"There are growing pains on C Street--we all expected that," Schwartz said. "But there are real perceptual pains as well--the city has to get a much stronger hand on what it wants to accomplish there.
"What they've done so far--closing the street to traffic for the trolley and just putting up some concrete planters at the intersections--is very nondescript, and it has not encouraged any foot traffic on C. But we've always felt the closure idea was excellent. Now all they have to do is get some landscaping in there, so it reflects a true commitment to the mall concept.
"With the upgrading of the shops already under way, and the completion of the Grant not far off (the hotel is scheduled to reopen next month) this is the next area of really great potential downtown. But it will take the proper commitment of everyone involved to make it happen."
Later this month, when the City Council begins deliberations on the future of C Street, there likely will be some powerful forces urging that auto traffic return to the street, and the pedestrian-transit mall concept be scrapped.
"I don't think my opinion on this has changed one bit," said Councilman Ed Struiksma, who opposed closing C Street on even an experimental basis. "In the long run, we're going to live to regret this. We need all the streets we can to carry our vehicular traffic, and during this renovation period, it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that merchants are losing business.
"Transit malls are places where people should want to congregate, and I don't see that happening for at least six months on C Street, if it ever happens at all. In fact, right now it's downright frightening to be on that street, because you sure don't want to get in the way of that trolley.
"Some day this could be an inviting pedestrian mall, but you have to weigh that in regard to the future of downtown traffic circulation. I'm not sure the trade-off is worth it."
Trimble said businesses might benefit more from vehicular traffic than they would from more pedestrians. "Merchants really like to see cars driving by their businesses," he said. "It helps them build their identities. Plus, there are the parking and traffic problems to consider. I don't know that I've changed my opinion a bit--I'm still opposed to it."
Roy Potter, executive vice president of the merchants group San Diegans Inc., which also opposed the closure of C Street, said, "The move was extremely ill-timed. Looking at Broadway, there's wall-to-wall traffic, and the parking garages are more difficult to access. That's not good for downtown business."
Members of San Diegans Inc. are participating in a survey on the effect of the closure, and the results will be tabulated for Potter to carry to the council before its vote on whether the move should be permanent. "Part of the problem is that there are so many competing uses on the street, and in the immediate area, right now," Potter said.
"With the concentration of businesses in Horton Plaza and in the Gaslamp, it's hard to see much new activity on C Street in the foreseeable future. The completion of the Grant will help put more people back on C Street, and then we'll at least be back to the point where we were before that construction began."
Larwin, of course, will be among those vigorously lobbying to close C Street permanently. "As far as we can tell, the closure has not had an adverse impact on downtown traffic," the transit director said, "and I don't think it really has hurt business on C Street.
"Right now, it's not a pedestrian-transit mall in the true sense--the sidewalks have not been widened, and there are other things that can be done to make this a much more pleasant place to walk, once the city makes its decision. But the potential is there."