One-Way to the Beach on Pacific Ave?
The question of traffic flow on Pacific Ave is once again under consideration. This time the Downtown Commission is considering making Pacific Ave one-way going towards the beach by reversing the one-way North section from Church to Cathcart to be one-way South. This has the added advantage of providing an alternative to crowded Ocean St for visitors trying to get to the beach.
This proposal is part of a nearly 4 year old debate on how to simplify visitors’ experience of Santa Cruz’s downtown. The issue of confusing one-ways was first brought to the City’s attention by the Robert Gibbs report in late 2011. Gibbs, a retail expert, pointed out that visitors like to browse a downtown from the safety of their cars before parking and visiting the stores they find interesting.
Anecdotally, I 100% concur with Gibbs. While visiting Santa Barbara last year, our motor coach drove from one end of State St (SB’s downtown street) to the other. As I looked out the window, I was able to get a sense of the downtown’s layout, where the stores I wanted to visit were, and what pedestrian breezeways I wanted to check-out when on foot. For those of you not familiar with Santa Barbara, the city removed all parking on it’s main st to decrease traffic congestion and allow for wider sidewalks and bike lanes. To compensate, it created numerous multi-story parking structures one block off of the main corridor.
Making Santa Cruz’s Pacific Ave two-way was the original preferred option, but that proposal died because the fire department would not be able to navigate their vehicles on a two-way Pacific. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Santa Cruz would commit to building enough additional parking structures that it could remove street parking along Pacific a la Santa Barbara.
Of course, many have also voiced a preference for an all pedestrian option, similar to Boulder Colorado. These proponents state that downtowns are for people and cars should go elsewhere. Robert Gibbs explicitly suggested avoiding a pedestrian mall because in the majority of cases throghout the United States they have lead to decreased foot traffic and sales where implemented.
To offer another personal anecdote, when I visited Boulder’s all pedestrian downtown a couple years ago, I was actually turned off to the idea. Something of what makes a downtown a downtown was missing when cars were removed and instead the street just felt like a regular old mall (you know, those pedestrian only places lined with stores to shop in).
That said, as an avid cyclist and someone who believes the rail trail is bound to radically increase bike traffic in the future, I find it ridiculous that you can’t bike both ways on Pacific Ave. Some cities have started introducing “contra-flow” lanes, lanes for bike-only traffic to go in the opposite direction on one-way streets.
Given the space limitations of our downtown (too narrow for two-way), making Pacific Ave a one-way street towards the beach with an added contra-flow lane to allow bikes in both directions seems like the optimal solution to me. It makes it easy for visitors in cars (most likely coming from the highway) to browse downtown, while also incentivizing non-motorized transportation and making it possible for someone to bike from the Beach/Boardwalk to downtown.
Vote on the options that seem right to you:
Make Pacific Ave One-Way to the Beach
Would reverse the section between Church and Cathcart to be one-way south instead of one-way north.
Build a Contra-Flow Bike Lane on Pacific Ave.
Would allow bike travel in both directions on Pacific Ave while car travel would remain one-way in some places and two-way in others.
Make Pacific Ave a Pedestrian Mall
Would block off most blocks on Pacific Ave to car travel. Would require significant hardscaping street improvements.