Mayor Javier Gonzales is putting the brakes on his proposal to close all streets around the Santa Fe Plaza to vehicular traffic.
Gonzales announced Friday that the proposal is on pause while the city develops a detailed plan to “enhance the vibrancy” of the historic square.
“When I started this process, in my mind, I envisioned a process that after the council approved limiting vehicle traffic, that we would then talk about how to program the Plaza to enhance the experience with the available streets that were now free of any type of vehicle use,” Gonzales said.
The traffic-blocking idea, which the city has experimented with in the past, has run into some public opposition since Gonzales announced the plan about a month after he took office.
“I had not mentioned that in the announcement, but it was clearly the second phase that I was going to move to,” he said. “We just needed to know whether there’d be support by the council to limit vehicle traffic before we could even talk about what type of programming could come in.”
Gonzales said the detailed plan for “programming, partnerships and logistics around the Plaza,” which the mayor expects to be completed by mid-May, could be presented alongside the initial traffic proposal, which called for banning vehicular traffic on sections of San Francisco Street, Old Santa Fe Trail and Lincoln Avenue adjoining the Plaza park. The Palace Avenue side is already off-limits to traffic.
The mayor has already amended his original proposal by banning vehicles only between Memorial Day weekend and the Monday after the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe in early September, as opposed to a year-round block. He said he is now even open to the idea of keeping the Plaza open to cars and trucks on some nights.
Gonzales said one option is to leave San Francisco Street open to traffic, while closing the other three streets.
“This pause will also allow us to look at how to enhance the vibrancy of the Plaza without having to limit all vehicle traffic,” he said. “I think that’s the road that I’m going to be moving down now.”
In addition to cruise nights, other ideas include teen nights, car shows, activities to coincide with Santa Fe Fuego baseball games, animal adoption festivals and comedy nights.
“This really was meant to start a discussion by the community that would bring about a more vibrant Plaza, a Plaza that is inviting to everybody,” he said.
The delay comes after members of the City Council’s Public Works Committee said the mayor’s proposal wasn’t ready for prime time, even though two other city committees had endorsed it.
The proposal has sparked debate and a variety of opinions since the mayor introduced it without any prior public discussion.
Some downtown merchants are worried that closing the streets around the Plaza will hurt business. Others have expressed concern about ending what they say is a time-honored tradition of cruising around the Plaza and changing the tone of the Plaza. But others see the idea as an opportunity to make the Plaza safer and more pedestrian friendly.
“I think this is going to be a process that at the end of the day people will feel very good about because their voices were heard,” the mayor said, “and we’re going to have a plan that is going to enhance the Plaza.”
Prohibiting cars and trucks on streets surrounding the Plaza has been tried more than once. Concerns have been raised in the past about how traffic circulation in the downtown historic district would be impacted if drivers were forced to use other streets to get around the area.
What’s changed since then, Gonzales said, is that the community has seen how the Santa Fe Bandstand summer music series and other events can help bring more people to the Plaza.
Gonzales said he got the idea of again prohibiting vehicular traffic after he was sworn into office.
“When I was first elected, I spent some time on the Plaza. I visited with some merchants. I had an opportunity to talk to visitors. I asked what they thought we could do to enhance the experience. Some of the feedback came back to limiting vehicle traffic. Some of it came back to provide more events on the Plaza,” he said.
“People want to see more on the Plaza when it comes to entertainment, when it comes to community participation,” Gonzales said. “And that means that we have to do more than just limiting vehicles to the streets, and I think that’s a lot of the feedback that I got.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @danieljchacon.