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July 24, 2016

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Call to convert Las Vegas Strip into pedestrian zone faces uphill battle

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Steve Marcus

Pedestrians are shown along the Las Vegas Strip on Christmas Day Friday, Dec. 25, 2015.

The question posed to Clark County commissioners seemed simple enough: Could Vegas Uncork’d, the popular food and drink festival, host a dinner on the Las Vegas Strip?

The proposed event would require temporarily closing three northbound lanes of traffic between Venetian and Palazzo drives — hence approval needed from the commission. The plan drew concern from a Wynn Resorts official, who said the lane closures would prevent traffic from easily reaching other casinos. And commissioners suggested the county needs a policy for when to allow closures along the famed Las Vegas Boulevard.

The conversation proved the perfect segue to more a controversial issue the commissioners also discussed Tuesday — whether to explore turning the Las Vegas Strip into a pedestrian mall.

“I’ll go back to my mantra: If we make the Strip pedestrian, we wouldn’t even be having this argument,” said Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, referencing the Vegas Uncork’d request.

The concept of turning the Strip into a pedestrian mall — either completely devoid of vehicles or only open to certain transit and emergency vehicles — has surfaced from time to time. It did again most recently last month when the Regional Transportation Commission delivered to commissioners its comprehensive plan for how to create a multimodal transportation system in the Las Vegas Valley.

The RTC’s Transportation Investment Business Plan doesn’t include a pedestrian mall, but Giunchigliani, a longtime advocate of the concept, asked for more information about its feasibility.

The result: Denis Cederburg, the county’s director of public works, presented a report Tuesday that largely debunked the practicality of the idea.

About 63,000 vehicles traverse the Strip each day, meaning that volume of traffic would be diverted to nearby arterial roads if the boulevard were converted into a pedestrian mall, he said. Koval Lane, Paradise Road and Frank Sinatra Drive — the obvious roads to pick up much of the slack — already operate over capacity, he said.

Furthermore, unlike other cities that have pedestrian malls, such as 16th Street in Denver and Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the county lacks a tight network of streets near the Strip that would be able to absorb the displaced vehicles, he said.

Even so, Giunchigliani urged the commission and community stakeholders to keep an open mind and work together.

“I’m not expecting action today, but I don’t think it should be dismissed as we look at true integrated, multimodal access within this community,” she said. “With no disrespect to the resorts, the boulevard is ours. I can’t help that they designed properties that were so landlocked.”

Fellow Commissioner Steve Sisolak disagreed, citing concern for the resort industry. For instance, some resorts have parking garages only accessible from the boulevard.

Sisolak argued that continued discussion about turning the Strip into a pedestrian mall might create uncertainty in the gaming industry, negatively impacting resorts’ ability to borrow money for projects.

“I don’t think we’re being fair to the industry to keep this hanging out there,” he said.

Another hang-up: plans to build pedestrian bridges on the Las Vegas Strip. Moving forward with those plans contradicts creating a pedestrian mall, Sisolak said.

Other commissioners expressed lukewarm support for continuing the conversation. In any case, Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said it’s crucial to involve other community stakeholders in future discussion about a pedestrian mall.

“How do we get other people involved, especially those who have made major investments?” he said.

Ultimately, the commission did not take any action on the pedestrian mall discussion. Giunchigliani said she appreciated the staff presentation and discussion, given the other decision about pedestrian bridges.

The Commission voted Tuesday to move forward with plans to build pedestrian bridges linking Paris Avenue and Bellagio Drive as well as MGM Grand and Park Avenue, which will lead into the new arena. The pedestrian bridges combined will cost about $15 million.

As for allowing Vegas Uncork’d to host a dinner on the Strip, that decision has been tabled for two weeks.

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