The busy thoroughfare can safely thrive during the pandemic

By Tim Tunks

These diagrams depict what a safe and thriving Main Street can look like.
Diagrams drawn by Tim Tunks

We walked down Ashland Avenue and beheld a wondrous attraction as we turned up Main Street. Festooned with overhead light bulbs, the wide center corridor was an open walkway with plenty of room for a safe, socially distanced stroll. It was mostly families and couples populating the wide path with a few walking their bikes and scooters. The store windows were brightly lit with holiday displays. The legion of cement K-rails had been called away to other duty, although a few of the ones painted with murals were still on display at the cross street intersections to prevent the unobstructed thru traffic from turning onto Main, where all but emergency service vehicles were prohibited. Gentle acoustic music varied from block to block. The singers and players rotated so the seated outdoor diners could enjoy a variety.

And what a wonder it was to see all the seated outdoor diners spread out in their intimate groups with their families or other members of their pod. The wide strip of space stretching from storefronts to the emergency access corridor margin facilitates direct service to the larger and safer dining areas. Sidewalk passersby no longer run the gauntlet between the restaurants and their parklets dodging the service personnel crossing and blocking their path—add in the bare-faced, happy hour overflow celebrants to visualize the full hazard. Relocating the walkway to the street’s center was a good deal for everyone.

As I’ve lived in Ocean Park since before our country’s 200th birthday, I waved to some of the restaurateurs and shopkeepers I knew, noting their gleeful keying of cash registers and their happy masked nods to me.

The stoplight controlled intersections where Ashland, Ocean Park and the other major cross streets meet were open to thru traffic. Each was arrayed with pairs of the recently art adorned K-rails guarding the sides of the Main Street pavement. A movable lightweight barrier section discouraged cars from turning onto Main while leaving a space for pedestrians to stroll through and provide ready vehicle access when required.

Setting these features a dozen feet back from the intersection created a 60 foot-long loading zone, available on each side of the intersection for parking lot shuttles to load or delivery trucks. The intersections without lights were posted “Stop and Yield for Crossing Pedestrians.” A happy sign announced the street would be open for deliveries each morning from 4 to 7 a.m. to serve the restaurants and other heavy goods pick-ups or deliveries.

The “Beautify Earth” artists provided inventive signage to delineate and direct pedestrian walkways and point out the various stores and restaurants whose owners commissioned them. Decorated craft booths erected in the mid-block parking lots with small performance areas where music and other acts entertained provided focus for the widely spaced benches and resting areas. Some of the adjacent restaurants arranged their seating in parking lots to accommodate more outdoor dining/drinking customers for an informal mini-cabaret experience. The City had thoughtfully supplied limited use provisional permits for a wealth-building entertainment attraction to boost revival after the restrictions lifted.

Leave it to Santa Monica if you want creative effective solutions to existential problems. We have the brain power and skill sets needed, and we’re ready to collaborate to get the right sort of things done.

As an undergraduate at University of California, Santa Barbara in the 1960s when such festival events were commonplace, I had joyful memories visit my dream of this Main Street reborn for pandemic safety. Could this scene set the stage for a Santa Monica future we could enjoy when mobility innovations displace the traffic choked streets that certainly cloud our horizon?

This couldn’t have happened if all the stakeholders didn’t get together, working out the compromises needed for the common good. The SMFD Fire Marshal opined that a 20-foot-wide fire lane with a 3-foot-wide easily cleared margin on each side would provide sufficient access and not reduce response times.

Indeed, eliminating thru traffic lanes displaced a whole catalogue of vehicle hazards to public health. Consider potential traffic jams from busy Saturday night parades of visiting vehicles—some displaying their low-rider hydraulics or semi-skilled motorcyclists’ wheelies sometimes going wrong in spectacular carnage. SMPD considered the center fire corridor sufficient access for public safety and emergency response, happy that other motor vehicle antics would not slow their response times.

Mass transit interests made a huge compromise diversion. They shifted 0.8 miles of their Main Street bus route to Neilson from Bicknell Avenue to Marine Street. They cleverly configured new turnouts for passenger stops along the way. Owners of property with parking accessed only from Main Street curb cuts got their required alternative access or compensation for the adaptations they made. Merchants considered the loss of a curbside parking space traded for a more prosperous Main Street a good deal.

But, I guess I was dreaming a “subjective truth”—my comforting optimism subduing the stubborn “objective truth” that those with the political power can’t seem to muster the political will, skill and courage to admit past errors and make corrections for the future. Tonight I’ll try for a jolly dream about winning the battle against climate change.

Power to Speak is The Argonaut’s guest opinion column for community members to voice their views on local matters and does not represent an editorial position or endorsement by The Argonaut. The opinions, experiences, research and data analysis expressed in this article are the author’s own. Have a unique point of view on a neighborhood matter or a national issue with a local twist? Email