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Richard N. Velotta

Despite Strip tragedy, no long-term effects seen on Las Vegas visitation

22 December 2015

Tourism experts say Sunday night's Strip crash that killed an Arizona woman and injured 35 people won't have long-term repercussions on visitation, but may come up as transportation leaders consider making Las Vegas Boulevard safer for pedestrians.

"It's obviously a horrible tragedy and a devastating event for the people who were hurt and their families," said Billy Vassiliadis, whose company, R&R Partners, is contracted to develop tourism marketing strategies for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

"To my knowledge, there have been no conclusions reached on whether the driver was drugged up, drunk or was experiencing some sort of psychotic episode," Vassiliadis said. "But I think it was a one-off event that could happen anywhere, any time."

Lakeisha N. Holloway, 24, was arrested by the Las Vegas Police Department on Sunday shortly after a woman driving a 1996 four-door Oldsmobile sedan onto the sidewalk on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard struck dozens of pedestrians in an incident police say was deliberate.

"While a real tragedy, I don't see this affecting tourism in Las Vegas," said Patti Shock, a professor emeritus at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and an academic consultant for The International School of Hospitality in Las Vegas.

"Unfortunately, our country has seen a lot of senseless tragedies recently, but in all different types of locations. You don't have to be in Las Vegas, you can be in school, in a movie theater or participating in events such as the Boston Marathon," Shock said in an email.

Another academician agreed.

"I don't see it as an issue for future tourism," added David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV.

"I can't predict the future, but there have been other similar incidents that have occurred on the Strip that have not led to a decline in visitation," he said.

New Year's plans made

Schwartz said for the short term, Sunday's incident won't keep tourists away from next week's New Year's Eve celebration.

"Most people have already made their plans, so they'll be here," Schwartz said. "Besides, there's really no chance of this happening on New Year's Eve because the Strip is blocked off."

Schwartz was referring to annual New Year's Eve plan by Metro police to close the Strip to vehicle access beginning at around 5 p.m., from Sahara Avenue to Russell Road, effectively turning the entire street into a pedestrian mall.

The street gradually reopens to vehicle traffic after the midnight fireworks display that wraps up "America's Party."

While Sunday's tragedy isn't expected to affect visitor counts, it could expedite infrastructure improvements contemplated in the recently released 2,365-page Transportation Investment Business Plan.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, directed by a committee of private and public interests with a stake in transportation improvements, presented the plan to the Transportation Commission's board and will make presentations in the next two months to the Convention and Visitors Authority, the state's Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, the Las Vegas City Council and the Clark County Commission.

A number of proposals involving pedestrian movement on the Strip are examined in the plan.

"Walking along Las Vegas Boulevard is an iconic experience for visitors to Southern Nevada," said Tina Quigley, general manager of the RTC. "But the boulevard really is not designed for pedestrian movement."

Chance for conflicts to rise

Quigley said Strip congestion and the chance for increased conflicts between motorists and pedestrians are bound to increase with projections of a 25% spike in population and visitors over the next 20 years and triple the number of pedestrians on the Strip in that time frame.

The plan specifically addresses some improvements that could be implemented to make the Strip safer for pedestrians — and some ideas that should be rejected.

"Pedestrians on Las Vegas Boulevard must navigate narrow and often obstructed sidewalks where the volume of foot traffic can rival that of vehicles on the adjacent street," a section of the plan says. "Long blocks and extended distances between crosswalks mean pedestrians must frequently backtrack while circumnavigating the elevated bridge-escalator pedestrian crossing infrastructure."

Among the remedies considered in the plan are the addition of more pedestrian overpasses in key locations, adding "skywalks" or elevated sidewalks in heavily used pedestrian areas that are immediately adjacent to the street and building a light rail mass-transit system to better accommodate those without cars.

Several ideas that could solve pedestrian-vehicle conflicts are rejected in the plan, but because it's a preliminary draft, they could still be considered in the months ahead.

Among the rejected ideas: turning the Strip into an all-pedestrian corridor, converting Las Vegas Boulevard into a one-way street and eliminating one travel lane in each direction to dedicate an exclusive lane for transit, taxis and shuttles.

Safety study updated

Clark County, which oversees the Strip right-of-way, already has completed and updated a pedestrian safety study that has reduced pedestrian congestion. County departments have installed 4,840 linear feet of fencing, jointly funded by the county and resorts, to separate pedestrians from vehicles.

"It's a pretty extensive document focused primarily on safety," said Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, who also serves as chairman of the Regional Transportation Commission board.

"There's nothing more important than protecting our 42 million annual visitors and that means constantly reviewing our rights-of-way," Brown said.

"But I really don't know if you can make it 100% safe. I don't know how to protect against some of the craziness we've seen," he said. "Do you put up 6-foot bollards along the length of the Strip? Do you protect against the one-in-a-million incident? What's the cost of making it 100% crazy-proof?"