Changing the Morro Bay Embarcadero into a 1-way street has hit a dead end and will not see a major change to the traffic flow, at least for now.

The City Council had approved turning the Embarcadero into a 1-way street going north between Marina and Harbor Streets.

The change was designed to allow for more social distancing, as much of the sidewalks through what is considered the heart of the Embarcadero are fairly narrow and don’t allow for much social distancing.

And with the new orders from the Governor calling for everyone to wear a mask wherever people have to crowd together, the pressure to force social distancing has deflated somewhat.

The idea was to eliminate on-street parking and parking in street ends, eliminating some 97 parking spaces, dropping to a 1-lane road, and use the parking area on the east side of the street for a commercial loading zone.

The west side would be open for restaurants to put outdoor dining and retail shops to put merchandise on the street and allow pedestrians to spread out a bit.

“With regard to the Embarcadero closure,” City Manager Scott Collins told Estero Bay News, “we are postponing moving forward with it for now.”

It turned out that changing to a 1-way street was less helpful than originally thought.
“I reached out to most businesses in the proposed closure area to discuss the program and get their input on things like trash pickup, deliveries and parking concerns,” Collins said. “With rare exception, all the businesses I talked to said they would not use the street for outdoor dining or retail. That is because they have found more conducive outdoor space for those activities.”

The Governor’s orders made the change moot. “Further,” Collins said, “the Council provided direction to staff to move forward with this closure prior to the State mask order going into effect. Now that people are wearing masks more regularly, the sidewalk distance issue is being addressed in some respects through those efforts.”

But drive down the waterfront on a Saturday, and it’s clear, not everyone got the message.
“We are encouraged by the trend of more people wearing masks,” Collins said, “but know we aren’t seeing 100% compliance with the mask order. Therefore, we are working on ideas to gain more compliance.”

The traffic change wouldn’t be helpful. “Based upon what we learned from the business outreach,” Collins said, “as well as observed changes in behavior since the State order on masks went in place, moving forward with a closure now would create parking and traffic impacts and not really help businesses and would not address the COVID-19 concerns as effectively as masks.”

The City is working on helping businesses make use of available outdoor space, with the RRM Design firm in San Luis Obispo offering to help design spaces for businesses, as outdoor restaurant seating has not yet been taken away.

“We are helping businesses use public space for outdoor dining that is safe and socially distant throughout town [on the waterfront, Downtown, Main Street, etc.],” Collins said, “and therefore at this point, streets aren’t needed for that activity at this time.”

The City Council approved spending money on the 1-way street. “Portions of the funds that were set aside for the closure program,” Collins said, “will be used to address issues like trash in the tourist serving areas and for helping with a mask campaign/compliance.”

With over 20 restaurants on the Embarcadero reduced to mainly takeout orders, the amount of trash produced has been overwhelming the City’s trashcans, and with seagulls picking through the refuse, litter is becoming a problem.

Like seemingly everything with this pandemic response, things could change again. “All that being said,” Collins added, “should waterfront businesses express interest in using the street, or if other conditions related to COVID-19 heighten, we can consider rolling out the program at that time.”