Cruising on K

Sacramento’s K Street gears up for vehicles

Businessman Vinny Sharma at the crossroads of cars and trolleys on K Street.

Businessman Vinny Sharma at the crossroads of cars and trolleys on K Street.

Photo By Kayleigh mccollum

Cars are ready to rumble down K Street for the first time in decades this month, as part of ongoing efforts to jump-start the long-blighted corridor. How well this plan will work, however, is an open question.

Downtown Sacramento’s K Street is a mix of popular restaurants and clubs and a ghost town. In a few short blocks, you can go from a stretch of empty storefronts to a stretch of popular new bars—a sort of timeline of where the street has been and where it hopes to go.

Sacramento city planners and downtown advocates hope that adding vehicles to the mix will help it get there.

“We see it as a way to reconnect K Street to the downtown grid, and the added visibility and activity will help restore economic vitality,” Lisa Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, explained to SN&R.

Maurice Chaney of Sacramento’s Economic Development Department added that local businesses are hungry to make the downtown core relevant again, and pointed to new residences on Seventh Street and a renovated 24-Hour Fitness as signs of progress.

As part of this, on November 12, the city is set to reopen K Street between Eighth and 12th streets to vehicles—42 years after it became a pedestrian thoroughfare. The street will remain narrow, though there will passenger drop-off points, and cars will have to jockey with light rail and bicycles for space. The speed limit will also be low, allowing for more of a cruising atmosphere and a way for those in vehicles to eyeball retail opportunities.

That’s the vision, at any rate.

Still, others say the road ahead may not be so smooth.

“Cars are not what killed K Street, so bringing them back is not going to be the magic bullet,” local historian, William Burg, said.

Burg pointed to the growth of suburbs and suburban shopping malls as two factors that helped put a dagger in the heart of a once-thriving downtown Sacramento by the late 1960s.

“Business plummeted in downtown because the population wasn’t there,” he explained. “In the suburbs, there was cheap land and free parking, so there was no compelling reason to come downtown. Sacramento also got rid of its streetcars, which once allowed people to easily move around downtown.”

Local business owner Vinny Sharma agreed. A downtown tailor for more than 40 years, Sharma recalled how key anchor stores such as Sears and Weinstock’s once helped make K Street and the nearby urban core hum with activity and people.

“There used to be a reason to come downtown, but now most of my customers are people I have known a long time,” he said on a weekday morning, when his K Street store was empty, and the street outside was as well.

For now, vehicle proponents stress patience and say adding vehicles is just one piece of a bigger puzzle.

“The idea is to have K Street become more of a complete street,” DSP’s Martinez explained, pointing to similar recent conversions of streets in cities like Washington, D.C., as successful examples.

“Long-time businesses such as the Crest [Theatre] have worked with us because they see increased visibility as a positive and a way to draw in new retail,” she said.

Sharma agreed that more exposure wouldn’t hurt, especially with the low speed limit, but still questioned where people will park, and what will compel people to stay.

Further down K Street, on a more lively corner at 11th Street, customers at Ambrosia Café also shared this concern.

Said one state worker on a coffee break: “It might work, but with people having to park elsewhere and walk back to places like the Pyramid [Alehouse], I don’t see how that is different than what was there before. It could just be pretend activity.”