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SLC mayor wants more foot traffic, no car traffic on part of Main Street

The Open Streets scheme, set up amid the pandemic, has proven to be a huge success – and some downtown traders believe that trend may continue.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Pedestrians wander the open streets of Salt Lake City’s Main Street, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. Mayor Erin Mendenhall would like to see this segment of Main permanently blocked off to vehicular traffic.

As it rapidly grows from a mid-sized to large metropolis, Salt Lake City deserves to have an exclusive downtown pedestrian zone along Main Street, Mayor Erin Mendenhall said.

The city’s temporary program to block major automobile traffic between South Temple and 400 South on weekends during the summers — known as Open Streets SLC — has been successful, she said Thursday, and should be made permanent.

Open Streets SLC was implemented in 2020 as a pandemic emergency measure for customer-starved businesses, taverns and restaurants. This drew crowds downtown, allowed many restaurants to transform into sidewalk eateries, and boosted retail revenue during this dark time, allowing the program to extend into two subsequent summers. .

It turns out that creating the car-free zone on weekends (TRAX still runs through it) has also brought many other public benefits, the mayor and several business leaders said, as they argued that the closures traffic would be a year-round feature along these four-block segment.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) A musician plays on the sidewalk at the Open Streets SLC portion of Main Street between South Temple and 400 South on Saturday August 13, 2022.

“It’s been a success not only from a business perspective, but also for rebuilding the community and revitalizing our downtown,” Mendenhall said as she stood on Main Street, just before the end of the third year of Open Streets this Labor Day. weekend.

“As we travel through cities across this country and around the world,” the mayor added, “big cities that have embraced the growth and vibrancy of their downtowns are making room for pedestrians in the heart of these premises.”

The Salt Lake City Council recently approved funding to study this latest version of the idea, including its implications for downtown planning, transportation and economics. It will likely take a year or more to materialize, but proponents of the concept are already excited.

“We need a community commons, and Main Street can be that commons,” said Dee Brewer, executive director of the Downtown Alliance, which represents downtown merchants. “That’s where we celebrated. This is where we protested. That’s where we did all kinds of things as a community.

Martin Norman, owner of Uniquely Utah Souvenir Co. at 122 S. Main, said his sales jumped 20% in the first year of the Main Street closings and this summer jumped 30%.

“It just keeps getting better every year with Open Streets,” Norman said.

Between 30,000 and 40,000 people now come downtown on weekends for street food, entertainment and other attractions, according to Brewer, shifting the urban core from a daytime economy to a more focused one. about events and amenities on nights and weekends.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Pedestrians stroll through the Open Streets SLC portion of Main Street between South Temple and 400 South on Saturday August 13, 2022.

A recent analysis of mobile phone data by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley found that visits to a wide range of points of interest in downtown Salt Lake City are now at 155% of their pre-pandemic levels. That’s well ahead of 62 US and Canadian cities surveyed.

This is largely due to the city’s continued population and economic boom, as well as new investment and residential construction in the downtown area, which is now expected to double in population in about 30 months.

Evidence suggests that what analysts call “social activation” has also been a significant factor in the downtown recovery, even as office occupancy in the urban area continues to lag behind 2019 levels with working from home. That, in turn, was fueled by a relatively quick resumption of large in-person events at venues such as Vivint Arena, the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater and Abravanel Hall.

The dynamism of the city center also undoubtedly played a role. For the past three summers, Open Streets has started at noon on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with restaurants, bars and retailers sprawling onto adjacent sidewalks for al fresco dining and shopping and a host of street musicians and performers performing along Main from City Creek Center to Exchange Place.

Attendees were encouraged to use public transportation, take advantage of the free two-hour parking available at City Creek, or use widely available street-side metered stalls and paid lots.

Businesses in other downtown areas are also interested in the concept of open streets. “The notion of a stronger pedestrian presence and the ability for restaurants to expand their premises is absolutely appealing,” Brewer said, “across the city.”

Brewer said the city’s current system along Main Street of temporary orange barricades, signs and metal barriers between sidewalks and TRAX lines “is not sustainable, aesthetically or otherwise.”

According to the findings of the city study, these could eventually be replaced, he said, with permanent installations similar to lower barriers in place along Main Street adjacent to the City Creek Center, for a more inviting pedestrian feel and economic boost along the retail corridor. .

“This space is very important,” Brewer said, “for what the future of Salt Lake City will be as well.”