Pilot program from over the summer “considered a success” by City staff
By Dolores Quintana
A pilot program put forth by the City of Santa Monica in conjunction with the Ocean Park Association (OPA) and the Main St Business Improvement Association last summer has been declared a success by the City.
The pilot took place over four weekends this past summer. initiated by the Main Street Business Improvement Association (MSBIA) and Ocean Park Association (OPA), the program was approved by Santa Monica City Council in June and debuted July 24-25. Known as “Sharing an Open Main Street”, the program applied to the two blocks between Hill and Kinney streets.
The idea was to create a pedestrian gathering area to help revitalize the businesses in the area and bring back the feeling of community among area residents by giving them a safe place to gather and have fun after living in pandemic isolation for over a year.
Sharing An Open Main Street took place during four weekends in the months of July, August, September and October. The portion of Main Street between Hill and Kinney was closed off and traffic was detoured to Neilson Way and Second, Third and Fourth Streets. The section of Main that was made available for pedestrian use had a “Pop Up Park” that had a Kids Korner with arts and crafts, movie screenings and fitness classes. Opponents of the program feared that the closures would cause parking issues, noise pollution and traffic congestion as well as drawing business away from any establishments that were not close to the program area.
An evaluation of Sharing An Open Main Street conducted by the City found that though there was some minor traffic congestion, these problems that local residents feared never came to pass.
“Overall, the pilot is considered a success by City staff in that it did not create any unforeseen traffic issues or have a significant negative impact on the character of the neighborhood. Survey responses were overwhelmingly positive, with respondents living within two blocks of the closure providing most of the negative responses,” a City report on the program reads.
This mostly successful response has encouraged the program’s organizers to consider a continuation of the program. As quoted by The Santa Monica Daily Press, Hunter Hall, MSBIA Executive Director said, “We were pleased to see that the data backs up what we knew all along: Our innovative and forward-thinking pilot program in partnership with the Ocean Park Association was a resounding success. In order to tackle our biggest challenges successfully, Santa Monica needs to encourage flexibility and collaboration between businesses and residents. We proved that could be done well here, which is what this pilot was really about all along.”
OPA was in charge of collecting responses to the event from community members and they took surveys from people who attended the events, local business owners and nearby residents each weekend and the feedback rated in the 90th percentile on most of the weekends. It was observed that residents who lived close by had the largest incidence of negative responses but even then the highest negative numbers were only in the 21st percentile after the second weekend.
Business owners’ reactions was mixed with only 3% of those businesses that were not part of the event and 1.9% of the businesses within the closed area stating that they “hated it”. The balance of businesses in the area said that they thought the event was “okay” or said that they “loved it”. 50 percent of the businesses inside the event area said they “loved it” versus saying it was “okay” and outside the event area, businesses split between 66% saying they thought it was “okay” versus 30% stating that they “loved it”.
The event was successful in raising the levels of pedestrian traffic in the event area with a reported 550% increase in foot traffic during the event’s first weekend and it was reported that 64% of the attendees walked to the event.
The program did have an effect on businesses that was mostly positive as well. Businesses within the pedestrian area had a 54% increase in sales with restaurants and bars getting the most benefit from the event and retail shops having less enthusiasm sent their way. 24% of businesses outside of the event area saw an increase in sales. During the event weekends as a whole, only 19% of businesses saw a decrease in sales.
Traffic was seen to have increased most significantly on Neilson Way as the primary street designated for use as a detour, which saw an increase of 5,800 daily trips during the first program weekend. Normal trips during the weekend are normally at a baseline of 18,550 and saw an increase to 24,350 trips on the first event weekend.
The event’s costs break down to $35,000 thousand each weekend for a total of $141,070 hundred thousand and the money used for the events was diverted from programs like MAIN Street Soulstice and 2020 COAST open streets events that had not been held during the first year of the pandemic for obvious reasons. As noted earlier, the City does want to continue with this program, but funds to make future events possible have yet to be determined.