Walkable Main will not return to Breckenridge
Breckenridge will not bring back Walkable Main, the pedestrian-only Main Street concept that sprung up last summer. The Breckenridge Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday, April 27, to not reinstate the walkway.
Community Development Director Mark Truckey explained in a memo to council that there have been numerous inquiries on whether the town would bring back Walkable Main. The town recently surveyed residents and businesses, asking for feedback about the concept. Results favored reintroducing the pedestrian walkway with 86% of residents and 83% of businesses that responded supporting the return of Walkable Main.
Mayor Eric Mamula countered the results of the survey by stating that there were a lot of conditions listed along with people’s support of the concept.
“There were a lot of people that were in favor of Walkable Main, but if you go to the comments, they were in favor with caveats,” Mamula said. “They were in favor if the town dressed it up better. They were in favor if it wasn’t Jersey barriers, it was something else.”
Council members also brought up several concerns associated with the walkway, including traffic, safety and economic equity. Council member Carol Saade raised the issue of public safety, as circulation is more limited for emergency vehicles during a street closure. Town Manager Rick Holman said that while the closure makes things difficult for the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District, it is navigable.
The change in public health restrictions between summer 2020 and 2021 was a sticking point for the council. Mamula speculated that people were supportive of Walkable Main last summer because it brought people and business to town amid tight restrictions, but now that restrictions on businesses are expected to be largely lifted by summer, Walkable Main might not make sense.
“This summer will be a different summer,” Mamula said. “… Even if we’re not at 100%, say my place is at 85% or 90%, then I will be at 130% or 140% with those extra 30 people out front. That’s really a big part of this question now. If we were still in the restrictions that we were in last year, I think this would be a very easy question. It’s not as easy anymore, and we have heard from some of the merchants around saying, ‘OK, last year was fine, but this is now unfair to me because I don’t have the ability to do that.'”
Council member Kelly Owens agreed, noting the staffing issues the county is experiencing.
“Something that I am really concerned about is … if a restaurant that is in the closure is able to be not just at 100% capacity but then even above 100% capacity, we already have an employment issue in this town,” Owens said. “We know lots and lots of people are trying to hire and are understaffed, and I guess I would just really hate to see some people that are at 120% capacity getting full staff, and then somebody north of town or south of town not able to get full employees because there’s just additional pressure on the employee situation.”
Council member Dennis Kuhn added that residents on neighboring streets like Park Avenue and French Street did not enjoy the increase in traffic that they experienced while Walkable Main was in place last summer. Council member Dick Carleton said he was torn on the issue and said he had concerns about safety and the amount of money it would take to do it well, but he added that he would hate to miss an opportunity to benefit restaurants that have been hit hard throughout the pandemic if restrictions do persist.
“The point that all of us feel is that we really, really want to support these retail (shops) and restaurants who have had a very, very difficult year,” Owens said. “… Is there an alternative where, instead of closing such a huge portion of Main Street that we could support people in activating outdoor spaces, maybe public spaces adjacent to their business, but that wouldn’t require the full-scale closure?”
Holman said outdoor options could be discussed at a future meeting.
Five of the six present council members voted “no” on Walkable Main. Mamula recused himself from the vote because he is the owner of a Main Street business, Downstairs at Eric’s.
“I came in here with clear intentions of voting ‘yes’ on this thing just from the survey,” council member Jeffrey Bergeron said. “From what I learned today, and also with the realization of where it seems like this vote is going, I’ll go ‘no,’ because I think we can err on the side of caution.”
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