A magical fix to all of the downtown area's woes has been proposed. What if there were cars on K Street? Suddenly people will return to the area, restaurants and businesses will flourish and the long black spot on Sacramento will vanish.
This weekend my family and I took advantage of the IMAX 10th anniversary free showing of "Adventures in Wild California." We parked at 10th and L and walked up K to the Esquire. It got me thinking about what is really wrong with K Street mall and why adding traffic won't fix the problem.
1) The mall still hasn't been given a chance to really be successful.
The first thing we observed on Saturday was the huge amount of state and government businesses taking up ground floor space. Despite more than 30 years as a "pedestrian" mall, K Street hasfew pedestrians on the weekends and after 5pm. There are a few gourmet restaurants, the Crest, the Esquire and a smattering of other quick lunch places. But overall, the mall still completely lacks the feel of a solid pedestrian mall. Our city leaders should be considering revitalization that includes mixed use, more ground floor retail, a successful Farmer's Market. For examples, look to Denver, Santa Monica, Charlottesville, Boulder, and Boston.
2) Homeless are still a problem on K Street.
I'm not sure if it's the lack of police presence, the lack of pedestrians, the convenience of the light rail or a mix of all of the above. Until people feel that they can walk freely and happily without being harassed, K Street won't be successful. It doesn't matter if there are cars if there are still aggressive homeless people every 10 feet. Many large cities have a homeless problem. I've certainly walked many blocks in San Francisco and DC that made this apparent. However, we appear to have a more uncommon problem with aggressive, drunk and mentally ill homeless who have settled on K.
3) Where's the draw for families?
Opening up K Street to car traffic may increase restaurant traffic in the evenings. But until K has a draw for families, the weekends will still be empty. A consistent Saturday Farmer's Market, a children's museum, independent toy shop, even a fun market type atmosphere like Pike's Place would bring in families of locals and tourists. More families drive out the negative presence in the area and build the reputation of a fun, safe environment. $15 per person movies at IMAX isn't going to do that.
4) Cars remove any novelty and any reason for the City to focus on the area.
Once K is open to cars, the area returns to being just like any other street. There is no further motivation for special renovation, no attention to the problems left behind by City interference. At that point, Downtown Plaza should probably be completely closed and the walk tunnel to Old Sac removed or rerouted. While many local restauranteurs have poured their heart and soul into these 6 blocks, they will be abandoned once K is just another problem area. K Street needs to become THE focus if downtown is going to thrive.
5) Cars don't build businesses.
It doesn't matter if traffic is open to cars if nobody has the time, money or ability to open new businesses. Years have been spent and piles of money poured into the buildings between 7th and 9th and nothing has changed. Until the owners of these buildings are either "eminent domained" out of the way or they decide to become part of the solution, K Street will remain a problem.