Organizers review Pacific Beach's Holiday Lane event on Garnet Ave.: Night of revelry, closed to traffic, was an experiment

A key Pacific Beach thoroughfare, Garnet Avenue, was closed to cars, buses and trucks from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 — not for a parade or a special event or a visiting dignitary, but for the community; for simple, ordinary people.

A Mobility Lane was cordoned off by orange traffic cones and surfboards hung on their side down the center of the street for bicycles, skateboards, roller-skates and scooters, but it seemed pedestrians took to it more than the intended users.

A tall young man in his 20s — the good-looking sort on a Friday night in PB — walked the Mobility Lane with a cluster of unrelated people, phone to his ear. "Me?" he said. "I'm on Garnet right now. There's no cars and a bunch of people are just walking around here. It's kinda cool."

With 150 volunteers, 50 vendors, five curated art exhibitions inside vacant retail spaces and about a dozen musical and other street performers, the first Holiday Lane drew more than 2,000 overwhelmingly local visitors, according to organizers, the Pacific Beach Ecodistrict within BeautifulPB, a non-profit civic group.

For those involved with the planning, the aim was to demonstrate what a car-less Garnet Avenue would look like and how it would function, and thereby influence discussions on the future of Garnet.

Judi Tentor, executive director of Bike SD, the advocacy group that co-sponsored the event, said she hoped Holiday Lane could help spark the transformation of San Diego into a city like Copenhagen, which combines bicycles, trains and buses for transit to minimize automobile traffic.

"That's what I want for San Diego," she told PB Monthly. "San Diego has the potential to be that way. Hopefully, the takeaway from this event is that people learn there are other ways to get around. Hopefully, we can get them out of cars."

The PB Planning Group had a tent on Garnet and planner Paula Gondolfo insisted that Holiday Lane was an excellent way to take the concept of a car-less Garnet Avenue off the designing table, so people could try it on for size. "We want to introduce the idea to Pacific Beach to see if it fits here," she said. "See what parts people like and what needs to be fine-tuned. I don't believe residents can take a step forward until they see it. They've got to experience it."

Despite the intent, the effects of Holiday Lane were in the eye of the beholder and so as myriad as the number of visitors. Retailers with permanent shops on the street were allowed to do whatever they deemed suitable that night up to 16 feet into Garnet.

Shelly Kitchings, manager of kickboxing school 9 Round, was dazzled by the results. "It's so much fun," she said. "People are riding by on bikes and skateboards, and they're rollerblading. It's a lot of fun energy."

Cameron Blackburn, a partner in California Sock Company, noted that events like Holiday Lane allow him to meet neighbors and potential customers, and vice versa. "To have something like (Holiday Lane) more frequently in a certain location really helps strengthen the community and the businesses, and brings people out of their homes and gets them out of the norms," Blackburn said. "It's a good shakeup and it'll bring a lot of community mindset to the Pacific Beach area. You should support where you live."

Artists and performers had a more aesthetic outlook on the proceedings. Denise Van Osten from Mission Beach set up a gallery of her watercolors in one of the vacant retail spaces and was selling them for $100 apiece and donating the benefits to BeautifulPB. Combined with other efforts, her goal was $10,000. "I'd have to bake a lot of cookies to raise that kind of money," she quipped.

Gideon Grossman, a percussionist who banged a kit of common household plastic buckets on the street, mused that the night's most special quality was in what wasn't going to happen.

"I like the fact that no one's going to be hit by a car tonight," he said. "And there are no jaywalkers."

Musician Mark Bosworth, aka Rafael Harp, played the only Santa spotted that evening. He sat on his lawn chair stoop with acoustic guitar and harmonica, being jolly and making merry by telling jokes: "Did you hear about that woman who recently filed suit against the panty hose company for stocking her?"

A man calling himself R2 walked about on stilts in front of the Funhouse Tattoo shop, where he also works as a tattoo artist. He said having recently moved from Utah, this was his first Christmas in PB.

"This event is fantastic," he said. "Getting everyone out from the community to just walk about and hang out. I got to meet a sloth up the street. He wanted to grab my umbrella. We got a few good photos."

As a whole, the bicyclists seemed relaxed and exhilarated driving down Garnet Avenue on a Friday night without the fear of being struck by cars or drunk drivers. Stacey O'Neill came down from her home in north PB with her daughter Fiona, and noted that if Holiday Lane was a test, it passed.

"I'd love to see Garnet shut down to no traffic," she opined. "Look at all these people milling about and meeting up. It feels European ... where people are out strolling ... everyone doing their own thing. It feels festive. This is a good experiment. I love it. I hope they do it again."

Karin Zirk, executive director of Friends of Rose Creek, said she was amazed by the sights as she drove her bike down the Mobility Lane. "The kids are riding around on their bikes and their scooters, having a wonderful time," she noted. "It's wonderful to see parents with small children out at night on Garnet Avenue. It's not something you see a lot. It feels special ... like a wintry night time thing, which we have so little of here in San Diego ... you know, the outdoors at night with my neighbors. I keep running into people I know."

PB Planning Group member Eve Anderson was spotted smiling gingerly over the compliments being heaped on her by her son's childhood friend, who hadn't seen her in years. Although she said she was skeptical about Holiday Lane initially (expecting to be overwhelmed by electric scooter-riders taking advantage of a free-for-all), Anderson admitted being pleasantly surprised by the mellow, neighborly outing.

"This has actually worked out better than anybody realized, mainly because the pedestrians are able to walk in the street," Anderson said. "I love seeing people in the street. I've seen tons of old friends here tonight, so for me, it's been fun."

Tim and Joy Booth meandered down Garnet like they were on vacation at a tropical beach. "Being out here with all the people, and having the street open to walking, kind of puts me in the Christmas spirit," Tim Booth said. "We just bought some new lights, they're blinking around our necks."

Joy added that she hoped the small town impact of the evening could last a little longer than the holiday season: "We've talked to a bunch of people here tonight and it shows the potential for Pacific Beach to be a little more friendly and open, and have more of a community feel to it. This night just kind of shows that it's possible."

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