The coronavirus outbreak is allowing us to experience the unimaginable. You might have read stories about swans and fishes reclaiming Venetian canals and the beauty of New Delhi getting revealed as its shroud of air pollution is removed. Edmonds’ Sunset Avenue is experiencing a similar sort of beautiful moment.
We go for a walk on the Avenue every evening to breathe in the fresh air, look at the spectacular sunsets, watch the birds, and listen to the waves. It is a spiritual experience.
Of course, these walks would be a nightmare if the Avenue were dug up to construct the Edmonds Viaduct. Thankfully, the Edmonds Viaduct is off the table, and we can continue to enjoy the beautiful avenue.
However, we have ben frustrated to see idling parked cars causing air pollution, individuals playing loud music, and people having cookouts on their pickups. About a week ago, we wondered if it were possible for the city to convert the Avenue into a car-free zone. Much to our amazement, Mayor Nelson announced such a policy (we swear, we did not lobby!). With almost no cars (except for the ones who insist on disregarding the “local access only” rule), walks on Sunset Avenue are more beautiful than ever! We hope we could have car-free Sundays for Sunset Avenue.
In this context, we appreciate Rick Steves’ suggestion of converting a few blocks of the Edmonds downtown into a car-free zone. Imagine outdoor seating for restaurants and artists displaying their art by the sidewalk. Maybe even a concert. It is not such a stretch of imagination. In the summer, every weekend we do close off a part of the Fifth Avenue North and Bell Street for the Farmers’ Market.
As frequent visitors to Europe, we have witnessed downtowns of many cities transformed once they embraced the car-free concept. In particular, we think of Ljubljana (Nives is from Slovenia), whose downtown has been beautifully renovated and made car-free for more than 10 years. A small electric vehicle called Chevalier (similar to a golf cart) drives elderly and mobility-impaired to various destinations. Or, think of London’s Regent Street, which is closed to cars every Sunday in summers.
Might Mayor Nelson and the City Council set up a working group (with active participation from the downtown commercial establishment and the chambers of commerce) to explore the possibility of a car-free downtown, at least during weekends? Of course, Edmonds law enforcement should be actively involved in the planning. The crucial challenge pertains to parking (along with providing access to senior citizens and those with handicap parking permits). One solution is to create a parking garage, say near Aurora, and provide an emission-free shuttle service for visitors to get to the downtown.
Creating parking garages is expensive, especially given the looming recession. Also, there are equity issues in redirecting traffic from the Edmonds Bowl to another, less privileged, place. Therefore, the proposed working group should have extensive public engagement.
Let us reimagine the Edmonds downtown to enhance the quality of life. Rick Steves, Edmonds’ first citizen, gave wise advice. At least it is worth trying on an experimental basis, say during a couple of weekends this summer, as Michael McMurray suggested. We should seriously consider this possibility
— By Nives Dolšak and Aseem Prakash