Photo by the author.

On a recent trip to Charlottesville, I had a chance to enjoy its pedestrian mall. Initially it looks as if it could have been an organic, original part of the downtown, but it was constructed fairly recently, in 1976.

Charlottesville is small — population 43,000 — but it has a defined downtown area with offices, shops and other city amenities. The pedestrian mall is a major presence there. It is about 8 blocks long and as wide as any other street downtown.

One end is anchored by a 3,500 seat outdoor performance pavilion and a new green transit center. The pedestrian walkway is divided into three sections: two 15-foot wide walking areas adjacent to the shops on each side, and a 30 foot wide median/plaza area with public art, seating, lighting and outdoor dining areas for the many restaurants on the strip.

The city claims over 120 businesses on the mall. I saw a great mix: a museum, at least two really awesome indie coffee shops, multiple restaurants, art galleries, a cupcakery (of course!), a real theater, a newer Regal movie theater, sports bars, a hotel and much more, not to mention City Hall.

There are no residential buildings that I saw, but institutional, open space, industrial, and commercial sectors were all represented. My favorite aspect was outdoor seating for the restaurants. It made the whole 8 block expanse feel alive.

Dining outside in the Charlottesville pedestrian mall. Photo by the author.

The only downside was that a few of the cross streets allowed automobile traffic. Drivers on those side streets often sped through with at least one in particular not respecting the fact that I was in the road and the fact that he had a stop sign. At only 8 blocks, I would have liked to see traffic forced around the whole pedestrian area.

There is plenty of parking, including a massive surface lot (next to additional garages) only one block form the pedestrian mall. That’s pretty cool when the farmer’s market is on the lot, but pretty unattractive at other times.

Could the Charlottesville mall be a model for a small scale similar set up in DC? We have residents in Cleveland Park asking for automobile-controlled space to be turned back over to pedestrians. Adams Morgan is currently getting more sidewalk space for its patrons. And one of the largest downtown development projects in the nation is taking shape at CityCenterDC, which will include a pedestrian alley.

Southeast DC has two decent examples of this, with Eastern Market and surrounding streets closed off on the weekends, as well as Half Street’s closure during Nats games.

Where else could we incorporate a permanent pedestrian mall? 8th Street NW between D and F? F St NW between 6th and 7th? M St in Georgetown (could you imagine?) Adams Morgan? Post ideas in the comments or tweet them with #dcpedmall. Meanwhile, go Charlottesville. I was very impressed.

Cross-posted at The 42 Bus.