Plaza to Close to Traffic on Tuesday
By GEOFF GRAMMER | The New Mexican 11/11/2002
Something will be missing from the Santa Fe Plaza beginning Tuesday
For the first time in the city's history - except for special events
such as the annual Fiestas - vehicular traffic will be banned from
all the streets immediately around the Plaza park.
Although the Plaza has been a hub of civic and commercial activity
for centuries - starting long before the days when wagons lined the
square bearing goods hauled across the Old Santa Fe Trail - the City
Council voted to experiment with the street closings in the name of
Some locals have complained that the move represents the ultimate
surrender of Santa Fe's historic center to tourism.
"This is the heart of our town. It is not a pedestrian mall or a
theme park," Santa Fean Todd Graznow recently complained in a letter
published in The New Mexican.
But cries for reduced motor-vehicle traffic grew following two
accidents this year in which tourists were struck by vehicles on
nearby streets - one fatally.
The council voted 5-3 last month to close the Plaza to vehicles -
except for delivery trucks and local sightseeing vans - until the
end of February.
At that time, the recently formed Plaza Task Force is expected to
submit a long-term recommendation regarding Plaza traffic to the
council. That recommendation could include complete or partial
closure of the Plaza to motorists or it could recommend keeping
streets open to motorists.
John Nitzel, director of the city's transportation and engineering
division, said the four streets on the Plaza will be barricaded with
large planter-type structures - similar to those already in place at
the intersections of Palace and Lincoln avenues. The city in recent
years has used such barriers to block only two sides of the Plaza
during summer months.
The big planters, according to Nitzel, are more aesthetically
pleasing than the more portable white-and-red barricades sometimes
used to block off streets in downtown Santa Fe during special events.
City employees delivered guidelines to downtown businesses affected
by the closure, detailing how and where deliveries are to be made.
Delivery trucks and tour buses can enter the Plaza through an
opening between barricades at the intersection of Palace and Lincoln
avenues, Nitzel said.
He added that any business owner who needs explanation should
contact the Traffic Engineering Division at 955-6619 or the city's
Public Works Department at 955-6621.
Nitzel said at a city Public Works Committee meeting last month that
closing the Plaza would create numerous "conflict points" and safety
concerns on other streets in the downtown area as rerouted traffic
increases on other streets.
This year's accidents involving pedestrians occurred just outside
the Plaza on sections of street that will remain open to traffic.
On June 26, Baltimore tourist Jane Sewell died from injuries she
suffered after being hit by a pickup near the intersection of
Washington and Palace avenues.
On Sept. 28, a pickup driven by a man accused of drunken driving
struck a Silverton, Colo., couple on Palace Avenue in front of the
Museum of Fine Arts, about 20 feet west of a crosswalk. Helen Coté,
who was dragged several blocks under the vehicle, is recovering from
her injuries in an Albuquerque hospital after several weeks in a