6:08 PM EDT, April 25, 2013
There are two key questions that need to be asked about the proposal in Bel Air to close Office Street to vehicular traffic, turning it into a kind of pedestrian plaza near the Harford County Courthouse.
• Why doesn't the proposal also include closing the block of Courtland Street on the other side of the Courthouse to vehicular traffic?
• And why didn't someone think of this before?
The subject was broached because the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners is working on plans to replace the brick sidewalks along Office Street next to the Courthouse, and make some other upgrades in the area including planting some shrubs.
Regardless of whether Office Street ends up being closed to motorized traffic, the town is planning to spend $121,000 for the upgrade.
As a practical matter, it makes a lot of sense to close both Office Street, which is but a block long, and the block of Courtland Street on either side of the Courthouse for the simple reason that as roadways for cars they don't have much to offer. Both are narrow, though Office Street is especially so. Neither is heavily traveled, though Courtland Street sees more traffic if for no other reason than it has a few metered parking spaces along one side.
Possibly more to the point is that the two sections of roadway see a tremendous amount of pedestrian traffic thanks to the configuration of the courthouse. Though it has a Main Street address, the courthouse's main entrances are on the sides of the building, at about the midpoint, between Main and Bond streets, opening on Courtland and Office streets.
In a way, the location of the main courthouse entrances all but encourages jaywalking. Thanks to neither street being particularly heavily traveled, the issue of people walking on them hasn't been a serious safety concern, though that could change if more motorists started using the streets as shortcuts.
Possibly a better reason to consider turning the area around the Courthouse into something of a pedestrian plaza is the success of events that have involved short-term closings of Office Street. The warm weather First Friday events staged on Friday evenings in the spring, summer and autumn come to mind, as do sporadic garden club flower sales and the occasional festival. Permanently closing Office Street, and possibly Courtland Street, would make the area that much more appealing as a staging area for outdoor activities.
On the whole, closing Office Street to motor vehicle traffic is an idea with a fair number of positive attributes, and relatively little immediately obvious to recommend against it. If someone doesn't come up with a major pitfall to the idea, it should be made reality in short order.
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