The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to continue the COAST open streets festival through 2020 as Santa Monica’s signature event. The route will stay the same for now, however, several Council members encouraged staff to look to other parts of the city that may benefit from a car-free festival. The current 2-mile stretch runs south down Ocean Avenue from Wilshire Boulevard to Colorado Avenue, east down Colorado to connect to Main Street, then all the way south to Marine Street.
“It’s a beast of an event to organize,” said cultural affairs manager Shannon Daut during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The event takes six months, hundreds of city staffers and about $400,000 to plan and implement. Nearly 200 city employees volunteered the day of the event in Oct. 2017.
“This was a way to show people what the future of our streets could look like if we were to remove or reduce automobile traffic,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Gleam Davis. “They become much more accessible and you see things you don’t otherwise see, that sort of thing.”
Both Davis and Councilmember Terry O’Day said they would support finding a way to shut down city streets to traffic more than just once a year. COAST’s producer and president of Community Arts Resources Aaron Paley warned about community fatigue.
“There are people who are residents who need to find alternative parking means for that day,” Paley said, adding that many of the street closures are also impacted by the Los Angeles Marathon earlier in the year. “When you start coming in on the same route and doing it more regularly you get pushback on unintended consequences.”
Car-free days across the United States have been inspired by Ciclovia, a program in Bogata, Colombia, that closes 76 miles of streets every Sunday and holiday. Ciclovia is believed to be the biggest and most frequent mass recreation event in the world, requiring about a thousand volunteers every week to orchestrate. Replicating the event in the United States is difficult.
“There is a basic premise in doing these events in California and in the United States that it’s just way more expensive than doing it in Latin America, which is preventing any city in the United States from doing it more often,” Paley said. He said, however, as a county Los Angeles is closing streets for cyclists, skaters and walkers more often than any other place in the country. The events aim to give residents a chance to become more comfortable using alternative modes of transportation without the pressure created by traffic.
“The idea here is to create habits in the community,” O’Day said.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown encouraged staff to look to alternative routes once the event becomes more established as a way to spread the benefits throughout the city and prevent fatigue for the residents in Ocean Park and downtown. McKeown suggested Pico Boulevard and Stewart Street as a route that could include Santa Monica College, the Bergamot Arts Center and the Expo Line as an example.
“I believe it’s important to give other parts of town a shot at the spotlight and I think there are other parts of town that could work really well,” McKeown said.
“I do think there is potential for route fatigue,” Davis said. “I also think we need to look for ways to freshen it every year.”
About 10,000 fewer people attended COAST in its second year than in 2016, when the event coincided with the opening of the Expo Line, according to staff estimates, a decline of about 20 percent. With 40,000 attendees in 2017, the event still dwarfed its predecessor, the Santa Monica Festival, which had about 12,000 annual attendees.
City staff estimates about half of those in attendance last year were Santa Monica residents. Even still, City Manager Rick Cole encouraged the Council to focus on smaller events like block parties throughout the year to foster a sense of community.
“These are opportunities to have more hyper-local events to feel like they’re not for tourists or for the region but for the people who live here,” Cole said.
The city surveyed 157 attendees during COAST in 2017 and 83 percent said they felt more comfortable cycling, walking or using public transportation after the event.