Turner Street... it does become a more residential area at some point and its hard to commute to the malls... Center Street-forget about it.

What is wrong with the world today, is that we don't have candid, casual conversations with passerbys anymore and we are more restricted and live in a bubble oblivious to what is going on in communities on how we can get involved to what policies need to change to even simply knowing your neighbor.

Melissa  Dunn's picture

It would be nice to get to

It would be nice to get to the bike paths easily.

I think the de-peopled idea is ridiculous. Its going to take a person who gets seriously hurt before people nix that idea.

I am on foot and on bike for my travels in the twin cities. I currently reside in Auburn and have been looking for a home in Lewiston because I love Lewiston for one, but the commute is a potential killer-and that is even crossing in the cross walks.

As for Turner Street... it does become a more residential area at some point and its hard to commute to the malls... Center Street-forget about it.

What is wrong with the world today, is that we don't have candid, casual conversations with passerbys anymore and we are more restricted and live in a bubble oblivious to what is going on in communities on how we can get involved to what policies need to change to even simply knowing your neighbor.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

the chicken or the egg

There is no way you can develop a downtown area without foot traffic. Up until I attended an art walk in Lewiston, I had not set foot downtown other than to pick up a library book in over 20 years. There were only a few businesses there then but I found them interesting enough to come back. Since then every new business has brought me back even without an event. Now folks from Portland and Brunswick are paying attention. Regular downtown events that draw crowds will help to bring businesses in and that will draw more crowds.

Mike Lachance's picture

On the other hand, taking a

On the other hand, taking a knee-jerk design like the "uber-sidewalking" of Lisbon Street had equally disastrous consequences. No parking and magnifying the already vacant sidewalks. When our cities spend spent $50-100,000 to have consortium of studies done and the recommendation are "X", the leaders always opt for a "do-over" study or abandoning the whole idea altogether because of inside deals, developer contract loopholes or the irreconcilable requirement of pleasing the art-minded crowd. Hopefully this won't happen though. What our downtowns don't need are 20 ft. wide sidwalks and congested streets with no parking.

Incentivize those buildings, add ample on-street parking, bring back display window frontage and add a few stop signs and you will have added some very necessary ingredients to a downtown that has the seeds of rebirth planted wisely.

...my 2 cents!

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