Our Views: Reward them, and people will walk

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

People such as Carl Weber see grand things in downtown Janesville's future.

We applaud the city's public works director for his vision and optimism.

Weber is convinced that a vibrant downtown will attract people and that they will be willing to walk a few blocks to get to their destinations.

That downtown vibrancy won't come overnight. Among critical steps will be removing the parking plaza over the Rock River. That's likely in 2015 because the structure is deteriorating and the state Department of Natural Resources won't allow the city to rebuild.

Once the plaza is down, the city can begin turning toward the river and taking advantage of its attributes, much like cities such as Green Bay, Wausau and Milwaukee have done. An expanded river walk, open space for leisure activities, recreational features, and restaurants and taverns with river views are among the possibilities.

The catch, in some people's minds, is the parking that will be lost when the plaza is demolished. Some bordering business owners fear potential customers won't frequent their establishments if parking isn't next door.

That's not giving the downtown visitors or businesses much credit. A new study shows that the longest distance from parking to any destination would be two blocks, and we don't think people will think twice of such walks if they find what they want and are satisfied with their experiences.

Duane Cherek, a city planner, said the city and its residents might need a “cultural change.” People in Madison, for example, walk four blocks or more to their destinations downtown.

At a Monday night meeting on parking, several downtown business representatives and a resident said they have no faith that the people of Janesville will adapt. One intimated that the city should look at vacant buildings along the river as possible sites for parking.

That didn't go over with Weber. He wants available space with river access to be used to enhance the attractiveness and usability of the riverfront. People will find places to park to get to the services they want, he said.

We agree, but we also think the city would be wise to consider adding strategic lots that don't take up riverfront property, especially on the river's west side, where parking is less plentiful.

In the end, Weber captured what this is all about.

“We ought to have enough pride in ourselves in this community to know we can have a vibrant and active downtown, and it doesn't have to look like a mall.”

Well said.

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