Sunset through the Venice pier pilings.

Let’s fix Main Street


I think it will better to modify Main Street now so it can survive the present and thrive in the future. That would be better than to let it fail altogether, then afterward try to resurrect the “Good Old Main Street” from the ashes after a complete crash.

We could make it easier to decide what must be done if we focused on accurately modeling the details of the various plans and projecting their futures. 

Imagine if before the present alfresco was laid out, the designers had polled the individual restaurant bars to ask what would be the minimum number of outside seats they each would need to continue service without losing money. Easily noticed, the parklet areas arranged with conforming social distancing could not come close to serving that number. (The city is mum on how many seats they think their plan will provide. I’ve looked everywhere for a seating layout chart as evidence they did this calculation.)

One potential model for what we want is what we have: pedestrians and folks waiting in lines on the sidewalks during busy periods, with waiters shuttling back and forth through the sidewalk passersby while scurrying from the parklets to the kitchens and bars inside. Traffic lanes run through the center, bifurcating the piazza and spoiling the gentle outdoor ambience.

A different model would barricade all but emergency and service vehicles from entering Main Street (except during an early morning interval for restaurant deliveries). The center emergency access lane would be reserved for pedestrians, entertainment, slow speed scooters and bike riders when not needed for emergency access during the rest of the time.

Restaurant seating would assemble on the sidewalks, spilling onto designated roadway pavement spaces for the establishments that require additional room for the socially distanced capacity they require to operate successfully. Shuttle and pedicab service from the beach parking lots during peak hours for those not into walking could more than replace lost parking spaces from these Main Street conversions. Preferred parking zones could reduce resultant increased pressure on nearby residential streets.

And there are other alternatives, one of which seeks to merge a time sharing compromise between those two.

As we weigh alternatives, we should do so with projected timelines in mind. If we feel certain the pandemic will blow over in the next few months, then temporary fixes would be more acceptable. If we think COVID-19 and its mutations will require transmission mitigations until Christmas or beyond, then we’ll need a more sustainable model — one that might require greater investment and larger sacrifices to compromise on more impactful plans. (Like what would Santa Monica have to build in the next decade to replace private motorized vehicles as the primary model of short distance urban transportation?)

Without detailed analysis of alternatives and then gathering the stakeholders to negotiate costs and benefits to each — what chance do we have at finding the compromises we’ll need to survive? Without saying exactly what we want, how can we expect to get it?

With lockdown and other pandemic restrictions, lots of pressure has built up in nearly all aspects of modern life. We could harness some of the energy from that released pressure as restrictions lift. People are hungry for what’s been missing, so let’s see if we can utilize that hunger and pressure to power sensible innovation, building what our changing world requires. Main Street is too valuable an asset to waste.

Tim Tunks

Ocean Park homeowner since 1976