Have you ever tried to walk along Mockingbird Lane between Central Expressway and Greenville Avenue? Of course you haven’t. The sidewalks are narrow and frequently interrupted by parking lot ramps and utility poles. It’s not a place for perambulation.

About 10 years ago, shortly after the construction of his Mockingbird Station, developer Ken Hughes wanted to do something about the lack of pedestrian activity outside his property, along Mockingbird. He secured about $600,000 in federal grants toward streetscape improvements. Not the kind of “improvements” that mean road widening but legitimate improvements to the pedestrian network: widening the sidewalks, coordinating egresses among property owners to increase continuity, and burying the overhead utility lines to reduce visual clutter and cut down some of those blasted poles.

Unfortunately, $600,000 wasn’t enough. The project had to be broken into phases. The first phase, to be paid for with the federal grant, would focus on the easy stuff, cosmetics. Medians would be planted with a mix of roses, yuccas, and dwarf palmettos. Pink flowering crape myrtles would line Mockingbird and do their best to conceal the parking. And new pendant lights would be strung over the street. These kinds of lights are typically hung with catenary cable anchored directly to buildings. But along Mockingbird most of the buildings are set too far from the street to make that feasible. Instead, yet more poles were planted in the sidewalk. Rather than make the street friendlier for people, the lighting only made things worse, creating more visual clutter and less walkable space.

The kicker to the story is that the lights haven’t worked in many years. The pendant lights aren’t necessary for proper lighting, so they sit at the bottom of the priority list for maintenance. When I asked about them, city staff had no idea they were broken and said they would send someone out immediately to fix them. Now half of them remain on, even during daylight hours.