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Let’s Close First Street to Cars (a few days a year)

Do you want a Sunday Streets program for Benicia?

I happened to be in San Francisco on Sunday, March 20. We took the ferry over from Vallejo to the Ferry Building. It was a coincidence that it was the first day of this year’s Sunday Streets program.

This program involves closing certain streets, in this case part of the Embarcadero, to auto traffic. Pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, roller skaters are all able to use the street without being interrupted by cars.

Although it was not a nice day there were thousands of people out there, many more than I see there on an average Sunday at the Embarcadero.  It was so popular that traffic and parking were difficult because so many people had driven in to participate. Good thing we left the car at home.  

I remember when the program started last year there were howls of protest from the Pier 39 merchants, who said their businesses would suffer. They’re not howling now, because from what I saw there is a major spike in attendance during Sunday Streets.

It occurred to me that Benicia has many of the attributes of the San Francisco waterfront. Benicia has its own waterfront with the promenade leading to the First Street Pier. It has a very walkable downtown with interesting shops, restaurants, and cafes.

It also has the historic state capitol building and train station. While Benicia is trying to market itself to Bay Area day trippers, wouldn’t a Benicia Sunday Streets program make sense?

My thought is to, say from H Street to the pier, from 11am to 4pm on Sunday during the warmer months of the year, once a month. People would drive their cars and park on the periphery of First Street, then take their bikes, roller skates, dogs, strollers, or whatever and head to First Street. Merchants could put out displays of their wares to lure participants inside, while cafes and restaurants serve on the sidewalk.

Think of all the successful events we have regularly that involve closing First Street already. The Farmer’s Market, the Fourth of July Parade, , Peddler’s Fair and the come to mind quickly.  People flock to these events and seem happy to park and walk a few blocks to enjoy them. It seems that people in Benicia already have the mind set that if you close First Street to cars, they will come.

The thing I like about the Sunday Streets idea is that it gives people and families something to do in their community that brings them together with other people in an active way, and it’s free!

I’m sure there will be objections from some in the business community who will see this negatively as interrupting the flow of customers they now enjoy. That is short-sighted thinking.  Giving people a reason to come to downtown is the best way to grow their customer base. What is needed to make a Sunday Streets program a reality in Benicia is leadership from the business community itself. I spoke to Christina Strawbridge, chair of Benicia’s Economic Development Board, and Kimble Goodman, a board member. Both expressed interest in the idea.

Robert Livesay April 29, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Very good idea. Bob Livesay
Dano April 29, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Great idea and it should bring in more people to increase business on First.
Shirin Samiljan April 29, 2011 at 08:21 PM
I'm sorry, but I don't think this is a good idea. Local businesses need to be available to locals who tend to shop on the weekends. My husband's business in Alameda has terrible numbers every time there's a wine or classic cars festival on the main road. The locals stay away in droves and although the street may be filled with people enjoying the scenery there's little guarantee that they will come into shops ready to buy. It seems as if it would work, and I used to support the idea of local street festivals and community strolls, but after five years of looking at the numbers, I have to say that it's not a boon to local business to shut down parking.
Ross Schaefer May 02, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Awesome idea. I'd come down and enjoy it and be sure to patronize the First Street businesses as well. We should do this!

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