Sitka gives open streets a try as part of Sitka Downtown Revitalization project

DANCING IN THE STREET – New Archangel Dancers Stacey Woolsey and Angela McGraw dance arm-in-arm this morning in front of St. Michael’s Cathedral. Two blocks of central Lincoln Street were closed to vehicles from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today as part of an experiment to make the town more attractive and safer for tourists. The closure allowed street vendors to fill the space and non-profits such as the dancers to perform. Lincoln Street from in front of Ben Franklin to Barracks Street will again be blocked off June 19 and 26 and July 3. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson, http://sitkasentinel.com/7/images/frontpageimage/naddowntownws.jpg)

DANCING IN THE STREET – New Archangel Dancers Stacey Woolsey and Angela McGraw dance arm-in-arm this morning in front of St. Michael’s Cathedral. Two blocks of central Lincoln Street were closed to vehicles from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today as part of an experiment to make the town more attractive and safer for tourists. The closure allowed street vendors to fill the space and non-profits such as the dancers to perform. Lincoln Street from in front of Ben Franklin to Barracks Street will again be blocked off June 19 and 26 and July 3. (Daily Sitka Sentinel Photo by James Poulson, http://sitkasentinel.com/7/images/frontpageimage/naddowntownws.jpg)

Two blocks of downtown Sitka were closed off to cars on Wednesday, June 12, to allow tourists and locals to shop and enjoy the downtown. This is the first of four straight Wednesdays (June 12, 19, 26 and July 3) where the streets will be open to pedestrians and bikers from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. as an experiment being tried by the Sitka Downtown Revitalization and Walk Sitka projects that came out of the 2012 Sitka Health Summit.

Closing off downtown streets to traffic and opening them up to walkers, bikers and play is a concept being tried in many communities around the country. Called Open Streets, the basic premise is a local street festival designed to draw people downtown where they can shop, be entertained and interact with their neighbors. Open Streets events also can be farmers markets, arts/music festivals and more.

This isn’t the first time Sitka has closed off downtown streets to traffic and opened them up for walkers and bikers, but previous closures usually were tied to special events such as the End Of Season Celebration/Running of the Boots race or parades. There also have been occasional sidewalk sales or trick-or-treating events that saw downtown streets opened for pedestrians.

Cyndy Gibson organized Wednesday’s pedestrian mall for the Sitka Downtown Revitalization project, and she made this comment in a KCAW-Raven Radio story aired Wednesday night:

For a couple of reasons. One is to encourage more time in the downtown area, and more shopping. When you have more of a unique one-of-a-kind experience when you’re traveling, you’re more inclined to maybe shop for something a little more expensive, or a little more meaningful.

Future Open Streets events in Sitka will feature musicians from the Sitka Summer Music Festival and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, as well as other entertainment.

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