I had the pleasure of drinking my first Steel String Brewery beer several weeks back, outside on a small sliver of sidewalk between the front door of the taproom and the parking row just off the street. I believe I had the Rubber Room Session Ale and it was terrific.
I caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a few months, enjoyed a good beer and appreciated the light breeze in the afternoon shade of the building. It was almost perfect, the lone negative being a few cars pulling in and out right in front of us while we enjoyed our beverages.
A few weeks later, low and behold, Steel String has solved this issue and made a short stretch of South Greensboro Street more civilized, SAFER, and pedestrian friendly in the process. In short, they’ve filled in the two parking spaces that abut the Wendy’s drive-thru exit with tables and chairs, and at certain times, a tent.
Why has this small change made such a big difference? Let’s take a look. First, below is a Google Street View orientation to Steel String’s location, which is in a storefront that used to be occupied by the Trading Post used furniture store. Use the mouse to pan left and right in the image below, and you’ll see that the pedestrian conditions deteriorate pretty quickly once you walk from the corner of Main St and S. Greensboro to the first of the two driveway access points in and out of Wendy’s.
After that, while there is a sidewalk between the two Wendy’s driveways, the space in front of Steel String and restaurant Glass Half Full is a continuous row of parking. Any parked car could pull out at any time, directly back into a pedestrian, and anyone trying to park could pull in off the street at the same time. This is a pretty unsafe situation for a pedestrian who needs to constantly be looking in multiple directions to avoid getting hit on this stretch of pseudo-sidewalk.
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By turning these parking spaces into seating for their patrons, the restaurant has effectively removed the hazard to the pedestrians described above in both directions. No cars are backing out of those spaces anymore, and no cars are turning in off of South Greensboro Street. As for two parking spaces being out of commission, well, the town just bought several dozen spaces across the street and…it’s a bar! Do we really need to encourage people to drive to bars by requiring free parking right in front of the bar?
This type of local, small-scale, but meaningful transformation is in keeping with some of the best ideas springing up from a movement called tactical urbanism, which seeks to make quick changes to streets and neighborhoods to make them more people-friendly. The most well-publicized of these activities is PARKing Day, in which people all over the world convert metered parking spaces to mini-parks, such as in this public radio story from Colorado.
My key point here is this- Steel String has done something to delight their customers and the neighborhood, and inadvertently struck a positive blow for pedestrian safety. Good for them and good for us. If this wasn’t pre-cleared with the Town, let’s hope the official reaction is in keeping with the best Carrboro traditions of simply not freaking out when an informal market asserts itself, or in this case, informal awesome streetside public space asserting itself.
If we want to double down on a good idea, let’s ask Glass Half Full if they want to convert some or all of the next ten spaces to sidewalk dining!