High Street is one of Columbus’ main drags. It runs north-south through the heart of downtown and connects it to German Village, the Arena District, the Short North, the University District, and Clintonville. Now city planners and the Central Ohio Transit Authority are wrestling with a thorny question: Should High Street also be one of Columbus’ main bus routes — or even be a bus route at all?
Currently, High Street is a primary bus artery. Sixty-six buses an hour — more than one a minute — rumble north to south down High Street during peak hours. A COTA consultant recommended cutting that number to 46, and after people complained that the plan didn’t go far enough COTA proposed additional modifications that will reduce the number to 26 north-south buses an hour. The new plan would move much of the bus traffic to Front, Third, and Fourth Streets and is contingent on the city agreeing to convert Front Street from a one-way to a two-way street.
This exercise in urban planning is a tough balancing act. Many people (like the Bus-Riding Conservative) take the bus to workplaces in downtown Columbus, and COTA would like to encourage even more to do so. Moving bus stops to places several blocks away wouldn’t exactly encourage more ridership. At the same time, the buses are loud and contribute greatly to traffic congestion. In addition, many High Street business owners feel that the transfer stations, where bus riders gather to wait for their rides, may be used as locations for drug dealing, discourage foot traffic by potential customers, and are unsightly, besides. If may just be coincidence, but while downtown generally is bustling with rehabbing and construction, there remain many vacant storefronts and parking lots on High Street.
Earlier this week I walked to a High Street restaurant on a path that took me past the busy transfer station at Broad and High, where pedestrians must follow a gauntlet between the sidewalk structure and groups of people sitting on the wall in front of the Statehouse. It’s not exactly a pleasant walk, and it doesn’t show off the Statehouse in a great light, either. Although I recognize that urban planning shouldn’t be all about how I personally am affected, I’ll be happy to see fewer buses, and transfer stations, on High Street.