Although it intends to reopen the western end of Pearl Street to car traffic, Boulder is exploring the possibility of repurposing streets and public spaces throughout the downtown area, at least partly due to pushback from the community.
“Though not unanimous, there has been significant feedback from community members in the past few days that many have truly enjoyed the more pedestrian-friendly, open plaza feel of downtown,” the city wrote in a statement issued last week regarding the West Pearl closure.
As such, the city plans to explore the possibility of closing streets across Boulder, not just on West Pearl but potentially in other areas of the city as well. And in Thursday’s Boulder City Council meeting, council members will decide whether to allow city staff to reconfigure its work plan in order to consider the idea.
Now that coronavirus emergency orders have ended and the city’s new outdoor dining pilot program has begun, Boulder is considering how to handle the closure of West Pearl, between 9th and 11th streets.
The closure, which the city says was meant to be temporary, was instituted through Boulder’s business recovery program, an early pandemic effort meant to help restaurants that were forced to shutter or limit capacity. The street closure allowed businesses to expand their outdoor dining options and it provided more safe outdoor space for people to gather.
However, the street closure was not explicitly part of the new outdoor dining program, and it’s been more controversial, particularly for some of the businesses there who say the closure negatively impacts their bottom line by removing parking and affecting accessibility.
Some of the businesses on the western end of Pearl, including Pasta Jay’s and the West End Tavern, have shared concerns about the impacts of the closure on their businesses. It was needed at the start of the pandemic but is no longer serving the businesses well, Jay Elowsky of Pasta Jay’s previously told the Camera.
Because of this, the Downtown Boulder Partnership supports the idea of reopening the street, while studying the possibility of closing streets throughout the downtown district.
It’s important to know the impacts before making the decision, the DBP argued in a letter to the city.
“Altering the circulation of vehicular traffic, as well as parking impacts on West End accessibility without sufficient study could not only continue to negatively affect West End businesses, but potentially undermine the intentional design of the four block pedestrian mall and the surrounding commercial district,” the letter states.
Others view it differently, though. Many say it will make a positive impact on the city’s climate goals by encouraging people to walk or bike downtown and that the closure created a more welcoming environment on the west end of Pearl.
Keeping the street closed to cars would be the highest and best use of the space, according to resident Shane Bohart, who is a strong advocate for the closure.
Bohart, who works in real estate but said he isn’t involved with any businesses on West Pearl, prepared proposals for the city that include mock-ups of what the space could look like and potential costs.
There are a variety of benefits in his mind. Among them is the potential environmental impact.
“We pride ourselves on great environmental stewardship in this city (and) state and if you take a moment to consider the impacts of removing cars, motorcycles, parking on this section of Pearl Street … you will find this pending decision has tremendous environmental import,” Bohart wrote in correspondence with the city.
If you watch
What: Boulder City Council meeting
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Council and city staff members will meet in person. Residents can watch the meeting on Boulder’s YouTube channel or on Channel 8.
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