For all the hubbub raised around the creation of a weekend pedestrian plaza on Main Street, the actual event passed rather quietly with mild to moderate crowds and no reported incidents.
From the perspective of the organizers, Ocean Park Association and Main Street Business Improvement Association, this marks a success.
“Main Street was vibrant and lively with families and community members while not ever being overwhelmed,” as MSBIA Executive Director Hunter Hall. “It certainly was not the ‘Bourbon Street pub crawl’ or ‘Carmaggedon’ that some feared it would be. It was quieter, safer, and better for the businesses too.”
July 24 and 25 were the first of a four weekend summer program where two blocks of Main Street were closed to traffic creating a pedestrian only area for outdoor dining and community activities. It was an extension of the al-fresco parklet dining program, which launched in response to the pandemic last spring, and it is meant to serve as an experiment for a potential more permanent pedestrian program in the future.
Both the temporary summer series and the possibility of expanding a pedestrian Main Street in the future are the subject of community controversy. Opponents cite fears around large crowds gathering, danger to pedestrians and traffic woes, while proponents believe the communal car free space is beneficial to businesses and their patrons.
“I want to reiterate that this is just a test,” said OPA Executive Board Member Sean Besser. “It’s only four weekends with nothing permanent or long term planned. None of us have any agenda other than to try this concept so we can have an informed dialogue of what we envision for the Main St of the future.”
The Santa Monica Police Department was active in the planning process with a desire to ensure the space was well protected. They placed heavy water filled plastic barriers at each end of the street closure to prevent any vehicle incursions.
“We had personnel monitoring the event as well as monitoring traffic conditions around the area,” said SMPD Public Information Officer Rudy Flores. “Overall, we did not observe any major issues, so as far as our perspective the event did run smoothly.”
Flores noted that there was some traffic back up down the street due to a traffic light that was not functioning, however he said this had nothing to do with the event.
Overall, crowds were fairly limited within the pedestrian plaza in the street.
Due to both the temporary nature of the closure and the fact that alcohol could not be served beyond the preexisting parklets boundaries, restaurants did not elect to expand their outdoor dining set ups.
The open street area was filled with moderately utilized picnic benches and more popular community programming including chalk art, live bands, and exercise classes. The temperature of the street became noticeably more lively when these events were running and cooled off during the interim periods.
Besser said the planning team viewed the event as a soft launch and spent 80 percent of their time focusing on logistics and safety and 20 percent of their time on programming. The plan for upcoming Aug. 21 and 22 closure is to include more programming and experiential components.
“We are still collecting data but the vast majority attendees and businesses we spoke with said it was a fabulous weekend and that they are looking forward to future pilot weekends,” said Besser. “241 people on the street responded to the surveys in real time and those initial results showed a 95 percent approval rating for the pilot!”
Many of the initial opponents of the Open Street event remain unswayed by the past weekend’s event. They continue to raise concerns about traffic, pedestrian danger, and the potential for Covid spread.
“As a local resident of Ocean Park, I am strongly opposed to the Main Street closures,” said Kenzie Levine, who has an office space on Main Street. “I can connect you with all my neighbors, as not a single one of them was in favor of these closures.”
The Open Main Street Program will run for three more weekends in August, September, and October. According to Besser, there are plans to improve signage, add more activities, and hopefully incorporate the farmers market.
Besser said anyone who attended or has constructive feedback is welcome to fill out OPA’s survey at