Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First Friday to Close Down Streets Once Again

By Ellen Cushing
Wed, Sep 5, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Well, technically, it'll be the city closing down the streets, but they'll definitely be closed — and a lot more than before. In the wake of the Art Murmur organization's decision to stop closing 23rd Street off to traffic on First Fridays — and the myriad public-safety concerns brought up as a result (as well as, we have to assume, the possible PR nightmare if something awful were to happen), the City of Oakland will, for the first time, be taking responsibility for shutting down several streets during this month's First Friday festivities. Per Marshall Lamm, president of the Art Murmur board, Telegraph will be closed from 19th Street to 20th Street, and Grand Avenue to 27th Street, between 4 and 11 p.m. Meanwhile, some side streets — 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 26th — will be blocked off with cones and/or barricades and open to residents and businesses, but not through traffic. Buses will be rerouted and OPD officers will be on hand as security.

According to an email from Deputy City Administrator Arturo Sanchez, the city decided to take this step because

The FF event has seen a rash of vandalism and other behaviors along with traffic, pedestrian, and food safety issues that require a safety response ... it was clear that while popular the event had no structure or leadership with whom the City could work to address Fire Code, public safety, and public health issues. In order to address these issues and to work to support a sustainable event there was a need to organize and abide by city and county regs. The participants unfortunately were not organized so the [city] decided to take a leadership role with hopes of having community led leadership coalesce and eventually organize to lead a self sustaining and safe ... event.

Sanchez didn't tell me how much the closures are costing, but he did say that the city was doing this with "essentially no budget" and a bunch of different agencies and employees, including the OPD, would be covering costs and labor. He also mentioned that Friday's street closures are being considered a pilot program, which means the city will re-evaluate in November. In the meantime, though: Go forth and party celebrate your deep love of art without fear of getting run over — and don't plan on being able to get much of anywhere in downtown by car on Friday night.

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