By Robert F. Else
In the 60’s and 70’s, in response to increasing traffic jams and the desire to revitalize areas whose economic success had waned for various reasons, many mid-sized cities developed pedestrian malls. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 there were at least 75 pedestrian malls in the U.S. Most people know about the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, VT., but there are many others. Wikipedia has links to pages about more than 50 U.S. malls in a good article at bit.ly/2MMbQvz.
The most astounding conversion many thought impossible was Times Square, the “crossroads of the world,” closed to vehicles on a trial basis on Memorial Day 2009. Although opposed by many who feared Carmageddon and decreased business, the former river of cars became a river of people, and the pedestrian plazas became permanent in February 2010. The economic and quality-of-life benefits continue, heralded even by those who originally opposed it. The engaging 2016 book “Streetfight” by Janette Sadik-Kahn covers this and other urban innovations, and includes the mistakes as well as successes in these projects.
But not every pedestrian mall is successful, and many were undone and reverted to vehicle traffic. According to one graduate thesis, a key factor in the failure of St. Louis’s 14th Street Mall was that cross-streets were interrupted, stifling the traffic grid, even though the mall was only 2 blocks long. But the success of many other, longer malls shows that traffic flow problems can be overcome; many successful plans include one-way streets parallel to the main mall, something Santa Barbara already has in place.
Many successful pedestrian malls started as small trials. One of the main lessons from “Streetfight” is that although careful planning is important, taking action and assuming some risks are crucial elements in moving forward. There are many ways to imagine various sections of State Street filled with pedestrians enjoying the shops, arts, dining, and interesting places to sit, relax, and people-watch; the absence of 2 lanes of cars creeping to the next stoplight would make the scene even more enjoyable. In our existing paseos, we already have a taste of how pleasant these oases can be. Could State Street be like this?
Editor’s note: Please scroll down for an additional article on the subject, “Reimagine State Street,” and additional photos.
Meet Judi Shor and Steve George. Together, they chair New Town Goleta Safety, a volunteer citizens’ group dedicated to improving pedestrian safety for people of all ages in the area of Calle Real and Fairview Ave in Goleta. Dr. Judi is a senior care clinical pharmacist with the Center for Successful Aging and Steve is a retired regional communications manager who moved to the Encina Royale senior community from Portland. They crossed paths in 2013, just when COAST was active in Encina Royale organizing meetings and walks under our Safe Routes for Seniors program. Since we were all interested in the same thing, we decided to work together.
Encina Royale is a retirement community of 360 units. People move there thinking they have all kinds of amenities within walking distance – banks, drug stores, supermarkets, restaurants, movie theaters. And they do, but walking on Calle Real and Fairview is often unpleasant or dangerous, especially for an older person. It’s a shopping area built for cars. Undeterred, Steve set about changing this and teamed up with Judi to form “New Town Goleta Safety” in 2013.
The first few years were often frustrating. They heard about so many reasons why things couldn’t be done, and if they could, they would take a very long time. “Many of our constituents are 80 or 90 years old, and they shouldn’t have to wait another five or ten years,” lamented Judi. Steve and Judi, however, were persistent. They met repeatedly with Public Works staff, City Council members and City Council candidates and attended numerous public meetings. New Town Goleta Safety filed countless letters and e-mails, all well researched and well argued.
And slowly, things started happening, more than anyone would have thought possible. There will soon be a sidewalk on N. Fairview Ave at the Goleta library. The crosswalk on Calle Real and Kingston Ave, where two seniors have died in the last ten years, will be fitted with a HAWK signal, similar to the one at the Goleta Valley Community Center. There will be a midblock crosswalk on Calle Real between Encina Lane and Kyle’s Kitchen. Judi considers these two things their greatest accomplishments -to date. She and Steve organized a Transportation Forum at Encina that drew over 200 participants. COAST was present along with many other organizations.
For the future, Steve and Judi are full of plans. They want to see a Senior Zone designated around the Encina Royale complex, similar to a school zone. It’s a trailblazing new idea pioneered in San Jose. And they are embarking on a major campaign to make the Fairview shopping center more pedestrian friendly.
And they are campaigning for a crosswalk at the Fairview Center and the freeway bypass ramp where junior high school kids now cross, taking their lives into their hands every day. COAST will be supporting New Town Goleta Safety in any way we can.