WINCHESTER — A proposal to incorporate a two-block portion of Boscawen Street into the Loudoun Street Mall has been revived two years after first being proposed by city officials.
Winchester Public Services Director Perry Eisenach originally pitched the idea in mid-2017 because of pedestrian safety concerns and the ongoing costs for repairing the intersection of Boscawen and Loudoun streets that is damaged by eastbound traffic and mall delivery trucks. At the time, City Council approved a $100,000 expenditure to create conceptual designs showing what it would look like if Boscawen was closed to vehicular traffic between Indian Alley and Cameron Street, and those two blocks were converted into eastern and western extensions of the mall.
The pedestrian safety aspect of Eisenach’s proposal gained greater urgency following vehicular attacks in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, and Toronto on April 23, 2018, that killed a total of 11 people and injured 35.
Protective, retractable columns known as bollards were installed this spring at the north and south entrances to the Loudoun Street Mall, but financial constraints prohibited the city from putting bollards at the mall’s intersection with Boscawen Street and put a hold on council’s consideration of closing the two-block portion of Boscawen.
On Tuesday, less than two weeks after the new city budget for fiscal year 2020 went into effect, Eisenach returned to City Council to gauge its interest in pursuing the Boscawen Street closure.
“There are near-accidents out here every day because people don’t yield for pedestrians,” he said, referring to the section of Boscawen Street that crosses through the center of the mall, as well as Boscawen’s intersection with North Cameron Street.
Closing Boscawen between Cameron Street and Indian Alley would prevent vehicles from crossing the pedestrian mall and make it safer to walk across the Boscawen/Cameron intersection, Eisenach said. Additionally, it would help put an end to drivers turning west onto Boscawen Street from Cameron Street, where Boscawen is a one-way road for eastbound traffic.
As proposed by Eisenach, the two-block section of Boscawen would be renovated to match the appearance of the Loudoun Street Mall, with brick walkways and outdoor seating for restaurants.
However, closing Boscawen would take away street parking in front of businesses along that two-block stretch and require stores and restaurants to schedule deliveries during the morning before customers arrive.
“I do see a benefit in this,” Councilor Bill Wiley said. “I just have a hard time eliminating traffic flow on the east-west corridor of our city.”
Wiley said it might be wiser to take $500,000 of the $2.5 million required for the conversion project to purchase retractable bollards for Boscawen Street, and spending the remaining $2 million for sidewalk repairs throughout the city.
Councilor Corey Sullivan agreed that a permanent closure of Boscawen might be too extreme, especially since few people utilize outdoor seating during cold-weather months.
Councilor Les Veach asked if the narrow, one-way Indian Alley could accommodate the 1,700 vehicles that could potentially be diverted onto it each day if they could no longer follow Boscawen to Cameron Street.
Eisenach said it shouldn’t be much of a concern because most drivers will probably use the wider Braddock Street to get around the mall when traveling from west to east.
The council asked Eisenach to return to its next meeting on July 23 with at least one more suggestion for improving pedestrian safety that doesn’t necessarily require the full closure of a two-block section of Boscawen Street.
If council agrees to pursue one of Eisenach’s options, a public input session would be held before any street changes move forward.
“I just want to make sure I’m making an informed decision,” Councilor Kim Herbstritt said.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council work session in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors Kim Herbstritt, John Willingham, Les Veach, Corey Sullivan, Bill Wiley and Judy McKiernan.