Monday, April 22, 2024

Sherman experiment worth a try

| May 27, 2020 1:00 AM

Foot traffic.

Two magic words that can make merchants swoon.

Or swear.

Coeur d’Alene is getting both reactions and plenty in-between after news of a survey leaked out late last week. Downtown business people and city officials are wondering what would happen if Sherman Avenue, between Second Street and Sixth Street, were closed to motorized vehicles this summer.

In a nod to eateries and drinkeries hard-hit by COVID-19 precautions, businesses would be able to spread out onto public property, giving them an amenable outdoor atmosphere and more seating for social-distanced customers. Perhaps the same could be done for other businesses displaying their wares on sidewalks or on Sherman, much like during the Street Fair each summer.

Whether Coeur d’Alene should for several months mimic Rotterdam is the question. Back in 1953, the famous Dutch city converted one of its main thoroughfares, Lijnbaan Street, to pedestrian-only.

“At first, area shopkeepers were concerned that customers wouldn’t be able to reach their shops without the ability to drive up to their storefronts,” said an article on last December called Why Car-Free Streets Will Soon Be the Norm. “But as evidence continues to show, retail actually improves in pedestrian zones. Rotterdam and its local businesses ended up seeing great success after this policy change, and this showed early on the efficacy of closing streets to traffic and opening them to people.”

Many other cities in Europe followed suit, and the phenomenon has caught on in various American communities, too — particularly those with something spectacular to share, like downtown Coeur d’Alene. In the City by the Lake’s case, there might never be a better time for an experiment.

With ample public parking on the periphery, bolstered by the new 350-space structure at 318 E. Coeur d’Alene Ave., shoppers and diners can easily land within strolling distance of Sherman. Retailers can spread their wings for customers without the clutter, congestion, noise and fumes of roaring cars, trucks and motorcycles, creating a pleasant experience for all in a four-block corridor.

Coeur d’Alene’s tourist season is almost certain to fall short of normal expectations, so it’s not as if there’s great risk of turning away or offending the visiting hordes. In our view, this experiment would cater most to locals — those of us who regularly eat, drink and shop on Kootenai County’s best-known avenue.

The biggest danger might be that the experiment would prove so successful, merchants and city officials would want to spread the non-motorized Sherman venture eastward and make it permanent, at least during summers. But that’s a decision for another day.

For now, let’s consider a bold step with far more upside than down.