Pilot: The program closed Main Street for several weekends during the summer of last year. Matthew Hall

For four weekends in late summer 2021 two blocks of Main Street were transformed into a pedestrian plaza, and while fears were raised about traffic, noise and business disruption, a City evaluation found them to be largely unfounded.

The Sharing an Open Main Street pilot program was organized by the Ocean Park Association and the Main Street Business Improvement Association with a goal of restoring a sense of neighborhood camaraderie and revitalizing businesses as the community emerged from the darkest days of the pandemic. During four weekends in July, August, September and August, the two blocks between Hill and Kinney Streets were sealed to traffic and filled with family friendly programming including music performances, free fitness classes, arts and crafts and movie screenings.

Some nearby residents opposed the program and voiced concerns that it would lead to significant traffic congestion, disruptive neighborhood noise and draw business away from stores located outside of the pedestrian plaza. While the evaluation found that there was a minor uptick in traffic on adjacent streets during event days, none of the other concerns were reflected in the City’s data or stakeholder surveys.

“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,” stated the report. “Survey responses were overwhelmingly positive, with respondents living within two blocks of the closure providing most of the negative responses.”

Event organizers were gratified by the report and hope to put on similar car-free community friendly events in the future.

“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,” said MSBIA Executive Director Hunter Hall. “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.”

To solicit community feedback OPA collected survey responses from event attendees, business owners and residents after each weekend event. Positive feedback was in the 90 percent range for most weekends. Residents living within two blocks had the greatest proportion of negative feedback, which peaked at 21.8 percent following the second event.

Feedback from Main Street businesses was also mainly positive. Survey results reported that only 3 percent of businesses outside of the closed block and 1.9 percent within the closed blocks hated the event. The rest of businesses either rated it as “okay” or “loved it.” Inside the pedestrian plaza businesses had a near 50/50 split between loving it and rating it as OK, while outside the plaza 66 percent said it was OK and 30 percent said they loved it.

The impact the event had on business varied by location and business type. Within the pilot area 54 percent of businesses reported increased sales compared to 24 percent outside of the business area. Restaurants and bars were most likely to economically benefit from the event, while retailers were the least excited by the event. Across the event weekends an average of 19 percent of businesses reported worse sales than regular weekends.

During event days traffic was primarily diverted onto Neilson Way, while 2nd, 3rd and 4th Streets also served as reasonable detours for cars. The largest uptick in traffic was observed on Neilson way, which experienced an increase of 5,800 average daily trips on the first weekend compared to a regular weekend. Baseline weekend daily trips were measured at 18,550 compared to 24,350 on the event weekend.

The events were successful in drawing more foot traffic to the pedestrian plaza. The evaluation reported a 550 percent increase in pedestrians during the first event weekend compared to a regular weekend and 64 percent of event attendees reported walking to the event series.

The overall event series cost was $141,070, or approximately $35,000 per weekend, which was funded through the repurposing of funds originally set aside for the 2020 COAST open streets event and Main Street SOULstice. While the report indicated a City desire to continue similar open street events in the future, it said that funding for future iterations of an Open Main Street has not yet been identified.