The road diet to improve access for pedestrians along Main Avenue is the latest addition to the ever-changing face of downtown Sioux Falls. But the grand-daddy of all pedestrian-friendly projects was an ill-fated effort that banned all vehicle traffic along part of Phillips Avenue.
The pedestrian mall had its roots in the urban renewal trend of the 1970s. Back then, many downtowns were concerned about competition from indoor malls springing up across the country. So a three-block stretch of Phillips Avenue, from 9th to 12th Streets, was off-limits to cars, so shoppers could have that part of downtown all to themselves.
Trees far outnumbered people in downtown Sioux Falls in the early 1980s. But shoppers like Karen Korver have fond memories of the Phillips Avenue pedestrian mall.
"I just remember it being closed off to traffic and that some of the stores were kind of unique and different. So it was kind of fun to see what else was out there rather than at the mall," Korver said.
But the pedestrian mall was on shaky footing from the get-go. People stayed away in droves from downtown because the mall, and it's car-free zone, took away so much parking.
"From what I understand, it was an abysmal failure. And the backlash really started with the businesses right on Phillips Avenue because a lot of that was put in place, ironically, to help the businesses," Community Development Director Darrin Smith said.
The cars returned to Phillips Avenue when the pedestrian mall walked off into the sunset. But Smith says it took a ban on cruising the loop, a decade ago, for downtown to truly rebound.
"Before the loop was removed, nobody was eating out, or having a drink on the sidewalk. Now you see that up and down Phillips Avenue, you're going to see that on Main Avenue," Smith said.
Smith says the old outdoor mall served as a lesson in how not to revitalize downtown. Newer projects focus not just on pedestrians, but also on car and bicycle traffic as well as parking availability, to enhance everyone's downtown experience.
The city hopes to replicate much of the the look and feel of Phillips Avenue one street up, at Main Avenue. The road diet has replaced one lane of traffic with diagonal parking.