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Wishful Thinking on Main Street

July 27, 2021

Dear Editor

I love to walk. It’s one of the reasons I choose to live in Ocean Park, an eminently walkable neighborhood. I applaud the City’s efforts to encourage both cycling and walking in Santa Monica.

However, I am strongly opposed to closing sections of Main Street to through traffic either as an experiment on certain weekends this summer or permanently as some have proposed.

I grew up in the ancient city of York in the north of England. There many of the narrow streets in the city center are closed to traffic. They are alive with pedestrians, and the small shops, cafes and restaurants do a good business.

I’ve also lived in Copenhagen, where my grandfather and great-grandfather once had a shop selling honey and mead in a picturesque cobbled square, now a pedestrian area. It adjoins the famous and very popular Strøget walk-street in the center of the city.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed visiting many other European cities where quaint streets have been made into traffic-free zones. Why would I oppose the plan to close Main Street?

Main Street, as Santa Monica Acting Chief Mobility Manager Francie Stefan has pointed out, is not a backwater street. Unlike the narrow medieval streets in European cities which do not serve the needs of modern traffic, Main Street is a very necessary thoroughfare.

There is no bypass or ring road to relieve traffic flow on Main Street, only the already heavily trafficked Neilson Way. If Main Street is closed, where will the displaced traffic go? There are no viable alternative routes.

The adjacent residential streets are already under assault from drivers who speed through the neighborhood without regard for pedestrians and other road users and often barely pause at stop signs.

It is a dangerous situation for local residents and visitors, their children and their pets. Closing Main Street will only aggravate these problems.

It is unrealistic to think we can close a major City thoroughfare without causing unfortunate consequences. Whether or not businesses benefit in the short term, the impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods must be considered when evaluating the success or failure of the plan after this weekend’s first experimental closure.

Any evaluation must be done by a 100 percent neutral, disinterested party in order to provide our City Council with useful decision-making information. The proponents of the closure should not be involved in the evaluation.

The enticing dream of car-free, European-style city streets must yield to the reality of Santa Monica’s actual streets, not what we might wish they were.

Karen Blechman
Santa Monica

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