On a typical summer afternoon along Main Street in downtown Ventura, with the many changes that have come with the pandemic; it is evident the unfamiliar has become familiar. From San Buenaventura Mission to Fir Street, five blocks of Main Street remain closed to automobile traffic. Additionally, one block of California Street between Main and Santa Clara Streets is also closed. In the absence of traffic, most restaurants have spilled into the street, leaving only a pedestrian walkway down the center.
A year ago, this all seemed so odd and, to many, inconvenient. But after that initial lockdown in the early months of our COVID experience, we were all ready to bring some semblance of normality back into our lives. Though things were not exactly as they were pre-pandemic, we welcomed any opportunity to enjoy some of those simple pleasures that had been taken from us. So, we put on our masks, parked our cars down the street, and hiked in to take a seat in the makeshift dining area of our favorite restaurant.
But now, over a year later, something unexpected seems to be taking place. What initially seemed odd, inconvenient, and unfamiliar has become the norm. And many of us like it. Kevin Clerici, the executive director of Downtown Ventura Partners, the area’s business association, stated in a recent interview that “there’s not a day that doesn’t go by that someone doesn’t tell me, ‘You should make this permanent.’” Clerici said there had been a “groundswell of support” for making a walkable Main Street permanent under a program know as Main Street Moves. So, as it turns out, both business owners and consumers seem to approve of the idea. Something unheard of a year ago.
And it’s not just here. Over the past 18 months, initiatives giving pedestrians the right of way have cropped up across the country. San Francisco has prohibited cars on the boulevard that cuts through Golden Gate State Park so cyclists and walkers could roam freely. New York closed 83 miles of streets to automobiles for more walking, cycling, and outdoor dining.
Today as I walked down Main Street here in Ventura, it was impossible to ignore the energy of the pedestrian traffic, the clinking of the glasses, and the laughter in animated conversations at the outdoor tables. It does make for a festive atmosphere. I’m an alfresco diner who will always choose the outdoor option if available and will gladly take what I share the street with now over the cars and motorcycles that I would typically have to tolerate on a sidewalk patio.
So, why not make it permanent? Yes, it is summertime but remember where we live? Absent the pandemic, the indoor option will still be there, but even in the dead of winter, a little wind and rain protection with an outdoor heater can make almost any day workable. And after initially “throwing” these outdoor venues together, many of the restaurants have since leveled and decorated seating areas to make them more comfortable and inviting.
For now, the Main Street downtown corridor will remain to motor traffic through January 2022. I hope that the Main Street Moves group can make this thing permanent.