SMa.rt column: The main pain

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Visiting Main Street several times a day as part of what was to be a trial to close through traffic revealed a seemingly small increase in foot traffic and little activity in the middle of the street where tables and benches were were installed. The restaurants and bars seemed to have been busy with their mostly normal summer activities on the beach. Even during the opening hours of the Sunday Farmer’s Market, there did not appear to be a noticeable increase in the number of users in sections closed to traffic. It appeared that normal car and bus through traffic was diverted around the closed section to Nielsen, but with those who came to stay looking for a place to park, this caused backups. This has been called a ‘pilot program’, try it and see if it works, with apparently little input from residents and businesses immediately affected.

In 1980, years after the POP Pier fire, Main Street was in need of revitalization as it had, to a large extent, slipped into a shoddy business district and struggled to rejuvenate itself. . Around this time, street businesses joined with local residents to analyze what was right and what was wrong and needed to be fixed. As a member of this diverse group of stakeholders, we were joined by a planner from municipal staff assigned to us, and for about a year and a half we worked closely together to develop the first street map. main.

This effort resulted in new zoning ordinances that guided a successful Main Street renewal that we have all benefited from for many years. As the weather always evolves and changes, it becomes important to reassess what works and what doesn’t, and there was, in the early 1990s, another study, and adjustments were made to keep Main Street. viable. Access, traffic and parking were the main topics of interest.

The following years saw the city council make a major change in tourism and development policies. Massive building programs evolved, property values ​​rose and, with it, rents began to climb. Due to escalating rents, our community has lost many ‘mom & pop’ businesses and, combined with online shopping and the impact of Covid over the past year, we are seeing a dramatic increase in number of empty storefronts and office space. And not just on Main St. So what to do? Without a city-wide master plan, there seems to be a municipal mindset of piecemeal planning. A random “try and see” approach with little or no evaluation. And that appears to be the purpose of the Main Street closure.

When parkletts (closed sidewalk extensions with seats) were installed a few years ago, it took away accessibility as it took off street parking. Eliminate parking, delete customers, or at least put their cars in motion looking for a place to park so they can access the businesses that need it to stay viable and operational. It’s not that parklets themselves are a bad idea, but the loss of access has to be weighed against the benefits. The way they are designed and integrated into the street is what is essential. And that brings us to the decision to shut down Main Street without a cause and effect analysis.

So the zipper came and went, with a moan. Whines, mainly non-food establishments and drinking establishments that suffered economic losses due to the closure of streets for what has been called a “pilot” program. It’s sad to say that this “pilot program” “bought the farm” and “crashed and burned”. At least that’s my impression. Feel the pain?

But you have to have more than just a superficial impression, so I returned to Main St the following weekend to visit some of the non-bar / restaurant shops to hear their real experiences and the impact that the street closure has. could have on them. . Certainly not a scientific analysis, but speaking with the owners and customers of several of the stores, both in the closed section as well as in the open street section, revealed a consensus of “please don’t do it again” .

  • A store owner told me his business was down almost 25%. Another told me, and I know this is anecdotal, that for the first time since “I can’t remember when” there had been shoplifting in their store.
  • Another explained how the closure of the street, in addition to the loss of on-street parking, caused the loss of parking in lots accessible only from the closed section and therefore, in addition to cutting off access to customers. , the city effectively confiscated the usability of these properties without compensation or permission. The analysis of the street closure would certainly have raised a flag on this issue.
  • Another business owner, outside of the closed area, was keen to explain how he had to fight the city to remove the k-rails that removed parking in front of his business (not a restaurant / bar, and no parklett there) and expressed it quite loudly that if the k-railsl hadn’t been taken down, they didn’t think their business would have survived. “They also said that closing the street did nothing to help their business.
  • An older customer, a longtime local resident, overhearing the owner and I speak, stepped in with a comment on how they rely on BBB and the negative impact it has had on their normal use and travel in the street.

The following comments are from emails I received during and immediately after the street closure:

“Scooters are piled up on the sidewalk of Hill where a sign reads ‘Teardown Zone’. Almost all of the street seating areas are empty, and there are a few people walking down the street and a woman on an exercise mat stretching out. Not too many vehicles on the street at the moment, but are diverted to Nielsen.

There is no ‘there’ there, and one bank branch has even chosen to shut down its normal Saturday operations, fearing that the police will have little opportunity to reach them in a timely manner. incident. “

“I’m at Lula’s now. Waiters say the two-day average may be less than a normal weekend. There is no energy in the street. It took a while to get a parking space due to the decrease in parking. Restaurants are doing much better than non-food businesses. Overall, this seems to create more losers than winners. Of course, this does not include the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods of the diverted traffic. “

“We walked to Main Street and stayed there from 10:30 am to 1:00 pm, ate brunch and ‘toured’ the area as well. First of all, I was not impressed with the general layout and the outside seating; it was out of date and looked like a low end camp! Many businesses were still closed and there was plenty of space everywhere. I can’t say enough about the shabby look of the tables, chairs, fake turf and seating in general, there were only a few exceptions. In general, the concept as it is implemented today lowers the image. There should be a stipulated design code and approval standards that would serve the region, concept and company much better. The edges of the concrete barricade were all painted decoratively, which was the only pleasant cohesive element. Of course, I speak as a resident, and I am aesthetically sensitive, but maybe visitors don’t care! …

I did not see the police or a security presence of any kind on Main St.

In the end, if I was a tourist I wouldn’t go to Main St. more than once. I spoke to a few tourists there, and they weren’t that impressed either. If that concept were to go ahead, Santa Monica would have to deal with appearances there. There is no middle ground; if you’re going to do it, do it well or not at all.

As an active resident and architect of Ocean Park (OP) for the past 45 years, I have not received any notification from the Ocean Park Association (OPA) regarding the proposal, although I was at current from other sources. I understand that the genesis of this idea came from a new member of the OPA board of directors who has just joined OP. Maybe he wasn’t happy with the “Dogtown” he found. There is now an ongoing “survey” via a “Survey Monkey” questionnaire published by the OPA. But without real rigor of sampling, no useful information will result.

While there is value in the concept of closing this major north-south artery, there is little doubt that there will be an impact on residents, on traffic in the neighborhood and towards downtown, on parking, accessibility and business survival. . It requires more analysis and stakeholder participation than this closing process has offered. I don’t think a weighted Survey Monkey does justice to any of the stakeholders involved.

A true partnership with stakeholders in this iconic neighborhood has happened in the past, creating the main street we’ve known and loved, and any reimagining of this seaside town asset deserves nothing less today. .

Bob Taylor, architect, AIA for SMa.rt

Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Future

Ron Goldman, architect FAIA; Dan Jansenson, architect, commissioner for the safety of buildings and people in the event of fire; Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, planning commissioner; Robert H. Taylor, architect AIA: Thane Roberts, architect; Sam Tolkin, architect; Marc L. Verville MBA, CPA (inactive); Michael Jolly, AIRCRE

For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing


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