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A closer look at the renewed effort to convert car-friendly Water Street into a pedestrian-friendly promenade, connecting Mobilians back to their riverfront.

Tomorrow, the Mobile City Council will take a vote on a big step forward for the Port City’s vision to connect citizens back to their riverfront.

The council is set to give approval for a plan by mayor Sandy Stimpson to “transform Water Street from the backyard of downtown into the gateway of Mobile.”

Pending council approval, the city will contract with Thompson Engineering to begin the design process for Water Street including striping, traffic signalization, landscaping and other gateway elements. The work will extend from Beauregard Street to south of Government Street downtown.

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The plan to transform Water Street will span from Beauregard Street to Canal Street. (City of Mobile/Special to The Pulse)

There are few more striking examples of just how poor pedestrian connectivity is along the Mobile riverfront than at Water and Beauregard streets. At the intersection sits a public housing development, the city’s central bus station and a convenience store — all within a stone’s throw of each other.

But try taking a walk between all three? Be prepared to cross 16 lanes of traffic, all without a crosswalk or pedestrian signal.

The scenario is the epitome of Mobile’s Water Street nightmare when it comes to increasing pedestrian connectivity from downtown to the revived riverfront, where Carnival Cruise Line is set to return this year, GulfQuest maritime museum has opened its doors, a vibrant waterfront park thrives, and a regional convention center attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Planned in the latter half of the 20th century — when cars dominated the focus of government planners and private developers — the intersection is just one of many hotspots of potential pedestrian access downtown, according to city officials. Now, the city sees a major change for the historic street, once a major hub of riverfront commerce in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Downtown Mobile in June 1922. (Library of Congress/Special to the Pulse)

Downtown Mobile riverfront in June 1922. (Library of Congress/Special to the Pulse)

Originally, Alabama planners designed Water Street to be a seamless connector with Interstate 10, creating an elevated bypass through the heart of downtown Mobile. The plan was defeated by downtown residents and the state compromised to build a high-speed ground-level spur through downtown in the form of an expanded Water Street.

The city says the project is all about connectivity for Mobilians. “The purpose of the project is to connect citizens and visitors to the Mobile Riverfront and its amenities including Cooper Riverside Park, the Mobile Convention Center, GulfQuest Maritime Museum and the Mobile Cruise Terminal,” said Stimpson.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says a road diet is a progressive way for cities to reclaim some of the excess street space they’ve dedicated to cars—generally preserving traffic flows while improving safety and expanding mobility for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Water Street is often people’s first impression of the City of Mobile,” said Stimpson. “Ironically, Water Street currently prevents you from accessing the water. Our goal is to create a safer, more walkable and bikeable corridor that invites you to these attractions. ”

In 2015, the Stimpson administration contracted MIG, a planning and design company, to develop a vision for Water Street. This next step is to utilize those plans to create an implementable engineering design.

Eventually, the city says new striping will form new crosswalks and bicycle and pedestrian lanes, reducing the amount of vehicular traffic lanes from six to four. This will coincide with new traffic signals along portions of Water Street to create a more efficient traffic flow.

If approved, Thompson will receive $283,459.15 through Tax Increment Financing funds to complete the project by next fall.

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A redesign of the Beauregard and Water streets intersection is proposed in this rendering. (City of Mobile/Special to The Pulse)

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