Mailbag: H.B.’s Main Street should be allowed to breathe

Visitors walk north past shops on Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach in September 2022.
Visitors walk north past shops on Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach in September 2022. A reader writes to express his disagreement with the City Council’s decision to reopen a second block to vehicular traffic.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The residents of Huntington Beach, like millions of people worldwide, suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic. We lost many lives and livelihoods. However, one rare bright spot brought about by the pandemic was the partial closure of Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach.

While attempting to assist our downtown businesses, the City Council offered a lifeline, and surprisingly, our community learned a valuable lesson about how to create desirable public space.

Before the pandemic, there had been many discussions about the state of downtown, and the numerous challenges associated with simultaneously serving the needs of residents, tourists and businesses. Among the concerns were public safety, numerous vacant storefronts, vehicle noise and pollution and a fading sense of a once distinct downtown identity.

Simply closing off sections of Main Street to vehicular traffic and allowing businesses to extend into the public right-of-way elevated this area from what felt like a glorified strip mall to a vibrant public space. In effect, Main Street was transformed from a space one passed through to a new public plaza where people could meet, pedestrians could stroll and residents could casually linger.

From the wreckage of COVID-19 emerged a new heartbeat in downtown, and locals took notice!

So when our new City Council sought to end expanded outdoor dining and retail downtown, Huntington Beach residents responded with collective exasperation. Dozens of supplemental emails rolled in, and public commenters both praised the pedestrianized Main Street and pleaded to maintain the second block closure. Others sought to have the closure of the third block reinstated, and still, others questioned why Main Street wasn’t completely vehicle-free. Perhaps most remarkable was the wide variety of residents who supported the idea of Main Street as a permanent pedestrian plaza. From 20-somethings to those who had lived in H.B. for decades, the majority opinion was clear: let Main Street breathe; keep Main Street vehicle-free!

Unfortunately, the new Huntington Beach City Council saw things differently and voted to end this vastly successful and popular venture downtown. Like so many of my fellow residents, I believe downtown Huntington Beach is at its best when we act to prioritize people. It is hard to see how rescinding this revitalizing initiative is anything other than incredibly shortsighted and a tremendous step backward. The only thing more disappointing than being forced to dodge cars on Main Street again is seeing our newly elected public servants ignore the will of constituents and then offer up ham-handed fact-free rationalizations for doing so.

Steve Shepherd
Huntington Beach

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