WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — In an effort to improve pedestrian safety, the city of Winchester is considering some major changes to the downtown walking mall. But not everyone is thrilled with the city’s options.
City officials set up shop on the Loudoun Street walking mall Thursday to receive citizen input on the following proposed safety options for the mall:
Option #1: Close Boscawen Street between Indian Alley and Cameron Street to through traffic. Estimated cost: $2,500,000.
Option #2: Close Boscawen Street to through traffic between Indian Alley and the parking lot entrance at City Hall. Estimated cost: $2,350,000.
Option #3: Add automated safety bollards in four locations. Estimated cost: $1,150,000.
“It was something that city council had asked staff to look into to evaluate some safety concerns that had come to them,” said Kelly Henshaw, a civil engineer employed by the city.
City officials cite pedestrian safety as a concern, in light of events like the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, where Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
The public has had a mixed reaction to the city’s efforts. On Thursday afternoon, over half of the survey respondents indicated they would prefer to close the entire street, but the additional comments showed a different story.
“None of the above. It is a shame you do not have ‘None of the Above’ as a choice,” wrote one survey taker. “Clearly, City Council and Planning have already made a decision. Take down the columns at the intersection of S[outh] Loudoun and Boscawen to improve visibility and leave it at that. Stop spending tax dollars unnecessarily.”
But some supported the initiative.
“It’s already a one way street, and I feel incorporating it the way the rest of Old Downtown is will increase business. Plus safety should be key with the way today’s world is,” wrote another.
Bobby Haun, a longtime resident of Winchester, says he doesn’t like any of the options presented by the city due to his concerns over the flow of water through the mall. Haun claims he was part of the original construction crew that built the mall, and he’s well aware of the roadway’s structure.
“It’s called Water Street. All the water goes to the town run. Water is going to be water. You can’t stop it from flowing,” Haun said, referencing the original name of Boscawen Street, which was known for flooding frequently. “I think the street should be left open.”
Several Boscawen street business owners shared their own views both supporting and opposing the options proposed.
“I’ve been in Old Town since 1969, which is before we put in the Loudoun St mall, in 1973 so I’ve seen the whole thing,” said John Westervelt, who owns a photography studio on Boscawen St. “Safety is not a problem. You can’t live your life or run my city based on what might happen.”
City officials disagree.
“We are only aware of one incident in the intersection of Boscawen and Loudoun Street, where someone has been hit, but I believe there have been a number of near misses,” Henshaw said. “I’ve talked to people and heard from other people that it’s difficult to see from cars that are approaching the intersection and sometimes pedestrians aren’t paying attention.”
Westervelt says he actually didn’t take the survey, because there was no option available to indicate he didn’t support any of the measures.
According to city officials, people can indicate that they don’t like any of the options, by filling out an optional comment section, but noted they do have to select one of the three listed options to order submit it.
The city is accepting the public’s input until October 18, at which point city council will bring up the options for discussion in November.