PHOTO ESSAY | Downtown Springfield IL

God bless, historic downtown Springfield, Illinois… they are trying, they really are. Unfortunately, for every smart decision to promote vibrant urbanism, you can find another decision (or indecision) holding things back. The most important and destructive is the continual adherence to a one-way traffic system that has only one purpose: moving vehicles as quickly as possible through downtown. It is especially mind-boggling considering the large numbers of people (including school groups) visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Historic downtown Springfield is vibrant urbanism waiting to happen, trapped in its cage so automobiles can pass through quickly while only paying the minimal, necessary attention to pedestrians.

Historic Union Station and Union Station Plaza in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Historic Union Square (to left) and Museum Parking Garage (to right) along East Madison Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).

Another questionable design choice: locating a ‘dead’ facade parking garage across the street from beautiful, historic Union Station (now an accessory structure to the Lincoln Museum), thus creating an urban void absent of any active frontages. The parking garage was obviously built for the convenience of people visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum located one block away but does nothing for the street life along this one-way, ‘rat run’ segment of East Madison Street. The street trees seem like an apologetic, after-the-fact attempt to hide this failure of urban design and planning from citizens and visitors alike.

Historic Union Station and Union Station Plaza from the corner of Sixth Street and East Jefferson Street in downtown Springfield (Photograph: Mark David Major).

In the above photograph, you can see how much street width is dedicated to moving cars through the one-way street system in downtown Springfield and the amount of pavement pedestrians have to overcome to cross a street even though there is plenty of room for landscaped medians, enhanced pedestrian crosswalks, and on-street parking with a 20-25 mph speed limit to efficiently move (instead of stop-and-start) the traffic… perhaps, even the elimination of some stop lights using the design principles of shared space.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (foreground) and Museum (background) at East Jefferson Street (center) and Sixth Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).

The HOK design of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is O.K. (not great, not awful, hardly objectionable) though the 2nd floor structural crossover of East Jefferson Street wouldn’t be necessary at all with traffic calming, generally in historic downtown Springfield and, specifically, on this segment of East Jefferson Street so people could pass freely from one ground level entrance to the other using the street without having to wait for the crosswalk lights to change.

View east along East Adams Street from Sixth Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois. The high-rise Modernist building in the background was originally constructed in 1973 as Forum 30 but is now the Wyndham Springfield City Centre Hotel (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View south down Sixth Street from the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street in front of the Old State Capitol in downtown Springfield, Illinois. The historic Lincoln-Herndon Law Office building is located to the right (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View northwest across Old State Capitol grounds from the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street with the historic Myers Brothers Building in the background in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View east down the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street with Old State Capitol to the left in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View west down East Adams Street from the the pedestrianized segment of that street and 5th Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View east down the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street with historic shop frontages located to the right including the Feed Store and the National Museum of the Korean War in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View south down Sixth Street from East Adams Street showing the retention of historic buildings (including Lincoln-Herndon Law Office to the right) and the flow of vehicles down this one-way traffic corridor. Off-street parking is allowed along this segment of Sixth Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
View west down the pedestrianized segment of East Adams Street with historic shop frontages located to the left such as the Feed Store and the National Museum of the Korean War and the Old State Capitol to the right in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Historic Lincoln-Herndon Law Office building at the corner of Sixth Street and East Adams Street in downtown Springfield, Illinois (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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