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The Journal Gazette

  • Placher

Monday, May 13, 2019 1:00 am

Healthy growth

Downtown living lessens need for car; here are some things the city can do to help

David Placher

David Placher is a Fort Wayne resident.

As many in Fort Wayne continue “cord cutting,” they should also consider “car cutting.”

Fort Wayne's cluster of office buildings, restaurants, museums, coffee shops, residential buildings, public parks, hospitals and other public buildings can make living car-free in downtown a reality.

Downtown's well-lit sidewalks, well-marked pedestrian crossings, and great lighting at intersections help people feel safe day or night. Its bike lanes, bike-friendly streets and numerous bike racks enable bicyclists to ride at their preferred speed and enjoy secure bike parking. Its Citilink Central Station is within walking distance of the heart of downtown, and it offers several different bus route options for people who want to visit areas outside the city center.

Downtown residents who are car-free gain more than just an easier life. For instance, they save money. The high cost of automobile ownership, the unexpected repair costs and the pesky annual insurance increases that all seem to throw financial situations for a loop can be avoided. An alternative is walking, using ride-sharing services and having purchases delivered.

Car-free downtown residents exercise. As weight problems sneak into people's lives, one of the best ways to fight back is to stay fit. Walking or biking to locations forces physical movement no matter how short the distance. Plus there is an added benefit: Physical activity promotes better sleep at night and better alertness during the day.

Car-free downtown residents live greener lifestyles. Although traffic is generally mild in Fort Wayne, it doesn't take a scientist to determine that air pollution increases when there is bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour or traffic that builds before and after events at Parkview Field and the Grand Wayne Center. Walking or biking reduces pollution and promotes a cleaner, greener and healthier city.

Skeptics who sense imminent problems with going car-free can dig up problematic situations by the shovelful. Ride-sharing services are not reliable 24 hours a day. People who need lifts to or from the airport in the early hours or late in the evening might be without luck. People who are in a hurry need cars to get to destinations faster, even if only blocks away. The cost of downtown residential rent and housing seems to be going up. There is no grocery or retail pharmacy. There are few high-paying jobs downtown, thus preventing people from living and working there.

But city officials can answer these skeptics.

Fort Wayne can enter into an agreement with Zipcar and grant designated parking spots throughout the city that allow people to rent cars by the minute, hour or day. It can enter into an agreement with Spin and allow it to place electric scooters throughout the city so people can rent them for short distances.

It can allow developers to convert more empty office spaces into condominiums or apartments.

It can grant subsidies to stores that would either open or start offering better food selections. There is plenty of room downtown for a store, even if the store were in a building that required it to use multiple floors for store space, a design unfamiliar to Fort Wayne but not other cities.

If city officials continue to focus on downtown, presto-magico, more businesses will return to the area, leading to higher-paying jobs.