Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

The Boulevard, Marketing Yourself, More ArtWalk And That’s Not All!

The PopCulteer
May 27, 2011

Save Our Boulevard

Earlier this week The Charleston Gazette (our magnanimous benefactors) ran a couple of front-page articles that seemed to advocate major changes to Charleston’s lovely and glorious Kanawha Boulevard. This is nothing new. There is a very vocal, very tiny contingent of people who think that our city would be better off if we shut down one of the most impressive highways in the country and replaced it with a green space where bikers, joggers and walkers would all flock to enjoy the riverfront.

This is, of course, a bizarre fantasy. A few years ago the city experiemented with shutting down a lane or two of Kanawha Boulevard so that pedestrians and bikers could come down and bask in the wonderfulness of being close to water. The experiment was a huge failure. By the time it was quietly discontinued it had become clear that the same amount of people were taking advantage of the extra lane that had been going to the existing walkways along the Boulevard anyway.

The fact is, we have a beautiful riverfront. The Boulevard is the main reason for that. Many cities treat their rivers as glorified alleyways, lined with the ass-ends of warehouses and ugly docks. Charleston shows off their river in a way that vast amounts of its citizens can enjoy. There is ample space for pedestrians and bikers to enjoy the river, too.I’ve been writing about this for years.

Our Boulevard should be open and free for cars

And yet there is this underlying hostility toward Kanawha Boulevard. I don’t understand it. If you want to get from one end of the city to the other taking the Boulvard can shave half an hour off the trip during rush hour, and fifteen minutes the rest of the day.That is if it hasn’t been closed down due to some sort of car show.

This is because there aren’t as many traffic lights, there’s no cross traffic because you’re driving right along the river, and going Eastbound, you have some perpetually green lights. There are very few cities in this country that show off their river in such a beautiful and useful way. Thousands of cars travel Kanawha Boulevard every day. It would be a shame to sacrifice one of West Virginia’s real treasures just to mollify a small number of people who aren’t content to share the road.

In the article on Monday, writer Jim Balow interviewed Emma Grubb, a concerned mother who wants to re-route traffic so that she can take her extended family for walks without looking both ways. Mrs. Grubb’s rhetoric is loaded and seems a bit unreasonable, but the kicker is the photo that accompanied the article. In the photo, Mrs. Grubb and her two daughters, her elderly mother and their dog are shown trying to cross Kanawha Boulevard after a walk. Notable about the photo is that the family is crossing in the middle of the street, jumping a foot-high barrier and creating a menace to drivers and themselves.

Jaywalking across Kanawha Boulevard: (L-R) Hannah Grubb and family pet "Scout," Louisa Swift, Kate Grubb and Emma Grubb watch for a break in the traffic to cross Kanawha Boulevard. photo by chris dorst

Mrs. Grubb wants the non-stop lane elminated, and she wants all traffic to come to a full stop at every intersection. However, that doesn’t mean that she’s willing to walk the extra distance to a crosswalk. The photo shows a clear disregard for Charleston’s jay-walking laws. This proves my theory that the people who want multiple crosswalks across Kanawha Boulevard aren’t happy with just one or two because they don’t want to have to walk too far to go for a walk. Basically, they want an automobile-free riverfront park at their disposal at all times.

A follow-up front page story on Wednesday cited a study that said Charleston was the most dangerous city for pedestrians in the state. The group that released that study, Transportation For America, released several dozen other studies the same day. Almost all of them included a few paragraphs that were repeated verbatim. These reports all declared cities across the country “the most dangerous” and cited numbers which are gamed to look worse than they really are. One of their other reports said “McDowell County had the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the state between 2000 and 2009,” the same claim made about Charleston. I guess West Virginia is special because we have two “mosts.”

The Charleston numbers, according to the report, claim 56 pedestrian deaths in the Metro Charleston area…over a ten-year period. That’s less than six deaths a year, in the entire County, not just within the city limits. The report also fails to take into account whether the drivers or the pedestrians were at fault. To hear some people talk, all of those deaths were cases of innocent pedestrians being run down by speed-demons on Kanawha Boulevard. That number may actually include people who fell off of bicycles or went to sleep on train tracks. The report is unclear. A pedestrian death is any fatality that occurs on a public roadway.

A quick Google check shows that Transportation For America is an offshoot of Smart Growth America, a left-leaning coalition of lobbying groups and other organizations, and I have to question their tactics. They claim to be grassroots, but they seem to be employing the same “Astroturf” techniques that are so distasteful when used by The Tea Party. I think they’re doing their cause more harm than good by releasing so many identical, yet contradictory reports.

So with an opinionated lady and a bogus study, fingers are once again being pointed at Kanawha Boulevard as some sort of evil blight to be destroyed. I hope the Department of Highways manages to shoot down the proposals to wipe out or diminish our Boulevard. I can concede that a pedestrian-activated crossing signal might be a good idea at Elizabeth Street and Leon Sullivan Way, but anything more would render useless one of Charleston’s greatest features.

A Facebook Group, Save Our Boulevard, has been started to combat the small, vocal anti-Boulevard forces. It’s well-worth checking out.

I don’t mean to belittle the desires of the people who’d like to see Kanawha Boulevard reduced to a two-lane road. They mean well. I feel they are misguided. The whole effort reminds me of the 1970s “Pedestrian Mall” fad that saw towns like Dunbar and St. Albans shut down traffic on their main streets in a rather odd bid to increase business. The end result was the deaths of both downtown areas. St. Albans recently ripped up their pedestrian mall, and Main Street is beginning to boom once again. 12th Street in Dunbar is still a virtual ghost town. A street that once had three department stores, two toy stores, a Ben Franklin, two shoe stores, a bank, a furniture store, a hardware store, three pharmacies and a Dairy Queen now has only the furniture store remaining among empty storefronts and buidings that have been converted into cheap office space.

One thing that you rarely see in Dunbar’s pedestrian mall is pedestrians. The same thing would happen if Kanawha Boulevard were shut down. No amount of green space is going to change the fact that summers in Charleston are nasty hot and humid, especially along the riverfront, and winters are cold and wet. We have yet to see anything approaching spring weather this year.

a lovely summer day on Kanawha Boulevard

Our lovely riverfront, for most of the year, is best appreciated when viewed through the windows of a well-air-conditioned car driving from the West Side to the Capitol Complex.

Package Yourself

The Arts Council of the Kanawha Valley is presenting a seminar on marketing yourself Saturday, May 28 from 10 AM to Noon,at the WVSU Economic Development Center, located at 1506 Kanawha Blvd. Visit Charleston’s lovely Kanawha Boulevard (near Patrick Street) and learn all about “Marketing Yourself.” You will learn simple, easy tools to market your art and identity. Walk away understanding marketing vocabulary, branding consistency, and avenues to showcase your talent.

The Maestro teaching this class is Mark Wolfe, the man behind Mark Wolfe Design\, and a friend of your PopCulteer. Ten bucks lets you pick the brain of one of the savvy brand builders in Charleston. This is part of the Artist Factory series from The Arts Council.

Kate Long at Good News Mountaineer Garage

Last week I inadvertantly left out photos of Kate Long’s ArtWalk exhibit at Good News Mountaineer Garage Gallery. I also need to go back to Talyor Books to take new photos of the exhibit by Kristen Zammiello. Apologies again, but I got swamped this week and didn’t make it back to Capitol Street. Here’s a quick look at Kate’s great work.

A great crowd took in Kate Long's show at Good News Mountaineer Garage Gallery

Meet My Friend, Harvey

Cool Comics finally returned this week with a long review of Harvey Pekar’s latest book, set partly in Huntington. Read it here. It took long enough to write.

Next Week In PopCult

Expect more Videos, Art, Comics and, after three weeks off, Radio Free Charleston 131, with music from Tofujitsu, Mother Nang and Washington DC’s Wiley Sonic–all three bands that will appear June 4 at The Empty Glass!


  1. Steven Allen Adams

    Well said. as a pedestrian and biker I find I have more problems crossing Virginia and Bradford streets than I do crossing Kanawha Boulevard. Glad you noticed the jaywalking in the pic. I ran into part of the crew the other day and couldn’t get around the older one and her dog on the sidewalk. We have a great boulevard and river with plenty of room for walkers, bicyclists, and drivers.

  2. Jane Claymore

    Crossing buttons a good idea. Officers checking for speeders there AND on Virginia Street a good idea. But I tell you this: at Ruffner Park region, where the photo taken, the Blvd. being undermined from the storm sewers beneath and what I fear is a giant sink-hole opening up. That would stop EVERYthing. There are two very narrow cracks in the pavement that extend about 15 feet apart. Westbound lanes. Last big cloudburst I was driving down and saw water spurting up clear across, 4 to 6 inches high, all the way across.

  3. J. Michael Mollohan

    I agree with Rudy’s skepticism about the pedestrian deaths in the Charleston “Metro area.” How many were in the city proper? Where did they occur? In the past ten years I know of a couple at least that happened on Greenbrier Street (talk about a difficult one to cross!) and I’m sure the vast majority were at locations other than the Boulevard. The Gordian Knot intersections on Pennsylvania Avenue at the Interstate probably yields the greater number of automobile-pedestrian disagreements resulting in fatality. I’d like to see the details, and so should the reporter who, without substantiation, tied these statistics to the Boulevard. Bad Reporter. Bad! Bad!

  4. Johannah Turner

    When I was still driving around town I was frequently dismayed, not to say outraged, by having to slow down, sometimes come to a full stop, on Quarrier Street, Virginia Street, Lee Street, and sometimes even the Boulevard, because of pedestrians (young adults) shambling across the street, jaywalking, at a snail’s pace, not oblivious to traffic signals and oncoming traffic, but in defiance of it. Their entire body language screamed their contempt for conforming to any rules or standards or consideration for others. Their whole attitude said, “I dare you. Then I’ll sue you.” I must also add that on any number of such occasions this misbehavior was witnessed by police officers who did absolutely nothing even to admonish the arrogant perps. Sometimes they actually greeted them pleasantly and joshed with them. This deformed culture might have something to do with the vehicular accident/fatality statistics.

  5. Greg Proctor

    We don’t need another Dunbar, St. Albans or Huntington (9th Street) street-closing fiasco. What we need is for our beautiful, dense downtown to stay open in the evenings. You should have seen the throngs of people in Pullman Square Sunday night. We need fewer law offices on Capitol and Quarrier and more stores.

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