SLC’s Open Streets is back this fall, closing car traffic on downtown Main Street

A variety of programming is planned for Fridays and Saturdays, and there’s an effort to make the road closure permanent.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, second from left, poses for a selfie with three members of the Salt Lake City Council — from left, Dan Dugan, Alejandro Puy and Ana Valdemoros — after announcing the 2023 fall edition of SLC Open Streets, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.

Open Streets, downtown Salt Lake City’s pedestrian-only block party, is set to return this weekend — a few months later in the year than in the program’s first three years.

Vehicle traffic will be blocked on Main Street, from South Temple to 400 South, on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 1 a.m., starting this Friday and running through Oct. 28, the city announced Wednesday.

While turning Main Street into a walkable promenade has been limited to a few weekends in the summer — and now fall — efforts are underway to consider closing the street to vehicles permanently.

City officials said Open Streets, which started in 2020, has drawn some 30,000 to 40,000 visitors each weekend in the past three years. Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the program has played a major role in reactivating downtown, after the confinement of the COVID-19 pandemic affected sales at area businesses.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City officials announced the 2023 fall edition of SLC Open Streets, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.

Open Streets, Mendenhall said at Wednesday’s news conference, “has been a key part of our reported best recovery in the nation for a city, for people coming back into the city. … We have 139% more people coming into [downtown] Salt Lake than we did in 2019.”

The Downtown Alliance and the culture initiative The Blocks, with Salt Lake County, are planning a range of activities on Main — including block parties, a mini-golf course, a silent disco in shipping containers, a pop-up park with yoga, murals, and lots of live music.

The programming will be bigger, said Dee Brewer, the Downtown Alliance’s executive director, without the “intense” July heat that Open Streets has experienced in previous years. The lineup offers something for everyone, Brewer said, from families to bar crowds.

“Downtown is for everyone,” he said. “We program accordingly, and our hope is that all of the neighborhoods from downtown come and claim their piece of this.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pedestrians stroll in the open streets portion of Main Street, on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022.

Walking on Main year-round?

The city is setting the groundwork to make the party a permanent feature. City officials plan to show early designs of what a year-round Open Streets program might look like — and will ask for public input, Oct. 20-21, at the Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main.

A proposal for the Together on Main project, hosted on the city’s website, highlights the success of similar projects — such as pedestrian malls and car-free urban alternatives — in Denver; Minneapolis; Boulder, Colo.; Burlington, Vt.; and Melbourne, Australia.

Though Salt Lake City officials tout the success of the Open Streets program, the project website stresses that “no decisions have been made to close Main Street to vehicles at this time.”

If Main Street were permanently pedestrian-only, Mendenhall said, the east-west cross streets would remain open to vehicle traffic. The city would, she said, “open the entirety of the street but the TRAX lines, which would obviously remain, to an urban playground, which is what we’re experimenting with this month.”

Mendenhall, who is running for reelection, said that if she’s given a second term, she might send the City Council a funding request for the project’s engineering work next year.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake City closes portions of Main Street to car traffic on Saturday, May 29, 2021, to welcome shoppers, diners and pedestrians in a revival of last year’s Downtown SLC Open Street program.

Brewer said interest has climbed through the years with retailers, restaurateurs and community members asking about Open Streets year-round.

“There’s great interest in that kind of living, urban living,” Brewer said, “where you have everything at your fingertips or a short walk from where you are.”

Brewer said he expects downtown to double its resident population in the next 24 to 30 months as more apartment buildings are completed — and the Open Streets program is one more reason people might choose to live there.

The success of Open Streets has surpassed the city’s financial investment in the program, said City Council member Ana Valdemoros, who represents the city’s District 4, which includes downtown. The fruits of that success, though, are not just monetary.

“We feel very good about it because we were able to navigate through the pandemic, be creative, invest money into it and help small businesses, help the residents and companies that are in downtown Salt Lake City,” Valdemoros said.

“The neighbors have been talking about this for a long time as well: What if we dreamed about a Main Street that’s for public transportation and for pedestrians only?” Valdemoros said. “And the stars aligned, and we were able to get this going for the last few years.”