State Street promenade | Credit: Courtesy

HELP WANTED: Somewhere around hour five of the City Council’s epic debate this Tuesday night about the State Street Promenade, my brain started to explode. My mind was a psychedelic light show of every bad cliché I ever heard. Was it drugs? Did I have a stroke?

“You can’t nail Jell-O to a tree,” I heard my brain mutter to itself. “A zebra is a horse designed by committee,” it retorted. “Progress is our most important product,” my brain shot back, apropos of nothing, before going in for the kill with a fearsome one-two combination. “A turtle gets nowhere ’til it sticks its neck out,” it screamed. “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

And in the council chambers late Tuesday night, all of our broken clocks were on display, ticking loudly. 

There was more. It being a long meeting, my brain was in a hurry to cut to the chase, itself a cliché amazingly well-understood given how utterly indecipherable it is. What chase? How does one “cut” to it? 

City Council meetings will do that to you

In all 180,000 seconds of the council debate, I did not once suggest the council was “trying to cut the baby in half.” Nor did I stoop to warning about “throwing out the baby” —presumably not cut in half —“with the bathwater.” 

More astonishing yet, my brain never commented how the council was “kicking the can down the road.” 

Yet it was. And it did

And I applaud them for doing so. It was the right thing to do. To steal a line from myself, “When in doubt, do nothing.” Or better yet, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” 

Having beat this metaphoric dead horse long enough now to arouse the wrath of the ASPCA, maybe I should explain what happened.

And why it matters.

Because, actually, it does. 

The council voted 4-3 to beat back an effort — premature, in my opinion — to leave the promenade a two-block shell of its former eight-block self and allow cars back on the remaining six blocks. Instead, it voted 5-2 to extend the legislation that allowed the council to “create” the promenade in the first place — in response to the COVID emergency — to December 31, 2026. But it also voted — unanimously — to tweak the existing no-car fatwa to allow patrons of the Granada to drive up State Street from Anapamu to Victoria streets so they can disembark right in front of the theater. (Read my colleague Ryan P. Cruz’s full report here.) 

Councilmember Eric Friedman | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

The good news is that this meeting went on for five hours because people care deeply and passionately about their downtown. They showed up and waited an exceptionally long time to address the council. Then they waited an even longer time as the councilmembers weighed in. 

Note to Councilmember Eric Friedman: Here’s another cliché: Brevity is the soul of wit. When you start a speech quoting a Charles Dickens novel — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — don’t speak so long we could have all read the whole book. But Friedman’s speech,  excessive as it was,  demonstrates just how hard it is if you’re trying to get things right.

Here’s the deal. State Street was in deep trouble long before the council banned cars from State Street. Bringing cars back won’t make the vacancies disappear. It won’t change the fact that most retail spaces are too large and too expensive for most tenants. It won’t change the fact that some landlords charge way too much and refuse to adjust their rents no matter how many vacancies there are. It won’t change the city’s permitting process. And it won’t change the fact that the Funk Zone — which, in a city dominated by planning fetishists, was allowed to “just happen” — is eating downtown’s lunch. And it won’t change the fact there’s not much lunch left to be eaten downtown anymore, because so many office workers are opting to work from home even though COVID is “over.”

But I get it. People want their parades: Fiesta, Solstice, and Christmas. State Street is where we’ve had them. But here’s another reality: As tacky as the promenade can undeniably be, it’s drawing more people. According to one statistic tossed out, State Street got 200,000 more visitors in one year after the promenade was installed than it got before COVID. There’s a reason why 80 percent of people polled — and, in survey after survey — want to keep cars off State Street.  

Paseo Nuevo | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

But I get it. State Street is a mess. It needs help. Last week, however, we heard for the very first time that City Hall is negotiating a deal to develop 500 rental units in place of Paseo Nuevo. That would bring 700 living, breathing, eating, shopping, driving people downtown. Should this deal materialize, it would be a major game-changer. But do we really want 700 people with cars — and in a hurry to get to work — able to drive on State Street?

On October 23, the State Street Advisory Committee — for which City Hall has spent $1 million for consultants to help plan the future of downtown — will dive into whether bikes, e-bikes, cars, pedestrians, trollies, shuttles, and, yes, even cars can coexist safely on State Street. To decide now to allow cars back before this work has been done seems a rush to judgment by those who should know better.

State Street didn’t go to hell overnight. It will take time to bring it back. 

In the meantime, you know what they say. “Don’t cut off the baby’s nose to spite its face and throw it out with the spilled milk, over which you’ll have to cry.”  


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.