City engineer Chris Schneiter (far left) presents his findings on Pacific Avenue. (Jacob Pierce)
In an effort to stimulate business downtown and make Pacific Avenue more navigable, the Downtown Commission voted this morning to proceed with a plan that would turn Pacific Avenue south of Locust Street into a two-way street.
“A lot of my customers say it’s impossible to find anything on Pacific,” says Commissioner June Hoffman, who owns Hoffman’s Bistro and Patisserie. “They just give up. They can’t find what they’re looking for.”
An analysis last fall by retail expert Bob Gibbs found that converting the street for two-way traffic could increase Pacific Avenue’s business more than 25 percent. Those findings spurred a two-way proposal that was shelved in November after the Public Works Department realized the street wouldn’t be wide enough for delivery trucks and fire engines to squeeze past opposing traffic with parking on both sides.
But after six months of study, that plan is back with a few changes.
The new and improved plan makes the street two-way south of Locust Street— although the fire department still has concerns—and eliminates 42 parking spots and six bike spots. The commission voted 5-1 to send the new plan to the city council, with commissioner with Ron Slack dissenting.
Slack, the publisher for Good Times, is worried about the sharp turns delivery and fire trucks would be forced to navigate after the change. The possible increase in exhaust downtown worries him too.
“I also think it is going to take away from the flavor of Downtown,” Slack says. “We’re going to have a lot more congestion. We’re going to have cars turning left and right in addition to the concerns about safety.”
At Slack’s suggestion, the commission also voted to ask councilmembers to look at the possibility of a one-way Pacific Avenue should they determine the two-way plan won’t work. The one-way plan would send traffic south in one direction from Mission Street to Cathcart Street. (The current configuration is a combination of one-way northbound, one-way southbound and two-way.)
Combined, the two new plans have a daunting list of pros and cons. In a presentation on both options, city engineer Chris Schneiter outlined how each would work.
In his analysis the two-way proposal had four benefits and 12 drawbacks, including complications for the fire department, possible damage to the street’s cherry trees from trucks and increased greenhouse gas emissions.
The one-way proposal, on the other hand, had three benefits and five drawbacks, including the fact that it would not make it any easier for beach tourists to head downtown.
Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jeff Trout told the commission that given the option between the two proposals, he would prefer having the street go one-way all the way. But that isn’t actually his first choice.
“Leave it the way it is would be my recommendation,” Trout said. “But given the changes that have been proposed, we can work with it.”
Even with the removal of some parking spots, Schneiter says, fire trucks in any two-way scenario would have to extend into other lanes as they maneuver around some Pacific Avenue intersections.
The one-way proposal would cost the city $25,000 to implement, while the two-way plan would cost the city $38,2000 and incur an annual loss of up to $52,000 to the parking fund from lost meters.
Chip of the Downtown Association says there isn’t a consensus within the association about which is better—two-way or one-way—especially when lost parking is factored in.
“My personal preference would be going two-way if we can address replacing parking in some other way,” says Chip, who goes by one name. “I think that’s a big concern. We’d be losing a lot of revenue to the district. We’d be losing a lot of parking spaces, so how do we make up for that in an already challenging parking district?”
Lost parking is a concern the commission had also.
When Commissioner Dexter Cube drafted the motion to send city council the plan, he included a provision that asks councilmembers to offset the $52,000 that could be lost to the parking fund. That particular move could be easier said than done, according to commission chair Jesse Nickell.
“I’m assuming it’s going to come out of the general fund and we’re going to ask council to subsidize our parking. I don’t think we’re going to get that,” Nickell told Cube.
“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” Cube said.