Moving Toward a People-Friendly Plaza

Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorites logoArcata’s Plaza is the heart of the city, the central square from which the town radiates. But despite its prominent role, it needs a pick-me-up. Outside of farmers’ markets and special events, the Plaza lacks élan—the verve and vivacity that makes a place
a destination.

In the December/January edition of EcoNews, the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP) laid out our ideas for a “Living Plaza”—an update to reflect our modern needs and uses. Imagine a Plaza with a public arts venue that hosted concerts and plays. Imagine a Plaza with playgrounds and arts expos. Imagine a Plaza with a community garden, or expanded outdoor dining and retail vending, or a bustling foot cart scene. To make room for new improvements like these, the Coalition is proposing to close 8th and 9th Streets to cars to create a pedestrian mall.

Cars block views and access between sidewalks and businesses around the Plaza and the main public square, interfering with the successful civic, economic, and environmental functioning of the public space. Photo: CRTP.
Cars block views and access between sidewalks and businesses around the Plaza and the main public square, interfering with the successful civic, economic, and environmental functioning of the public space. Photo: CRTP.

To encourage even more pedestrian use and to improve safety, the Coalition is also proposing to put G and H Streets on a “road diet,” reducing the speed limit and allowing free pedestrian access while preserving parking. By reorienting the Plaza to be more pedestrian-friendly, we can increase the number of trips made by foot or bike. People are already using cars less and less. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 51 percent of trips to Arcata’s downtown are by car, down from 60 percent in 2000. If we provide the opportunity for safe travel by foot or bike, studies have shown that more people will choose to utilize these methods. And a bonus for Plaza businesses: studies have also shown that people on foot or bikes spend as much or more money than their car-driving brethren.

In December, we submitted a letter to the Arcata City Council along with dozens of other businesses, organizations and individuals proposing these ideas for the Plaza. In response to our proposals and efforts concerning the Plaza, and other recent events, the City Council is now convening a Plaza Improvement Task Force to evaluate these ideas (and others) and recommend potential changes to the City Council on projects and programs that would improve the Plaza. The Coalition has applied to sit as an “at large” member of the Task Force.

Does helping to shape the Plaza’s future excite you? The Coalition for
Responsible Transportation Priorites is your grassroots transportation advocacy group. We promote solutions that get people out of their cars by advocating for healthy, community-building, economy-boosting, environmentally friendly transportation projects, exemplified by bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. At www.transportationpriorities.org, you’ll find much more detail on our Plaza proposals and other projects, and you can sign up to receive occasional email updates and action alerts.

While you’re at our website, sign up for our weekly North Coast transportation news roundup, The Collector. The Collector is fun and informative, and you’ll often find important stories that no other news outlet is reporting!