Once upon a time, Carson City was a sleepy town with little traffic. For most of the 20th century, the population hovered under 10,000. As we saw in our big post about the state of downtown parking in Carson City, it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that traffic started to pick up. The road went from two lanes to four lanes, and from diagonal parking to parallel parking to no on-street parking at all. Carson Street was changing from a street to a thoroughfare. And it didn’t help that Carson Street was also Highway 395, so all traffic between Reno and points south was travelling through downtown.
Carson Street increasingly became a dangerous place, especially with the rise of huge semi trucks. For this reason, sometime in the early 1990s, the city decided that pedestrians downtown were no longer safe. The decision was made to fence off the sidewalks downtown, creating a physical barrier between pedestrians and traffic. A black iron fence was built, meant to ape the appearance of the historic fence around the Capitol. The point of the fence was very clear: to keep cars off the sidewalk and pedestrians out of the street. This picture from around 1993 shows downtown just before the fence went in.
The fence went in, and it did its job well. People stumbling out of the casinos downtown after having a few were now crashing into the fence instead of stumbling into the street. I don’t have any stats about traffic deaths downtown before and after the fence, but I bet you would see a sharp decline. For 20 years the fence did its job well. But it also hurt the attractiveness of downtown. Carson has never had the most walkable downtown. The narrow sidewalks, the heavy traffic, and the fence combine to give a sense of claustrophobia downtown. You get the sense when you are walking in downtown Carson City that you don’t belong. Downtown is made for cars, and if you’re walking it’s only because you’re hurrying between your car and your destination. The fence kept people safe, but it also kept them squeezed in close to the buildings, mechanically flowing in artificial channels. Downtown Carson City has been without a soul for a long time, and the fence, although not the only reason, was definitely a part of that.
The reason I’m writing about the fence now is that it’s recently been removed. A crew from the city moved in, cut it into bits, and sent it off to the scrap heap. I’ll talk about the reasons why in the next post, but first I wanted to put up this photo gallery memorializing the fence. I took these pictures just before city crews came in to chop it up and haul it away. This marks the last days of the Carson City fence.
The fence was pretty weather-worn, and falling apart in some spots. If it wasn’t torn down it would have needed some TLC soon.
The fence was a visual barrier as well, blocking a view of the sidewalk from the street.
Especially here at Musser it was a problem. It blocked the view of oncoming traffic to people who were trying to turn.
Various layers of rust and paint.
The fence stretched for a total of three blocks on each side of the street, just in the downtown core between Musser and Robinson.
There was even a stretch of fence down in front of Comma Coffee at Fourth Street. This fence looked different than the rest; it must have been added later.
Next time we’ll take a look at what downtown looks like now that the fence is down and all this space has been opened up.