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Open Streets is dead. Long live Open Streets

Main Row


A band performs at Granary Row in Salt Lake City on June 15, 2013. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • A band performs at Granary Row in Salt Lake City on June 15, 2013.

A single block of Main Street will be closed to cars and opened to people during the next two weekends, with Salt Lake City hosting a significantly-reduced version of the Open Streets on Main event of the last several years.

While previous iterations saw Main Street closed and activated between South Temple and 400 South for several weekends at a time, this year's Open Streets In Name Only (OSINO) will span from 100 South to 200 South, coinciding with two weekends of live performances on or near the steps of the Eccles Theater.

“Open Streets fosters community in the heart of the city with an electric atmosphere that prioritizes pedestrians and families while supporting our small businesses," Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a prepared statement. "I am grateful for our city staff and the Downtown Alliance, who make this possible and help us showcase a Main Street pedestrian promenade that is walkable, small business-focused and inviting to all.”

Launched during the COVID-19 pandemic by the Downtown Alliance as a social-distancing-friendly boost to struggling retailers, the event over time has become a proof-of-concept demonstration as the Mendenhall administration pursues the long-term transformation of Main Street into a permanently pedestrian-oriented space.

That has also meant purchasing and installing street materials and upgrades—like the relatively new chain fencing that deters jaywalking near Trax stations—which Peter Makowski, a deputy director with the city's business development division, acknowledged had left Open Streets organizers with minimal resources for this year's iteration.

"We are using leftover funding from last year," Makowski said. "We weren’t able to do an event as large as we’ve done in the past, which is unfortunate."

Prior to the new Trax chains, organizers were required to line the tracks with barriers. Those and other short-term access controls allowed the event to function, Makowski said, but also made it uninviting.

"People literally thought the road was under construction and wouldn’t enter," he said. "So we’re trying to make it feel more like a pedestrian promenade."

But Makowski emphasized that more and grander Open Streets events are planned in the future, including a fully-funded return to the downtown core in 2025 as well as a new event in the Granary District this fall. That event will see a full month's worth of weekend road closures around the area of 700 South and 500 West—where Salt Lakers of a certain age might recall the Granary Row beer garden and performance stage (pictured above).

The City Council recently approved $400,000 for Open Streets, Makowski said, providing organizers with a runway to organize next year's Main Street event, which is expected to return to its four-block, multi-weekend scope.

"We have funding for the first time at the beginning of the year prior, to fund an event and host it," Markowski said. "We’re dedicating time and funding to make next year amazing."

The city has released draft documents for the conversion of Main Street to a Pedestrian Promenade, which show car lanes and parking giving way to plazas, parklets, patio dining and street performances, with dedicated pathways for cycling and allowances for emergency vehicles, deliveries and rideshare services. The cross streets running east-to-west—South Temple, 100 South, 200 South, 300 South and 400 South—would all remain open (though 100 South would be narrowed and rebuilt) as would the parking garages accessed by those streets.

City Plans have called for the removal of cars from Main Street for more than 60 years.

The City Council has not yet made changes to ordinances regarding use of the street. But Makowski said Open Streets organizers will utilize the temporary closures to test out approaches and strategies for pedestrianization.

"The vision of this is to continue the work of promoting the concept of a pedestrian mall on Main Street while also providing economic vitality for the business," Makowski said.

In a prepared statement, Downtown Alliance executive director Dee Brewer said that Main Street and downtown are at their best when people are prioritized over cars.

"The programming we have planned will surprise and delight everyone who comes downtown for the fun,” Brewer said. “We are grateful for the City’s commitment to this demonstration project and their study of permanent improvements to Main Street to enable more public space and programming on this historic Corridor.”