I am grateful to be able to live in Boulder, Colorado with all of the thought that goes into making it so wonderful. In an effort to further that direction I put together this document to promote the extension of the walking mall which includes laying bricks between 9th and 11th, and a section of 10th between Pearl and Spruce. In my position, while closing a street on a weekend for an event such as a crafts market or a NYC-style street fair is great in any city, a semi-closed street on Pearl, that continues to have cars sometimes, is a completely uninspiring idea. It’s fine. It’s better than keeping it for cars permanently. However, if the street were permanently bricked, such that it was no longer a street, but instead a clear and distinct part of Boulder’s Walking Mall, it changes everything about the idea, with a greater positive effect on all of downtown and Boulder, far beyond the single two-block area in focus.
HOW DID WE GET HERE: The street shut down for restaurants, to keep them from dying
I wish to begin with an article I found below from this summer which you may have read. It’s worth looking at more closely now. I’ve selected some key paragraphs but everyone interested in this topic should consider reading the article in full.
The person who is possibly by his position alone the most influential and exposed to the recent day-to-day business of Pearl Street Mall, Chip (just Chip), the CEO of Downtown Boulder, wrote this June 6, 2022 opinion piece for the Daily Camera (Way Back Machine):
“Downtown Boulder Partnership has always received inquiries from other city leaders who are exploring pedestrianizing a street in their central business district and look to the Pearl Street Mall for guidance and inspiration. At the onset of the pandemic, those calls became even more frequent. Communities craved outdoor gathering space; restaurants needed safe dining space and now these factors have completely changed how we look at streets, parking spaces and other public spaces. Today, Downtown Boulder can be added to the list of places exploring emulating Downtown Boulder…
For proponents of keeping the street closed, one argument is promoting walkability. With that in mind, I checked in with Jeff Speck, a city planner and urban designer who literally wrote the book on “Walkable Cities”. In fact he wrote two. In “Walkable City Rules”, a follow-up tactical playbook, Speck outlines many actions that cities can take to increase walkability. Tactics include increasing attainable density housing in the downtown core, addressing zoning codes, and focusing on public transit, bicycle infrastructure and a smart inventory of parking. Addressing the idea of closing a street in the downtown core for pedestrian access, Speck is quite cautious…
“The measure of success should be the revenue of the businesses” Speck asserted when I spoke to him last week. “There are ideological and social reasons to close a street, but you should start with an acknowledgement that the success of the businesses is the criterium that should be used to measure the success of a street closure…
Not only do I think this is an important stepping stone in piecing together how the city is coming into its position, I buy in to this measurement about business. This is a clever insight by Speck you can validate: successful business is a key indicator of a successful pedestrian mall.
Though, to be clear on the implications of this point, I do not think Speck would suggest that it’s up to business to necessarily act as the drivers on creating or establishing what is successful overall, as if any particular business like a restaurant must be interested in the big picture beyond their own gains, but rather, as it was implied, any decisions made that becomes successful for pedestrians will go hand-in-hand with business success. You can’t expect to have a pedestrian-motivated success without a business success too, and most importantly, since there are multiple ways to motivate achieving a success, it’s in retrospect that you will find this measurement to be true and of importance in defining and gauging what success looks like.
Downtown Boulder did exactly what we needed them to do which was to survey, and they found, according to the article, that the closure of the street “turned out to be popular. Well, mostly”, Chip wrote in his opinion piece.
“Another pandemic response was the temporary closure of two blocks on Pearl Street’s West End between 9th and 11th streets. Two years later, many of the businesses that it was intended to help now say that the continued street closure is actually hurting them. In a survey conducted by DBP, 64% of the West End restaurants that responded indicated a preference to return the street to its pre-pandemic state while 36% indicated interest in a seasonal or hybrid closure. Not a single restaurant that responded indicated a preference for a permanent street closure”.
This is not the only statistic but perhaps the key statistic that I believe is driving the city to close the street back up for cars: 64% of restaurants on the West End, of some unmentioned percent that were surveyed, said they wanted the street to close down for cars. To be clear on any picture with what we know, its especially worth noting that the 64% number in focus for this published piece certainly does not account for all business, nor all business downtown, nor all business on the West End, nor all business of the category of restaurants on the West End, only the category of restaurants on the West End that responded to the survey.
A couple of days ago more details of the survey emerged. Of the 1,113 individual business stakeholders that received the survey, only 117 responded. Less than 10%. What I found especially striking was a remark added in the opening paragraph of the report noting that the click through rate of the email that included the survey, which was only 11%, was “above email industry standards”, which indicates that that Downtown Boulder knew that the statistic required an immediate justification but also that they were pleased and satisfied with the outcome.
Meanwhile, in an article from Boulder Reporting Lab, city operators unrelated to the business lobby group said they already decided on their own that they will close it back down for cars with their own terms, for reasons that make sense to them, including snow plowing cost comparisons and CO2 emissions as it was publicly reported and highlighted for its significance in the article above, where the department appears to be arguing that the two blocks as a pedestrian mall would be worse for people and the world than a car filled street.
Even so, the city council members, a third group, say the decision is theirs. I do believe it is, as they have certain powers that likely supercede city operators even if it requires approaching the legalities from a different angle to accomplish the objectives of the people who elected them, such as changing the designation of the surface away from a street with car traffic right-of-ways and parking, and into the designation of our current pedestrian mall, which I hope they will do.
Whoever does control the decision and the power to act, or even the influence, I worry the same outcome will be reached, based on a sentiment of the minority of the businesses on these two blocks who wield a disproportionate amount of influence, not just onto the city and city council, but onto their other colleagues comprised of local business owners who may be unwittingly backing what appears to be an all around unjustified long-term position based on their own short-term profit problems.
It’s important to dive in and see what is going on. Publicly, for us as citizens to make informed choices and for the city council to properly represent us, we must do the best we can with the data we can gather.
Why then do restaurants and other businesses say they want cars back on to these two blocks and how is that the proper correlation with any losses in their revenues? Intuitively, for almost all reasons, it doesn’t make sense.
More recently, it was discovered publically that the The Reason with a capital R the restaurants and other business categories give for being in favor of cars instead of pedestrians, seems to be almost universally a justification related to parking, and that revenues will increase if there is parking. This clockwork story of correlating revenues to parking – the force of the movement for those aligned in wanting parked cars – has become this single, straightforward complaint that they say they hear from their customers: “Customers want the convenience of parking”. As if people are giving up or going elsewhere because they can’t find a parking space anymore, and thus, revenues are down, and they are voting to kill the pedestrian mall for this reason.
One thing I know for sure about the survey, based on what I found right from the horse’s mouth, is that there are West End restaurants that support permanent closure. Because the survey
found sought none, it’s a critically skewed percent, as is the 64% number then, where every restaurant makes up too large of an influence on the picture, and perhaps misrepresents the actual gravity and importance of the conclusions drawn from it. Yet another reason to lead us to question what is really going on.
It should also be noted that the majority of the West End restaurants are owned by just a few people causing an even higher margin of error for their persuasion, where for example, Centro, West End and Jax are all owned by the same person. In another case, one restaurant is owned by a Billionaire who I believe took relief from our tax dollars “to survive” nonetheless and almost all of the restaurants on these blocks are owned by people with many, many restaurants, many far beyond Pearl Street, and their risks may not require as delicate of a consideration as for example, a local up-and-coming owner who wouldn’t have the same level of resources and would need relief not just as a benefit but for survival.
Of all data points to hang your hat on, the 65% number is simply too corrupted in every form and fashion, where 6.5% might enjoy the closer reality, if even.
Since Downtown Boulder was predominantly focused on their restaurant clients, what of the other business? There is a diversity of businesses right on these two blocks from local and national clothing stores including Urban Outfitters and Burton Snowboards, a bookstore (Trident), office spaces, an arcade, a glasses shop, an occult, a pet store, a dispensary, gelato, coffee shops, a juice bar, apartment living, and there is also retail, restaurant, and office space available for lease. Speck would probably be drooling over it all in one place, right there, next to a bicycle shop, a bank, a beads store, a cool-kids convenience store, and the list goes on and on, right there.
What more, I learned of an email that was sent out to the city council that may or may not be public (I have not seen it), by Dave Query, the owner of those three restaurants that make up the statistical picture presented by Downtown Boulder, which provides a justification for why the owners would prefer that the streets remain with cars, despite being packed all summer long without cars. It was explained to me that the rationale from Query was parking but also of a “way of life” justification, more about preserving something, or getting back to something that used to be. Be that as it may, or may not be, Query noted in an interview with Travel Boulder this year that he is focused on opening more chicken restaurants: “We’re trying to take advantage of some opportunities coming out of the pandemic and we have plans to grow the Post Chicken and Beer joints, so we opened one in Estes Park and we’re opening one in Fort Collins.”
As for chicken, especially in the name of those who never see the light of day, the annual American appetite for chicken produces over 100 billion lbs of CO2e emissions each year—the same as more than 12 million cars. Query may follow best practices with his expanding chicken stops but looking at his websites and other articles I couldn’t find a single word about that. While I’m pretty sure people would care about the ingredients and sourcing of his restaurants on Pearl, I got a first-impression feeling his chicken brand might be harmed by a focus on sustainability. But I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met him and hardly know anything.This is just my first impression. If anything, it seems clear from what I’ve read that he’s perfectly nimble as a go-getter to adapt his business. Any article you read about him underscores this positive tenacity he has to adapt. Query owns 17 restaurant locations around Colorado. Is this the voice of Boulder’s future against more pedestrian space downtown? Its seems as if perhaps, yes. From what I can gather, he is the single most influential person at the table.
And if there is any question you have over the united front with active resources in Chip and Downtown Boulder to get cars back on the street permanently, you may not know that Chip awarded Query this year with the #1 prize for being the best Downtown Boulder client.
One person (not an owner) who works at a restaurant on these blocks, who wished not to be named, the person who told me about the email from Query to the city council, said that he has been watching this summer (his job is half-in and half-out) and confirmed that the restaurants were regularly packed. There was even a sense of envy I detected and I wondered what kinds competition goes on around these blocks. I too confirm that those restaurants on Pearl (not chicken restaurants) are known to be great, and they have been crowded this summer. Boulder is lucky to have these restaurants which are probably at the lowest risk from harm of all the businesses on these two blocks, either way. I read that when he was younger he was motivated by an interest in lively rooftop and outdoor spaces for people. He would have a lot of good ideas to add to building something great on a bricked mall.
HOW DID WE END UP ON THIS PARTICULAR DECISION PATH?
Because so many people want to keep it open with cars off, it seems as though a “partial closure” was somehow suggested as a viable option to be considerate, as if that was some kind of hybrid, equitable way to make everyone happy, and that the survey, the business propositions, and the conclusions, all went astray, confused over the difference in outdoor seating requirements, permanent bricking, the effects of covid, a change in consumer behavior, a quickly changing attitude towards the environment, parking needs, and the recession we are entering into now. Though Chip recommends taking years to do A/B tests, while using his meeting with Speck to pitch a justification for “caution”, Speck has come out since then to clarify publicly his suggestion from that meeting, that the testing for restaurants should happen “now”, not later, he said way back when.
My concern that the city council is destined to grant or acquiesce to this unbelievable angle is due to an an email apparently written by Bob Yates, a conservative city council member, which indicates a complacent adoption of the mindset can be expected:
I hope at the very least I am showing that there could be an opportunity in understanding and scrutinizing the recommendation instead of falling into the wrong footsteps by looking the other way or out of a lack of interest. This was the ultimate motivation for me to take the time to compile the data presented in this document.
From what I’ve gathered, the timing of the outdoor seating closure – why the West Pearl restaurants closed all at once on the same day involved two relevant factors. 1) Revenue related to liquor laws. I believe the state of Colorado (not Boulder) has the ultimate control over relevant matters of outdoor liquor, a different type of license than the one they were granted behind the state and Boulder’s special use permits issued during covid, a temporary relief measure that expired on August 31st, 2022. Even those restaurants willing and able to extend their license by August 31st to keep uninterrupted service, couldn’t do so because of red tape. To continue liquor sales requires a special type of permit that is unrelated to covid, which restaurants prior to covid without a license to sell outdoor didn’t have. 2) There is really no other way to look at it: It was a literal conspiracy with restaurants on West Pearl to shut down as part of their strategic revolt against the idea of continuing on with outdoor seating. They decided on their own that it wasn’t a good idea anymore, and so they decided to close up shop late at night without a warning to anyone, told their staff “The street is opening back up to cars now”, might have coordinated with the transportation depart or not, and said to everyone in Boulder “Outdoor seating is over, we’re gone”. Perhaps.
Here is why I have come to this: I know that both the Kitchen and Gaku did apply to the state for the license to sell liquor outdoors, and it has already been granted, and in fact, the Kitchen is back open outside now selling liquor, as of this week (Sept 12, 2022).
The Kitchen did not fully join the movement, but it seems as though Pasta Jay, Felix and Trident did. However, it would not surprise me one bit if Trident and Felix shut down for camaraderie with Query and Pasta Jay instead of any opinion of their own. When I spoke to people at both Felix and Trident (not owners) to ask why they shut down outdoor seating, the answer I got from both was that it was because the city was going to close it down for cars, and that the city already decided.
The owners knew that the city council would vote on what to do about this (e.g. if temporary outdoor seating should remain or not), but they were apparently attempting to one-up the city it seems, in deciding on their own that no, outdoor seating is done whether you want it or not. That’s a shame because I know people want outdoor seating, including their own customers, and it seems they would make more money by expanding their operations into that space vs. providing their customers with a parking incentive.
I believe we have reached the point of saturation where the restaurant owners are no longer willing to adapt because they are too frustrated at everything. They are so tired of COVID they’ve become tactical is seems. They seem to want to return to an olden way of living where perhaps it’s better margins and less red tape, and it seems they don’t like change so much they need a lobby to keep it from happening. They want to be stable, as if any business is ever stable. There is an interesting law of business revenue that applies not just day-to-day, but even on the biggest trends, and even when you don’t see it coming: a business can’t ever be static. Its either growing revenues, or its shrinking revenues, but it can’t ever remain the same.
The plan of course, for the majority of restaurants on Pearl, all the way to 15th and beyond, is to get beyond the red tape so that they can serve liquor again outdoors if desired, and in fact The Kitchen is one of about thirty restaurants on Pearl that are not in a revolt (or whatever you would call it) – they are continuing through the tape, and continuing with outdoor seating so long as there is outdoor seating. That seems like smarter business, and a far more equitable approach.
But. The Kitchen, unfortunately, is voting in favor of shutting things down permanently and having cars return to Pearl. This is the owner Kimbal Musk’s first choice. Musk, the brother of Elon Musk, is a Billionaire and presumably in an excellent position to not be harmed by Change with a capital c, in terms of any margins that might be compromised from the loss of about 3 parking spaces in front of his business.
I know from my conversations with people on these blocks that the restaurants are frustrated over it all. Very frustrated. Their current decision making process appears to be largely influenced by getting things working now with the red tape and getting over COVID as a priority over long term thinking on larger issues like bricking the street and long term revenue gains from having a business with more foot traffic exposure. It seems plausible and understandable that they are not in a good position to be thinking about higher aims.
However, they could still generate from outdoor seating with people who don’t drink, or could be open like the Kitchen because they want to provide a cool thing and make more money, but it seems the united front of businesses closed down on purpose with a plan of their own that was acutely coordinated, included the takedown of infrastructure in the night that was there under a collaborative permit with the city nonetheless, then distributing a specific message that the city decided already, all while blind sighting city council. I may not have it all right, I’m questioning and trying to connect the dots.
Even if it was a conspiracy, the survey overall, as the center of attention, is simply not relevant enough on its own merits to weight the direction for us as citizens without more information on their angle, and may be too statistically incomplete to draw up the right conclusion that depends upon the picture too few people wish to paint. The power and support behind less than five people may look like a lot more than five, should any others support their business needs too, in order to maintain good standing with their membership in Downtown Boulder’s agenda and power of influence in representing their interests first. But this time, Downtown Boulder’s data points, and literally all other data points, seem to contribute in total to enormous support in favor of beautifying Boulder for the people by removing the asphalt forever and opening it on up.
KITCHEN AND GAKU
The owner of Gaku Ramen does not live in Boulder so the general manager is operating. I stopped by and spoke with him. He said his business and the Kitchen are together in wishing for an opening of the pedestrian mall. The Kitchen told that to him so I going to just assume that…it was nothing. Yes, I’m going to assume that it was probably nothing, but there is nothing we can do with that anyway. What we know, definitively, is that Musk’s first choice is to side with Query and Pasta Jay in opening back up.
If the Kitchen indicated to Downtown Boulder they want cars back, but represent to Gaku Ramen that they want temporary cars or no cars as Gaku Ramen would prefer, that would be something to work out and understand. I was equally confused and disappointed to see the kinds of actions Kimbal Musk took with his employees during lockdown, as I watched it happen in real time, and now combined with this decision, it seems like maybe he is not the most ideal person to help steer the future direction of the city for everyone, but might be good at going with the flow and adapting to make his business work whatever ends up happening and keep open a quality sourced service that is good for Boulder.
As for Gaku, and their position, I am definitively clear. He bent his knees down and popped up as he said he would LOVE a permanently open pedestrian mall.
I heard from an angry bird on twitter that two clothing stores, next door neighbors on the northside of Pearl between 9th and 10th, Haven and Mabel & Moss, are against a pedestrian mall. I stopped by and spoke with the owner of Haven and sure enough, she is adamant about closing the pedestrian area and giving it back to cars.
She told me a few days before it was publicly reported that the city had already decided and that cars would be back any day. I asked her why she preferred parking instead of a pedestrian mall. Her answer was very clear: Because its what her customers want, she said. The way she said it was impressive. If you are her customer, she is going to take care of you I imagine. She wants to help women feel good by helping to source the right clothes for each individual. That’s a great proposition in my opinion, you should probably go check her out and I’ll bet she is good at it, she has another store in Denver and appears to be right in a growing spurt. She cares so much about her customers, she even admitted that she herself would personally prefer a pedestrian mall, but that she was making her decision based on what she thinks her business customers want: parking. They want parking, she said again without a flench.
I think the city council then, before making their vote based on this rationale of what the store owners want, should hear from those customers, and not the business owners. It may be a regular, general complaint the store owners hear, but it may be a complaint everyone is going to hear as a sign of a successful retail zone, and quite frankly, when did anyone not complain about that?
Considering her competition on the bricks, and across the street from the likes of Urban Outfitters and Burton, I asked her if she thought she would get more walk-ins if the street were bricked and she said “No.”
I didn’t pry further but when she said no, this was the turning point in my mind where she lost me. And I think this may be one of the more important considerations that I am not seeing talked about in public: anyone who would say that their clothing boutique, a full block off the bricks, would get more traffic than being on the bricks has some pretty heavy lifting to do in my mind to show how that could possibly be.
As we all know – all of us – pre pandemic, the flow of foot traffic in downtown Boulder hit the bookstore and turned back, just at it will do again if the street opens back up to cars. Only a smaller percent venture past the bricks. I know that Downtown Boulder has acute statistics on this and I think it would be important to show that the expectation for a business on the bricks vs a business on a closed street off the bricks, is a severely different kind of proposition.
A business owner like Haven stands to benefit the most on the bricks, for she already has customers who will come to her, and she would gain new ones from a massive increase in passer bys. It’s hard to argue this point otherwise, and I think Haven should at least justify to the council should they wish to vote with her how her business stands to suffer when it would seem so much more likely to bloom.
In conclusion, I believe Haven may know their own business customers when it comes to clothing, but may not have the right idea in thinking about what is best for the community as a whole, and that the owner may be too aggressive in lobbying against the things that she would herself want as a citizen in prioritizing her own business profits with a potentially misunderstood complaint, and the impact of that complaint should those parking spaces go away.
I haven’t been fortunate enough yet to try out My Neighbor Felix, but it looks great and I can tell you in no uncertain ostensible terms that they are the clear winner of all restaurant business on these two blocks since the day they opened, at least for being packed, lively and spirited. No idea what they would prefer – assuming they back Query because they shut down on the same stolen night – but Felix has it made any way you look at it. They are all about sustainability and their menu is unique for the region. The place is ON FIRE busy, and they would also have some heavy lifting to do to try to show that cars are better for them, right on the corner of 9th street.
If Pasta Jay’s could offer at least one dish with tomato sauce that wasn’t so watery such that people could actually call it a sauce, I think they would be in a stronger position to justify any arguments they might have. I highly doubt they will be able to turn the taste around enough to convince locals they need their own parking.
Ozo has an argument for parking but it’s almost certainly a result of miscorrelating the whys and wherefores. I wish they didn’t have any argument at all but let’s tackle the challenges fairly and sincerely so that we can formulate the best opinion. The effect of closing off the street affects them in a way that is sincerely different, the result of a change that is not the same as the general parking issue for everyone else. I know because I once fell into the category of customers they allude to when they say they’ve lost some significant percent of their morning crowd based on the street being closed off to cars.
The thing about parking downtown is that there is a period in the morning where the games begin, and the two hour parking spots last the longest, as people fill the longer spots first in planning for a full day of parking. Ozo opens earlier than game time, so, pre-covid, you could pull up in your car and get a spot out front or close enough, grab a coffee, and then leave. In other words, their customers COULD rely on a parking spot early in the morning to dash in and out, like a drive through.
There are some caveats, though, which are relevant to the reason why I stopped doing that before the pandemic: Ozo takes way too long to make an espresso. In the morning, pre-pandemic, you could walk in and expect to see 6 to 8 cups lined up behind just one person on one machine, and another 10 people in line. You actually can’t dash in and out so easily because they haven’t optimized for that. What made Ozo hop over the last decade, I know first-hand, is the morning office crowd that worked downtown. They would park and walk over to meet their colleagues at Ozo, an extremely social environment. An enormous % of the customers were people sitting in the shop having team meetings, business meetings and social meetups with friends also downtown at work. The economy was at its peak. There was a huge startup scene crowd in the morning, as well as many other types of regulars and stop ins. Covid came and the office world changed dramatically, but in a way that stuck.
There is a significant % of business that will never be the same in a new world of Zoom and help us all, Meta.
What about the Ozo that opened up just a few blocks away on the other side of the mall? Do they need to have two locations within just a few blocks of one another and do both need to be on streets? Where is the spirit and innovation? What did they do to address their lost audience, anything? Probably something.
My suggestion is that we put a plaza out front, and help them with imagining how cool it could be for them to transform their coffee shop into the future by integrating it into the new designs. Their Isabella espresso is definitely my favorite and the strongest in town so if they can serve people quicker, they stand to make more money per minute, and people won’t need to make a major commitment to go in, timewise, anyway. I really think it would be hard to argue it would be worse.
There is plenty of coffee around, including theirs: “Our Office Coffee services are available in Boulder, Denver, Broomfield, Westminster, Thorton, Denver Tech Center, Lakewood, Englewood, Aurora, Arvada, Golden and everywhere in between.” Their website notes that they are hiring for all positions in all seven of their Boulder retail cafes. It is at least not a delicate situation for their business, they are hearty like a bean stock apparently. They might need to do some soul searching on how they are going to evolve into a world where more people stay at home on Zoom, and fewer people have cars.
THE ECONOMY BEYOND RESTAURANTS & RETAIL
What I have not heard being talked about with any detail in public but presume is being considered, is the effect of such an idea on property value, rental prices and city revenues in and around the area.
If the street is bricked, foot traffic would presumably jump up, business revenue would thus go up, property value would go up and the city tax revenues would go up, like fusion. Financially, the city stands to gain, the property owners stand to gain, and while renters lose some on rent, their businesses stand to make more. This dynamic works itself out in a natural balance that is already successful in this zone.
Intuitively, it could be worrisome that such a plan stands to kill the important small business, such that the only businesses that would be able to afford to grow in already high rental area would be the Starbucks and Banana Republic’s of the world. Fortunately, the city has a brilliant lever in place already to mitigate such a loss to the community, a level I wish Austin, Texas had before a huge number of its mom and pop stores disappeared: Only a certain percent of chain stores are allowed on the mall. The city can find the right way to enable that value on the extension. The variables could probably be exactly proportionate, maybe even more weighted in this zone towards the up-and-coming small business with a smaller percent of chain permits.
I presume this is where cities can easily go wrong in attempting to set up a pedestrian mall from scratch, as Speck would probably say, because they won’t be able to so easily establish and balance all these factors. But Boulder already did it, so expansion would be straightforward, without the risks, and without much mystery in terms of what to model for the expectations on the biggest economic factors. How many people will actually walk west past the bookstore if it is bricked? The number is practically there waiting to be calculated.
To The South, To The West
It may be tucked away here with a weak header, but the opportunity for a connection with other areas of downtown is the most exciting part of a mall extension in my opinion. If the area were to become bricked westward to 9th street, the businesses to the west of 9th street and that commercial property would also become more lively and integrated. The adventurous tourist who made it all the way to 9th street before turning back would make it down to Piece Love and Chocolate, Nick and Willy’s, Lolitas and Spruce Confections. Those businesses would have a lot to gain from the extra foot traffic, and it would extend the liveliness of that neat area through to Walnut between 7th and 9th with a boost for the restaurants, retailers, offices and apartments there too.
There is also the important connection through to Walnut between 9th and Broadway, which would become way more lively, bringing much more foot traffic to those businesses and acting as a link to St Julian and whatever becomes of the cement plaza to the east of the hotel (if not parking), and on into the grounds of the Library. It’s too perfect of a link to be ignored in how much it could invigorate the expanded region. If only there was a pedestrian bridge that linked the St Julian throughway to the Library. Perhaps extending the mall can fund such a link one day.
It must be said, there are not many individual, urban-sprawl styled parking lots reserved for individual business customers like other restaurants and businesses outside of downtown and in strip malls have. When these restaurants on Pearl decided to invest in the area, they knew that parking would be an issue for their customers as a criterion for a successfully busy area, and that they themselves would not have any control over parking for their customers.
It must also be said the two blocks in question are flanked with three parking garages within a block’s distance, two on Walnut between 9th and 11th and one on Spruce and 11th.
And! It must be said. If the street were filled with parking spaces, when it comes times for Query’s customers to get in their cars and drive their 5 minutes into town, the chances of them finding a parking spot in front of Query’s place is simply next to none.
And so it was said by Matt Benjamin, a progressive city council member who just might be a vote in support of a more useful pedestrian space. Parking has always been a problem as a sign of a successful pedestrian zone where people enjoy getting out of their cars and leaving them behind. So even if we do need 60 or 65 parking spaces, why do we need to take up so much space for them?
As it is now, people in Boulder can all too easily get into the habit of spending five minutes driving downtown to work, letting their car sit for eight hours in a garage, then spending another five minutes to drive home to go back into park for the rest of the night without doing anything. It’s not an effective use of resources anyway.
The parking garage fees support this antiquated behavior by capping the daily amount at just five hours worth of time. The longer you leave the car in the parking garage, the less it costs per hour. It could be the other way around. All of the fee structures and incentives could be reconsidered to make it even harder to park on purpose, or to open up more spots by incentivising people to move along instead of for being lazy.
The very worst solution I can think of that could be a good idea to others would be to build more parking. I suggest changing gears and purposely squeezing drivers, making them pay more for parking, pay more for parking tickets (much more than the modest increases from last time), put heavy parking costs on cars with combustion engines built after 2025, and provide people who truly need it with big incentives to use parking for less. Where are the charging stations downtown anyway? Shouldn’t there be rows of charging stations in the garages to incentivise cleaner air now, since we are the ones breathing it? I thought the city would already be talking out loud about the electricity they could sell for that.
Where are all the safe bike parking spots where you can relax after leaving your your nice bike out of sight? Are we forgetting about all the bikers who would pay to park their bikes in a safe and convenient way to stop in at Ozo and then chat with their friends in front of a fountain?
FUTURE PARKING, FUTURE CITIES
It may seem far out but cars will pilot themselves pretty soon. It’s near enough in city planning years to think about the impact. The progress of the self-driving taxis won’t be stifled by politics, or I’ve-gatta-have-a-car-for-me-economy holdouts, if you want to drive a car in the future yourself, you’ll probably need to go to Wyoming where they’ll have roads for adventures like that because it will be far too dangerous – murderous even – to drive yourself. The network will handle everything. And thus, you won’t have a car. The Google’s, Uber’s and Tesla’s of the world will runr it all.
Cities will become transformed as a result of this one key shift. There will be no need for parking because cars will always be going. This is not a far fetched future argument for the space world of tomorrow, consider that literally ever parking lot attached to every building – sometimes 50% of the space of the area in downtown Boulder, will be able to be repurposed for pedestrian use. Today, Boulder has an ordinance that requires a daunting amount of parking space be built with each new building proposal. What if we are over the peak now, and should expect a decline in the number of people who drive, and isn’t that what we want to help happen if we could?
Sprawling parking lots, parking garages and wide streets will be handed back as cars move through more efficiency and effectively. In Moore’s Law terms, sometime well before 2050. That’s right around the corner for city planners.
While money, parking and freedom of space are on top of mind, the hardest part for most people is likely imagining the design, and then giving the correct proportion of their decision making process to the impacts design has. What we have experienced over the past two years since the street has been closed has not included any design, unfortunately. It would be hard to quantify how much design could be misunderstood when attempting to correlate down revenues for the restaurants on West Pearl over the last two years, but there hasn’t been any other use case for the street beyond makeshift, ordinary outdoor seating for some restaurants. There was virtually no public seating added, no bike racks, nothing – and it was ugly – unlike the mall where one can relax, meet and feel like sitting for a spell.
There are many ways to design the area, and by great fortune, there is one design on how to lay it out that is already there, even though we may not have realized it yet, whee the design can be perfectly “informed” by what has already worked so successfully. What could go down on the street is already predetermined at least, for safe starters, by the design we have that is already working – the type of brick, the type of planter, the type of bench, the spacing and proportions. It’s not what I prefer as is, but there is a rhyme to the reason that is repeatable for us with little risk or need to test over years and years, an advantage we have in Boulder that is not so easy to emulate anew for other cities. What fun as a community to consider other ideas, like grass, other materials, refreshes, tweaks, and even some big changes that could make the design guide better. We could spend several years with a world renown architect, but in the meantime, we can move out of Alpha from the paint and into Beta with the bricks, right now. We can lay down the bricks as the first move, based on the designs that will be informed. Leaving it closed as a street with no design or weak design would, imo, be the greatest risk of the any proposition on the table. A true extension is the safest place to begin, and time is of the essence. The first temporary design is nearly ready, it just needs to be drawn up.
Without design things get shady quickly, and the beauty of the proposition fades back to a mere “closed street”, not just as a designation, but as a way of life with oil and grit, just as you would find in any big city with greasy two-by-four-and-plywood structures on dingy confusing layouts.
This is what is killing it right now: the lack of design. If the restaurants got rid of their design inside, they would all meet their demise. It’s that big of a difference. As is, even with the hustle and bustle of all the restaurants on a warm and glorious Saturday summer evening, the lack of design and designation outside makes Boulder no different than the bottom of the barrel.
Long term restaurants and store owners might get excited about having a voice in how things go outside in front of their stores in way that could be wonderful not just for them, but also for us as their customers. There are so many opportunities for unique flair.
There is also a feeling that comes with design that is much more straightforward and important than people realize. How does it make you feel? It can be dark and cold, or sunny and bright. It can be urban, it can be quaint. In Boulder’s most recent large scale renovation of public space between the Downtown library and Central Park, there is a lot to talk about with regards to why, in retrospect, it didn’t work. What are the elements of the design that prevent people from wanting to use it? For example to meet someone there, or head there for a stroll?
In the picture above, picture yourself the designer at their desk, working on the plans before the park was ever created. You are alone but you recall the whisper in your ear from the last meeting “Remember, there’s going be homeless people sleeping around here so we’re going to need to take that into consideration when you are designing benches too”. It’s called Hostile Architecture and it’s cold as ice. The idea speaks to you when you see it from afar, and as you approach it. It says, elite people use this space, so if you are are not part of that, you are not welcome here, and the sincentment is enforced. It’s a similar tactic to the sign Starbucks put up on Pearl Mall several years ago before that said no large backpacks allowed. For a such a mountain gear town, it told everyone what kind of snobs we are and set the first impression for what to expect in these parts with who is welcome, and who is not.
We’ve got to get help on this before it iterates up and down into a large scale problem with spaces that too few will want to use. You haven’t heard much about it because we may be right at the tipping point, but ‘housing first’ policy is happening in America, statistically speaking, and progressive towns like Boulder are starting to crack the nut…it’s important to get rid of those hostile thoughts when envisioning this type of space.
Even now, just look again at the surroundings of the bench. Who is going to sleep on that bench while the grass is so much nicer? And why isn’t anyone here? It’s from Monday afternoon, Sep 13, 2022, biking home from school with my 9-year-old. Beautiful day, mid 70s, no wind, sunshine.
As I started, a designed walking mall and a closed section of a street are two completely different things and should never be confused by using one as a representation of what to expect from the other. What’s the use cause besides eating only when it can be funded by liquor, or walking aimlessly with no where to stop? There will never be a commercial or pedestrian success without it.
My conclusion and thus the argument I stand behind is that the money, the parking, the freedom of space, and the design is nearly ready, the vast majority of people and business want it, and I see no justification against it. The risks of expansion are minute, yet the rewards are so high and likely. Based on the way things have been going, I think the restaurants need to step back, and be hand held through this a bit longer. We must bring them along, they will see. But any business unprepared for the next lockdown in the future is not reading the room that we don’t want to be in. What will they do to survive next time? What’s their plan?
The city, all of the businesses, all of the property owners, and all of the people can have their interests met and expectations exceeded in an unusual moment of confluence, a transformative inspiration for Boulder and other towns across the world looking to significantly improve the ways of life.
As strongly as I feel about this, if someone passed the baton to me and said the choice was mine, I would say that I believe bricking it is a no brainer and that’s what I’d like to do, but I would pass the baton back, because it’s not something I feel comfortable deciding on for you. I just want to vote and have my vote be heard because I feel strongly about it, and I know I am not alone.
Though most of the ideas here comprise a round up of points for consideration for everyone in Boulder, my most specific request to the city council is this: Let’s commit to the direction of a permanent pedestrian space now, and move in that direction now, and let’s allow restaurant owners and all other members of the city an opportunity in parallel with one more chance to wake up and provide a compelling justification for why Boulder would be better off going backwards, or how it is that returning cars to this pedestrian space is a move forward. If you haven’t decided already, I’m only suggesting that you please do not open the street back up to cars while figuring out what to do next, keep it closed to cars while figuring out what to do next. Put the onus on the minority profiteers with their own resources to appeal. Give them one last chance to explain what they are talking about in a way that makes sense.
When urban designers and city planners from around the world come to Boulder to see what a success looks like, I am sad to think they might be going home de-energized, disappointed, and with a feeling of defeat, extreme caution, extreme risk, concerns for decades of discovery requirements and the wrong type of focus on business interests. That would be a missed opportunity to lend a hand to a world in need. Let’s greet them in a different way. Let’s be sure they go home inspired, not just with what we’ve done, but what we are going to do.
+ Contact form for City Council. Drop a vote in favor of the walking mall, or whatever you think. -> LINK
The Boulder city department behind the proposal to undo the west Pearl pedestrian space is called “Community Vitality”. Great Thread/Explainer -> LINK
+ Boulder Transportation Advisory Board opposes city’s plan to reopen West Pearl to cars -> LINK