JARDINE: Has Modesto's 10th Street found its sunny side?

August 31, 2013 

Jardine col Sep1

The inlaid brick of 10th Street between J and K downtown is the closest thing Modesto can offer to compete with San Francisco's Lombard Street. For use with Jardine column Sep 1, 2013.

JEFF JARDINE — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

Most everything involves both positives and negatives.

Modesto City Council members Stephanie Burnside and David Cogdill Jr. experienced the latter Aug. 13, when they were on the losing end of 4-2 vote involving the reopening of 10th Street between J and K streets.

The positive, I suppose, came the next day. Burnside visited the plaza and found city road crews already painting crosswalks.

"Never in my three years (on the council) have I seen the guys move so fast on anything," she joked. "Normally, we'll make a decision and it takes six months to get things done."

That block of 10th Street closed in the late 1990s, when construction began on Tenth Street Place. When the city-county government building, the Brenden Theatres complex and other businesses opened 13 years ago, the street remained closed so that pedestrians could stroll freely without the threat of getting kneecapped by a stolen Honda Accord.

Recently, though, business owners implored the city to reopen the street, hoping it will bring customers into the plaza and into their establishments.

Some commercial spaces are vacant, including a building at the corner of 10th and J where at least five restaurants have failed. So is the space next door that housed several Mexican restaurants and, most recently, the Red Steer sandwich place.

Cogdill said at the Aug. 13 council meeting that businesses have come and gone from the plaza because they failed to offer customers value.

Starbucks, a fixture at 10th and K, bolted in 2011, leaving a venti-sized space empty.

Hence, the council — or at least enough of it — voted to reopen the street to traffic in both directions (this way and that way). Thursday, the street reopened at a projected cost to the taxpayers of about $14,000.

Yes, $14,000 to take out the barriers at each end of the street, change stoplights and paint crosswalks that will be ignored by people accustomed to walking through the plaza unencumbered.

Still trying to see the positive in that one …

Friday morning, I spent some time hanging out in the plaza watching the inevitable traffic jam.

After all, 10th Street once teemed with businesses and was part of the main drag during the glory days of the cruising era. They'd certainly be lined up bumper to bumper in each direction to relive the good old days and bring the downtown to life again, right?

The car count: about one every four minutes. This is going to take some getting used to — again. In essence, it's a yearlong experiment to see if the existing businesses benefit and new ones succeed where their predecessors failed.

Then, it hit me: The city needs to promote 10th Street's new functionality. Better yet, the businesses that wanted the street opened should fund the promotion (in The Bee) at their expense.

Even Ford's ill-fated Edsel had a marketing campaign. People just need to know about 10th Street.

Here's the plan: Bill 10th as Modesto's answer to San Francisco's Lombard Street, the most crooked street in the world.

Like Lombard, 10th Street is paved with bricks (though not the red-clay kind). But wait, there's more. Lombard is steep and scares small children with its twists and turns. It's no place for drivers in training. And it's one-way.

Here, 10th Street shares the title (with a few million other streets) of being the straightest street anywhere. You'll never need to gear down or worry about brakes failing because, symbolic of the valley, it's flat. It's scary to young children on nights only when the downtown club scene takes over.

Both are lined with foliage — Lombard's flowers in brick planters, Modesto's in concrete flower pots.

City officials will need to improve the aesthetics by getting rid of 13 hideous bright-orange signs telling pedestrians to watch for cars because the street is open. Even so, 10th is still more scenic than, well, Scenic Drive.

It's a matter of turning a negative into a positive. Or vice versa.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.

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