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The Santa Monica City Council reportedly voted 7-0 recently to pilot weekend closures of part of Main Street this upcoming summer, in a move that some have called prioritizing pedestrians over cars. The motion seeks to boost business along the restaurant-filled street. It is now headed to city staffers to sort out the logistics and potential traffic impacts before its final approval.
The Main Street Business Improvement Association and the Ocean Park Association, which represent residents in the surrounding area, came up with the idea, and council members Gleam Davis and Christine Parra then presented it in front of the council. Davis reportedly cited the success of a similar program on Santa Barbara’s State Street, as well as comparably-sized pedestrian initiative in Munich that boosted retail activity by 200% and restaurants by 300%.
Though the details still have to be worked out, the program would most likely close two or three blocks to car and bus traffic. A map posted on the MSBIA’s website specifically suggests about half a block east of both Hill Street and Ashland Avenue could be opened up to on-street dining. Whichever the case, the motion wouldn’t close the entire span of the tree-lined street, and cross traffic would still be allowed.
As previously mentioned, the closures would likely take place on two days on select weekends, either Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday. Though there’s no set start date, MSBIA director Hunter Hall reportedly said during a public comment period that the closures could commence at the end of June.
As part of the city’s Main Street Al Fresco initiative, some of Main Street’s curbside parking spots have already been turned into outdoor dining areas, lined with brightly-painted traffic barricades.
The city received over a hundred public comments in response to the proposal, of which the large majority were in favor. Among those opposed, however, most cited fears of increased traffic along 2nd and 3rd Streets, as well as residential roads that run parallel to Main. Others simply felt that the plan caters too heavily to restaurants and bars.
For some, pedestrianizing streets mean fewer vehicle collisions with bicyclists, pedestrians, and everyone else not in a car. In California, on average, 136,000 are injured in traffic collisions each year, including 1,500 deaths and 5,200 seriously injured. People who walk and bike are at greater risk of fatalities. Pedestrians and bike riders make up 27% of those deaths, despite comprising only 12% of the trips.
However, Slow Streets programs, which were designed to limit through traffic on certain residential streets and allow them to be used as a shared space for people traveling by foot and bicycle, have been criticized for mostly serving wealthy communities — like Santa Monica.