Failed Project #3: The 1984-1985 High Street Road Diet

Believe it or not, 32 years ago and long before the urban revival began in earnest, a paid study of High Street in 1984 by a Barton-Aschman Associates of Washington, DC, made the ahead-of-its-time suggestion of a road diet of High Street through Downtown.  High Street had been studied over and over again since 1972 in order to figure out how to reduce traffic, but this was the most radical one to come out of them all- at least until 2010.

When the 1984 study was released, it contained the following suggestions:
-Reducing High from 6 lanes to 4.
-Restricting traffic to buses, taxis and emergency vehicles Monday-Friday from 7am-6:30PM.
-Rebuilding the street to include pedestrian/bike friendly infrastructure and new landscaping.
-A new transit mall.
The changes would’ve included 11 blocks between Fulton Street and Nationwide Boulevard.

Inexplicably, the $25 million plan was endorsed by just about everyone at first, from the City of Columbus, COTA, local business owners, the Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders. There was even funding for it, through a mix from COTA and the US Urban Mass Transit Association. The plan was hailed as transformative and was thought to be a plan to create a “world-class” street. At the time, very few cities had done anything like this.

But then what always seems to happen in Columbus… happened again. Slowly, opposition built up. First, city leaders didn’t really like the 30-year commitment required for the transit mall. Then Les Wexner, a prominent and very influential member of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, publicly spoke out against the plan, which gradually convinced more and more to oppose it. It seems no shock that Wexner was opposed to such a forward-thinking urban plan considering that his dream community he would be primarily responsible for exploding- New Albany- largely eschews such concepts even to this day. The final nail however may have been the departure of James Reading, who was the general manager of COTA at the time. Reading would accept a job in Santa Clara, California, and since he was considered the “glue” that held the project together, things fell apart thereafter. Reading’s departure would have a much more widespread impact on Columbus’ transit future than just the High Street project, as he had also been a big proponent of rail transit. Early-mid 1980s proposals to bring rail to the city also largely died after he left, as his replacement shared little to none of Reading’s vision. Instead, his replacement, Richard Simonetta, largely focused on getting COTA’s bus service out of the red instead of spending time and energy on potential transit expansion. It’s hard to speculate what could’ve been, but there is a distinct possibility that High Street and transit would be very different in Columbus had Reading stayed in the city. Santa Clara today has more than 80 bus lines, 3 light rail lines and is building a dedicated-lane BRT system.

In any case, the Chamber of Commerce officially pulled support for the High project in July 1985. No alternative plan existed at the time, and for the next few years the city struggled to come up with something else with little to show for it. Ultimately, High Street pretty much stayed as it was. It was not until 2010 that the road diet idea would show up again, but this was focused more for Broad Street than High. The diet plan was officially adopted in 2012, but as of this writing, there has been no movement on the project.

Broad Street road diet as imagined in the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan.

Before and After Google Special: 2007-Present Part 3

In the 3rd installment, we look at the Arena District/Far Northern Downtown area.

Location: N. High and W. Nationwide Blvd, looking northwest.
Date: July 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: W. Nationwide Blvd. and N. Front, looking northeast.
Date: July 2007

Same location in May 2014.

Location: W. Nationwide Blvd. and John H. McConnell Blvd., facing north-northwest.
Date: October 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: W. Nationwide Blvd. at Neil Avenue, facing north.
Date: October 2007

Same location in July 2014.

Location: W. Nationwide Blvd. at Neil Avenue, facing northwest.
Date: October 2007

Same location in July 2014.

Location: W. Nationwide Blvd. and Huntington Park Lane, facing north.
Date: October 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: W. Nationwide Blvd. and Hanover Street, facing south.
Date: October 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: W. Nationwide Blvd. and Hanover Street, facing west.
Date: October 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: Neil Avenue and Broadbelt Lane, facing west-northwest.
Date: August 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: Neil Avenue and Vine Street, facing southwest.
Date: August 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: Vine Street and Convention Center Drive, facing south.
Date: October 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: N. High and Vine Street, facing west-southwest.
Date: August 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Location: N. High Street at the Convention Center, facing north-northwest.
Date: August 2007

Same location in June 2014.

Columbus in Video History

March 1913 Flood
This video is mostly photos, but still quite interesting.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2se6fjEPbPU

1950s
A video about Columbus being a test market (something that is still true somewhat today) and the impact of Reader’s Digest on Columbus businesses.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga-W2RB4zjo

1964-1965
Images from OSU Campus, Downtown and more.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDFHXtaUF28

1980
Check out this relocation video from when AEP moved its headquarters to Columbus from New York. Total cheese fest. The focus on suburban malls is interesting considering their decline today.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zdSSRYAKcc

1985
OSU Campus to Downtown near and along High Street.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPabRx9EPd4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNzFfIfR5W0

Ameriflora 1992
Who could forget this event? It was supposed to be a defining event for the city, but ended up very overhyped and not nearly the success that was promised.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=on4_4HV9G7A

May 11, 1995
A Channel 4 news report on gas prices. Ironic that the report is that prices are too high, but I bet everyone would love to see these prices again.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaX2CnPfCSY

Before and After: February 2013 Edition

To an urbanist, the following sets of photos are truly disturbing. I’ve heard it said many times over that Columbus is a new city filled with suburban design, and that it never really had a true urban, historic core. The sad thing is that that is dead wrong, and I say it’s sad because so much of it was lost in the name of progress. 99 years ago, Downtown was truly a beautiful, vibrant place, and the present-day shots only serve to make the transformation all that much more awful. You have to wonder what people were thinking in terms of design and the way that they systematically destroyed the environment that made the city what it was.

In any case, the photo set from 1914 was apparently taken by a photographer that walked the length of High Street starting from the intersection of Town Street all the way up to Goodale Avenue at the beginning of the Short North. They are some of the best historic photographs I’ve ever seen of Downtown Columbus. Let’s begin the tour.

Taken near the intersection of Town Street and High Street- 1914.

The photo above at Town and High shows Lazarus Department Store on the left. It is one of the few buildings that remains today, as shown below.

Town and High, present day.

The next set is the before and after from Capital Square, just south of the Broad and High intersection. The tall building in the center of the photo is 8 E. Broad and one of the few still standing today.

Capital Square, 1914

Capital Square in the present day.

The next few photographs show the very heart of Downtown, the intersection of Broad and High. A few buildings remain, but most is gone.

The intersection of Broad and High Streets.

Next is High Street just north of Broad and looking north. Notice just how many buildings are gone.

Up next is the intersection of Long and High, just south of the Atlas building (on the right). The Atlas Building still exists and is in the process of renovation. There are also a few buildings across the street that survived. Few others did.

For the 2nd to last set, we have the intersection of Spring and High. The old Chittenden Hotel is the large building on the left with the Lyceum Theater behind it. Most of these buildings were torn down to make room for the Nationwide complex in the 1980s. There is literally not a single building from 1914 still standing in this area.

And finally, we have the intersection of Goodale Avenue and High Street. This before and after shows a drastic transformation. Many of the buildings in the photo, including the building with the beautiful domed rotunda, were demolished to clear the right of way for the construction of I-670. Others succumbed due to the Convention Center’s construction or the Greek Orthodox Church’s expansion in the 1980s. There is only one point of reference to know this is the same place. If you look closely, just past the building with the rotunda and to the right, you can just make out the roofline of the Yukon Building. It is the first line of buildings to survive north of 670 and begins what is now known as the Short North. To me, this is the most tragic photo of all. Like so many cities, Columbus had incredible architecture in abundance, and the leaders in the middle part of the 20th century squandered it all away, leaving the current generation trying to rebuild a divided, empty shell of what once was. Much of it, however, can never be restored. Let it be a visible reminder that development has real consequences if not followed through wisely.