For the first time in over a dozen years, cars rolled through the 10th Street Plaza in Modesto. The pedestrian-only plaza was built as the centerpiece to downtown revitalization, but vacant storefronts testify to the effects of the economy.
The city council voted to open the plaza to vehicle traffic in efforts to get more exposure to the few businesses that remain in the plaza.
“I hope it will work,” said Eva Rivera, co-owner of Loard’s Ice Cream shop, which has survived for seven years in the plaza.
“I think the traffic will bring more exposure to businesses in the downtown,” said Rivera.
Some people were still walking down the middle of the street, despite large signs saying the plaza was now open to traffic. Several new crosswalks were installed with additional signage. Police weren’t issuing tickets, though.
“This is our first day. There is an adjustment period and we want to educate people to the fact that vehicles are not on the plaza. We just want people to be safe,” said Sgt. Steven Stanfield of the Modesto Police Department.
But critics of the change say walkers are in more jeopardy. Elizabeth Campbell walked to the Brendan Theater multiplex which anchors the plaza.
“Families come down here and expect to be able to cross without any traffic. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Campbell.
Pedestrian Maribel Hernandez agrees.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know how to drink and drive and there are so many young people who come here at night, it’s dangerous for them,” said Hernandez.
Critics say the lack of parking and the recession that caused the layoff of many city and county employees who work in or near the plaza had more to do with the lack of business than lack of exposure.
Allowing traffic to go through the one block plaza will be on a one year trial basis. Vehicle traffic will still be halted during special events on the plaza.