Business owners offer feedback on two-way traffic proposal
Business owners and employees working along Pacific Avenue seem largely open minded about implementing a new traffic conversion that would simplify travel in and around Downtown Santa Cruz—and thereby increase sales at their stores. Those interviewed by Good Times suggested changes ranging from implementing two-way traffic along the length of the strip—as was proposed by urban retail expert Robert Gibbs—and making it one-way from north to south, to eliminating cars altogether to create a pedestrian shopping zone, converting only side streets into two-ways, and simply improving signage.
The aim of a conversion would be to simplify navigation on Pacific Avenue, which Gibbs and some Santa Cruz officials say would improve traffic flow, attract national businesses to invest in the downtown, and ultimately drive sales up for local businesses.
Fire truck access and loss of parking along the avenue remain issues and will be addressed by the Santa Cruz City Council when the item makes it onto their agenda.
Some downtown business owners agree that turning the length of Pacific Avenue into either a two-way or a one-way would help to unify certain sections of the mall.
Casey Coonerty Protti, owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz and sister of councilmember Ryan Coonerty, says the portion of Pacific Avenue to the north of the bookshop is cut-off for pedestrians as well as drivers by the big red “Do Not Enter” signs flanking the street corners.
Protti recounts a conversation she had with Gibbs last year about the influence the “Do Not Enter” signs can have on pedestrians.
“People see the ‘Do Not Enter’ signs and it influences them, possibly on a subconscious level, to not walk further down the street,” she says.
Marilyn Strayer, owner of the kiosk restaurant Alfresco, located right outside Bookshop Santa Cruz, says she sees the signs halt shoppers.
“There’s a big ‘’Do Not Enter’ sign, and even people who are walking, stop,” she says.
Strayer says that Verve Coffee, located on the far north end of the street, has helped to get people walking further up Pacific Avenue, but that the traffic configuration and “Do Not Enter” signs still divide the strip.
Shauntel Jarrett, assistant manager at American Apparel, says that although their outlet has been on the northern end of Pacific Avenue for five years, many people don’t even know it is there.
“This is kind of a forgotten block on Pacific [Avenue],” she says.
Protti points to the perpendicular one-way streets, such as Walnut Avenue and Lincoln Street, that feed traffic on to and off of Pacific Avenue, as being a source of confusion.
“That can make getting around downtown very confusing,” she says.
She suggests making all of the perpendicular feeder streets into two-ways, even if Pacific Avenue remains the same.
The manager at Mr. Goodie’s antiques store, who just goes by Glenette, says she would rather see downtown become a pedestrian mall, or at least have designated days for pedestrians only.
Glenette is also concerned that a two-way would cause drivers to move faster past the shops and notice less of what the avenue has to offer. This is the opposite thinking of Gibbs, who insists that people shop from their cars—thus his reasoning for converting Pacific Avenue into a two-way avenue.
For Glenette, the better solution is improving signage.
Michael Cho, a sushi chef at the Japanese restaurant Shogun, says he thinks making Pacific Avenue two-way could exacerbate traffic problems, make it unsafe for pedestrians crossing the street, and even cause stores to lose sales.
“I worry about people getting hurt,” he says, referring to the prospect of cars going both directions on the already bustling street.
Penny Lopez, an associate at Twist, a clothing store located near Church Street on Pacific Avenue, agrees that a two-way could be dangerous for people crossing the street and that it could make the downtown feel “less quaint.”
Attracting national retailers to Pacific Avenue is central to Gibbs’ vision for improving Downtown Santa Cruz. He says many big businesses are deterred from opening a store on a one-way street.
The Forever 21 retail outlet that will open in August in the former Borders Books building is great news for the downtown economy, says Craig French, the managing director of Redtree Properties, also located on Pacific Avenue.
“If you look at our downtown, we’ve got a couple of very dark corners,” French says.
The prominent, unoccupied Rittenhouse Building located on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Church Street comes to mind. French’s office window looks out onto the colossal, empty building.
Jon Stansbury, a retail real estate broker with Terranomics for the Rittenhouse Building, says converting the strip into a two-way would be a step in the right direction toward getting the Rittenhouse Building occupied.
“No question about it,” he says.
French says the avenue needs to be a route for travel, not just circulation.
“It needs to be, at the very least, directional,” he says, “not dead ending in any particular location.”
Both French and Stansbury say a pedestrian mall would detract from business on Pacific Avenue.
Strayer, of Alfresco, says a one-way or two-way would benefit all the businesses on Pacific Avenue but suggests there could be an overcrowding problem with the increased business.
She recalls that before the economic downtown turn in 2008, the avenue would sometimes become so crowded that the car traffic would take up the space for people and actually become a hindrance to sales.
“Cars were impeding our ability to make money [back then],” says Strayer. “Then a walking mall would make sense … the things is, cars don’t have wallets—people do.”
Photos: Keana Parker