The “emergency” moratorium will give planners a chance to design a more pedestrian-friendly place.

If you cruise the six-lane Central Avenue in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, via Google Street View, you’ll soon find the Minneapolis suburb has been invaded by auto businesses.

Start at the intersection of 42nd Avenue NE. There you’ll find Central Auto Repair. If that doesn’t do it for you, head north a block until you reach O’Reilly Auto Parts (it’s the one right next to the Holiday gas station). Things get real at 44th, where Precision Tune Auto Care gives way to Midas, which gives way to the creatively named Car Wash, which leads to CarX Auto Service, then Auto Max, then the Atlas Body Shop, then Advance Auto Parts, then mercifully a McDonald’s.

And that’s just on one side of the street.

Via Google Street View

What you won’t find, at least in the near future, are any new auto businesses. At a late November city council meeting, local officials voted 4-1 to impose a six-month “emergency” moratorium on car-related retail throughout Columbia Heights. The breather would give planners a chance to study potential zoning changes that offer more control over the situation—with the hope of turning at least the main part of town into a place that’s much more friendly to pedestrians.

Here’s the mayor, via the Star Tribune:

“Residents think we have too many auto places,” said Mayor Gary Peterson. “Central Avenue has always been an auto-related corridor. It has an auto history. But we want to make sure we are planning for our downtown area, planning ways to make it more sustainable with salons, offices, restaurants.”

And here’s the community development director, Joe Hogeboom:

“We are really trying to focus on making that street more walkable, more appealing, more attractive,” Hogeboom said. “The revitalization of Central Avenue is the big goal. There are many pieces to it.”

The turning point, it seems, was the recent arrival of a small, drab auto shop across the street from the site of a sharp new local library, which broke ground in September. The renderings suggest a desire for a walkable-bikeable spot at odds with the sort of fast and easy car movement encouraged by both the design of Central Avenue, and its auto-centric business makeup. How, exactly, is the knowledge-hungry young lady in the top image below supposed to cross the street safely—especially once you add in all the speeding cars not pictured on the multi-lane highway?

Renderings of the new Columbia Heights Library suggest a place that’s friendly to people walking or riding a bike—with nary a driver in sight. (City of Columbia Heights)

The key to the plan’s success, then, would seem to rest with the “many pieces” described by Hogeboom. If Columbia Heights adopts other complementary measures—maybe a redesigned streetscape, or a road diet, or a way to access the area by modes other than cars, or a reduction in surface parking, or all of the above—then its symbolic push to deemphasize car travel will carry some force. If not, that library-goer is going to be waiting at the curb for quite a long time.

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