The following was originally published in my Sept 19, 2020 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section
STREET CLOSURES & HEALTHY STREETS
Agenda item DC-3 would extend downtown street closures to help local businesses that are using outdoor space for social distancing during this pandemic.
DC-3 (20-1400) Resolution to Extend Resolution R-20-194 – Resolution to Approve Downtown Street Closures for Restaurant and Retail Use During the Time of Mandated Physical Distancing and Resolution R-20-302 – Resolution to Extend Resolution R-20-194 – Resolution to Approve Downtown Street Closures for Restaurant and Retail Use During the Time of Mandated Physical Distancing
There is broad public support for helping our local businesses, who have reached out to Council to tell us how much they depend on these street closures for their economic survival. I expect this agenda item to pass without much controversy.
In contrast, agenda item DC-7 is a response to public feedback about a few experimental street closures that have been less successful: Broadway/Swift, South Main, and Packard.
Council has passed several different measures to make street space available to (and safer for) pedestrians and cyclists. E.g. The “Slow Streets” program has closed many residential streets to all but local traffic. The “Healthy Streets” pilot programs (two programs: one downtown and one outside of downtown) have reconfigured city thoroughfares to eliminate vehicular lanes and create more space for pedestrians and non-motorized traffic.
Mayor Taylor and I cosponsored the Healthy Streets programs. The resolutions first came to Council on June 15th and it was passed at the July 8th meeting. The task of planning and implementing these programs was considerable, so the 90 day experiments of Healthy Streets did not actually begin until weeks later. There has been some confusion in the community about this timeline, misunderstanding and blaming about “delay.” Our staff invested a significant amount of time in planning for these road reconfigurations during a challenging period.
The “Healthy Streets” program outside of downtown was approved as a 90 day experiment and is scheduled to end on November 29. Agenda item DC-7 would end the experiment early (October 1) for only the three reconfigurations at Broadway/Swift, South Main, and Packard.
I’ve received a lot of email about the Healthy Streets program and these three streets in particular (Broadway/Swift, South Main, Packard). Cyclists have contacted me to complain that these reconfigurations have not achieved the intended goal, they are unhelpful, unpleasant, or dangerous. I have biked all three of them recently enough to experience the reconfigurations for myself. I can imagine how they were intended to function, in theory.
Decisions around issues like this often prompt people to email Council, but Council also receives more “official” advice and recommendations from the City’s Transportation Commission. Coincidentally, the Transportation Commission happened to meet earlier this week, the day after DC-7 was added to our agenda. Their discussion of DC-7 can be found here:
(CTN YouTube link, timestamp 1hr 48min)
The Transportation Commission was especially interested in public feedback regarding the street reconfigurations and asked several questions about the public input. City staff reported that public response was “majority opposed” and that support for this program was “far outnumbered” by negative feedback. I appreciate this commission’s curiosity about public opinion, the challenge of depending on indirect reports. As a practical matter, City boards and commissions do not benefit from as much direct resident input, because commissioners do not have publicized city email addresses. If you would like to offer helpful feedback to the Transportation Commission (that can at least be relayed by staff), messages can be sent to: TransportationCommission@a2gov.org
I look forward to discussion about agenda item DC-7 and I’m most interested in hearing about what kind of data we expect to collect from allowing the experiment to run the full length of time (through November).