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Congress Street Named One of Fifteen Great Places in America
In Tucson's early days, Congress Street was one of the city's most vibrant and well-used downtown commercial corridors. But as Arizona's population began to skyrocket and car traffic became the primary focus for many planners, the street gradually became less friendly to people walking.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tucson officials, planners, and engineers devised a series of inventive plans to reinvigorate the local economy and restore its commercial luster. Most importantly, Congress Street underwent several major renovations that restored mode-sharing to the street.
For the first time in many years, car-centric planning strategies were no longer the priority for downtown's most important corridor. Congress Street was reduced from three lanes to two. Its sidewalks were widened to encourage more pedestrian activity, trees were planted to help mitigate the relentless Arizona heat, and bike parking was added for cyclists.
In 2014, the city began operating SunLink, a modern streetcar. The SunLink route spans Congress Street and connects downtown businesses, neighborhoods, and the University of Arizona. This investment in transit infrastructure — funded by a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER Discretionary Grant — was a primary catalyst for new development along Congress Street.
Hoping to revive Congress Street's sense of place and history, city officials assisted with the restoration of the Rialto Theatre and the Fox Tucson Theatre, two iconic cultural establishments that bookend Congress Street. To further celebrate the street's rich history and utilize existing resources, the city implemented a low-cost, high-return building facade improvement matching grant program, which restored a dozen historic storefronts along Congress Street, helping to create a cohesive visual identity for the area.
The City of Tucson's two-pronged approach of capitalizing on historical and cultural assets and greatly enhancing multimodal accessibility has brought Congress Street back to life as a vital economic hub.
To read the full bio on Congress Street presented by the American Planning Association, click here.
To see all fifteen 2017 Honorees, click here.
To read the news release from the City of Tucson, click here.