The attitude driving Grafton's CBD into the ground
LIFE AS I KNOW IT
YOU can tell a lot about a place by its drivers, and Grafton seems to be one of those "get outta my %#$& way" towns.
The hatred of cyclists. The unwillingness to let cars merge in an appropriate fashion. The attitude we give our international guests for a couple of weeks a year, the inability to wait a few seconds for someone to park.
Really, it's not the freeway we're talking about. They are built-up areas and if anything should be changing, it should be the pace of our traffic.
This 'right of passage' driving mentality here is a dangerous one, especially when applied to the CBD. Besides being fraught with danger, this lead-foot attitude is also holding us back commercially.
Take the way we park. Mostly the reverse parking we seem to laud here isn't a problem except when it destroys the ambience of a place.
But drivers like it because it's quicker (and supposedly safer) to pull out faster without stopping the flow of traffic. That's great for petrol-heads but is that really the priority for an area like Prince St where we are supposed to be encouraging people to slow down and stay a while.
Our main shopping strip will go nowhere fast unless we do something about its street appeal. New, progressive businesses will help to plug some of the empty holes but overall the whole she-bang is an eyesore by historical city standards.
Vacant and run-down shops reflect badly upon a place so unless the team from The Block arrives for an extensive hi-octane makeover, the only solution is to mask them with rows of mature street trees and greenery.
And the only way to do this is by widening the footpaths. This means losing a lane of traffic which also means cars will have to slow down. Boo hiss.
Once that happens it will take at least 10 degrees off the shop fronts and the foot traffic, a pleasing outcome for a place with stifling summers. Public bench seating and pockets of alfresco dining can then run all the way down both sides.
Then there's the parking.
Nose-in is ironically the way forward if you want your main street to be more efficient and user-friendly.
And if there's only one lane of traffic passing through the strip you will have to slow down anyway. Then you will see the reverse lights of someone leaving a park and wait a few seconds rather than pulling the old Grafton trick of trying to fang it past. Deep breathe if you have to, but it's a built-up area, not the Oran Park.
Occasionally you see people trying to sit out the front of eateries in Prince Street, wedged against a wall on a hot, barren footpath, a shot of carbon monoxide to go with their shot of coffee, and while their fortitude and dedication should be commended, it doesn't look like a pleasant experience.
If you also do this with a baby in a pram, or with a fly-blown council bin on top of you, or in the firing line of idling bus fumes, then you really deserve a medal.
Once the paths are wider with trees in place, Prince St pedestrians will then linger longer and eateries will be able to move up a gear in the alfresco stakes encouraging more people to stay around and shop. This creates a much more positive vibe than the present one of 'get out of car, go into shop, leave shop, get back into car and drive off, fast'.
With the pending new Grafton bridge Prince Street no longer needs to be part of the Summerland Way thoroughfare. This always gave the impression you could drive at a pace that is not conducive to pedestrians and social activities like catching up over a coffee or shopping with the kids. The sooner passing traffic is officially redirected through Villiers Street along with the high vehicles the better.
There will always be excuses for no change, like losing car parks or how nose-in is more dangerous (hundreds of other cities and towns around the country must be wrong). But if traffic is forced to slow down through infrastructural changes there's less risk straight up and pedestrians will breathe a sigh of exhaust free-relief.
Ironically, for a sneak peek of the future, take a look at the council building in Prince St. The nice wide footpath, trees and bench sitting desperately needed down the CBD strip.
There's still room for nose-in parking down there (and more parking centrally if they take out the underused island) so anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
So what's it going to be Grafton?
Getting to A to B faster and having a crappy main street and dead tourists, or slowing down a little and offering a friendlier, more attractive shopping strip while our visitors enjoy the place without risking their lives.
Work it out, but do it soon. That highway bypass is approaching faster than you can drive down Prince Street.