SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Earlier this week, the Redevelopment Agency of Salt Lake City (RDA) announced it was exploring concepts of turning downtown Main Street into a pedestrian-only shopping district.
A permanent pedestrian-only Main Street is still a long way off. RDA is only in the very early stages of planning. But the project’s manager, Peter Makowski with the Department of Economic Development, says the goal is to make downtown Main Street a vibrant part of Salt Lake City.
“We want to make this project a place for everyone,” Makowski told ABC4. “A place for people to convene, hang out, shop, eat, all those things.”
The pedestrian-only Main Street will look very familiar to those who have visited the area during summer weekends over the last three years. The overwhelming success of the Open Streets program paved the way for city officials to consider shutting down traffic on the street for good. Open Streets closed roadways to traffic, allowing people to walk freely in the streets, businesses to expand out into the sidewalk, and street artists and performers to entertain.
Makowski said local businesses have been very vocal in support of Open Streets. The Department of Economic Development has received reports that businesses saw a 19% increase in revenue during Open Street weekends due to the influx of pedestrians and the resulting more vibrant atmosphere.
Pedestrian-friendly streets have seen great success in other cities nationwide. Notably, Makowski said Denver’s 16th Street and San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter are inspirations.
“There are so many similarities between Denver and Salt Lake,” said Makowski. “They are a little ahead of us in growth but we are definitely looking at 16th Street and we are learning from it. We plan on traveling to those districts, visiting and meeting with officials to learn as much about what to do as what not to do and what didn’t work so we can avoid those mistakes.”
Part of avoiding mistakes is by extensively studying concepts, infrastructure, and urban planning. Makowski said that while the pandemic and Open Streets lifted a lot of red tape, there is still a lot to look to consider.
First and foremost on Makowski’s mind is public safety. While Main Street will be closed, cross traffic and intersections between State Street and West Temple will still be open. Main Street also has two TRAX railways and two stations running through it, causing even more concern for allowing people to walk freely on the street.
How shutting down Main Street permanently affects traffic flow is another thing the Department of Economic Development is studying very closely with UDOT but Makowski said they’ve been a little fortunate in that regard.
“The city has already been reducing traffic along Main Street with bike share lanes and TRAX,” he told ABC4. “It’s not used a lot. Most people commuting try to avoid Main. Over time, it’s become one of the least used streets downtown for vehicular flow through. That’s to our advantage.”
Due to the complexity of the project and the careful thought the Department of Economic Development is putting into it, there is no timeline for when it will be fully implemented. Makowski’s team will be taking questions and comments until March 14, and proposals from consulting teams are accepted until March 29.
In general, Makowski said everyone is just excited they have an opportunity to create an even cooler place for Salt Lake City.