ESCONDIDO — The city is considering closing Maple Street Plaza to most cars in the hopes of increasing pedestrian safety and lowering the costs to hold events in the plaza.
The pedestrian-oriented plaza is decorated with public benches, tables, numerous trees, and a fountain, and was designed for rental for special events. The plaza’s intersecting brick roads connect Grand Avenue and Valley Parkway downtown, and the alleyway behind the businesses on both streets.
The lack of a curbed sidewalk and asphalt roads lead many passersby to assume that cars are not allowed on the roadway as is, which has led to several almost-accidents between walkers and vehicles.
“Our very attractive fountain attracts kids like crazy, and they don’t realize they are in the middle of the street. That’s when we started to get nervous,” said Joyce Masterson, the city’s director of economic development and community relations.
She also said that many drivers traveling through the plaza do not realize that the street is one way from Grand Avenue to Valley Parkway.
So city staffers have been exploring the possibility of closing the plaza to traffic from Grand Avenue and only permitting delivery trucks to pass through the plaza from the alleyway.
At a community input meeting on Tuesday night, Dan Buse, who regularly makes deliveries along the alleyway, voiced concern that the closure could make it difficult for delivery trucks to access the businesses.
He said that other delivery trucks and parked cars block off portions of the one-way alley, and if the plaza is closed he has to back up his truck with a 38-foot long trailer into the alley to make deliveries.
“I’m backing up my truck and there are people passing by me,” he said of the dangerous situation.
One citizen suggested that the city add light-up stop signs to create greater awareness of the roadway through the plaza. But, a city traffic engineer explained that the city is trying to avoid sign pollution in the nice area and placement of the costly bright signs must meet strict state requirements.
John Paul the Great Catholic University recently purchased the former bank building adjacent to the plaza, and the closure would make accessing the building’s parking lot difficult.
Yet the university’s President Derry Connolly maintained that the trouble would be worth it for the greater benefit to the city.
“Closing Maple is a huge disadvantage to the value of the building, but it’s huge also for Escondido,” he said at the meeting.
Escondido’s Special Events Coordinator Teresa Collins explained that by completely closing Maple Street Plaza, organizations hosting events on the plaza would not have to pay the $600 fee to block off the area.
Turning the plaza into a festival street could help with the city’s efforts to vitalize the downtown.
“We were looking for a way for people to get to know the businesses down here,” said Masterson.
Closing the plaza to cars would cost somewhere around $1,500, according to Masterson.
The matter is anticipated to come before city council at an April meeting for an official decision.