On a cool early spring evening in 1967 a group of industrious and very bored high school boys, without much to do, set out on a grand experiment. To sum it up, we completed somewhere around 130 laps around the Covington Square without coming to a complete stop at any intersection. This required making 80-90 “rolling stops” before turning right when confronted with a red light. Of course, we drove slowly and there was virtually no traffic, unlike today when drivers accelerate through the light in front of Square Perk, making a “right-on-red,” onto Floyd Street. My message is that the overly aggressive driving we sometimes witness on the Square today threatens the safety of pedestrians, as well as that of other drivers. It also threatens the overall viability of the Square.
I was heartened to see recently that our talented city employees are working to develop solutions to our traffic problems. It was also reassuring to see that they recognize parking, traffic, and pedestrian safety improvement will require an integrated plan, to be rolled out over time. I am confident that if citizens support this process, conditions will improve.
According to city officials, more effective signage is being created and installed, directing visitors to close by, off-square parking. In May, we will see a temporary removal of traffic lights, creating a more even flow of cars passing through the Square. This will hypothetically reduce congestion and hopefully alleviate pent up aggression that is too often displayed by frustrated drivers. It’s a great start.
In the future, I hope the city will look closely at creating pedestrian and biking connections, allowing citizens to move freely and safely within a multi-block area surrounding the Square. This broad goal is achievable through the development of open pedestrian areas, the development of well-planned biking and pedestrian pathways throughout the city, and by taking “traffic-calming” measures, freeing pedestrians from having to worry about distracted drivers whose main objective is get through the Square as quickly as possible. These are all things that require lots of planning and cooperation. Because I have confidence in our city government and our city employees, I believe we have a great window of opportunity to begin working on solutions that will enhance access to the Square.
It is also my hope that we will see more consideration given to the fact that in downtown Covington the pedestrian experience is everything. In a way, pedestrians are our most important stakeholders. People in cars are, by and large, passing through. It is estimated that 60-70% of the cars entering the Square are headed se elsewhere. People on foot are shopping, attending events, dining out, or just enjoying the moment with friends or family. They are contributing to the commercial viability of downtown Covington, which is inextricably linked to the preservation of the historic elements that we all admire so much. Safe and functional pedestrian access on and around the Square is essential to its future, period.
John M. Callaway