Benches replace sawhorses to keep traffic off the mall

Posted: June 13, 2013

The Winchester Star

A sign bolted to a metal bench on the south end of the Loudoun Street Mall keeps motor vehicles from driving on the walkway. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — At the Loudoun Street Mall, vehicle traffic remains benched.

The orange sawhorses that had a sign attached — warning drivers to stay off the pedestrian mall — were removed Friday.

But they were replaced by black metal benches with a “No Vehicles” sign on the back.

Perry Eisenach, the city’s Public Services director, wrote in an email Wednesday that the benches should be in place through the end of next week. They are protecting repair work on walking surface pavers.

“The contractor was required to repair the bluestone pavers at each end of the mall [at its cost] last week,” he wrote, “and we want to give the mortar enough time to cure properly.”

The benches replaced the sawhorses because they look better. “We put them there because the visual aesthetics of the black benches is much better than the orange barricades,” Eisenach said.

Delivery vehicles have been banned from the mall since Jan. 2.

That’s when workers moved into the downtown area and began the $7.1 million project to replace underground utilities, install a new walking surface and add some above-ground amenities.

Work on that project was declared substantially complete in late May, but city officials have said touch-up work must be completed along the mall — and delivery vehicles remain prohibited from using it.

The city government has put new procedures in place to keep its trash trucks and large street sweepers off the walking surface.

Downtown Manager Jennifer Bell is surveying Old Town merchants to determine how dependent their businesses are on deliveries via the mall.

Based on the outcome of that survey, the City Council might be asked to consider prohibiting routine deliveries on the mall.

Bell has said that as part of her research, she has consulted with officials in other localities with pedestrian malls to determine their policy about delivery vehicles.

She said traffic is barred from Charlottesville’s mall, the second- oldest in Virginia after Winchester’s.

City officials have said the mall would suffer less wear and tear and would retain a better appearance long-term if vehicles were prohibited.

According to the City Code, vehicles weighing less than 24,000 pounds are allowed on the mall for deliveries from 6 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. daily. The council must pass an ordinance banning delivery vehicles to change that policy.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw