Although most drivers have to pay a hefty one-off fee of 5 lats ($8) to enter the Old Town or buy an expensive monthly or annual pass, Latvia's central point of attraction for tourists from abroad, the traffic that exists there is not organized so that pedestrians are the priority. This is the conclusion behind the new project, prepared by the urban planning company SPI-Ventspils Ltd. and commissioned by Riga City Council.
To encourage tourism and improve safety, traffic should be organized to ensure pedestrians' comfort, the company recommends.
Six streets - Valnu, Audeju, Smilsu, Skunu, Skarnu and Kalku - are currently the most "walked"streets in the Old Town, with an average of 1,000 to 2,500 pedestrians passing them in the summer rush hour.
Lazy drivers equipped with Old Town passes tend to use two of these, Smilsu and Audeju, to get from one side of the Old Town to the other, bypassing the often crowded surrounding highways where the traffic is slowed down by trams, trolleys and traffic lights.
Free multiple passes to the Old Town are received by its residents, business managers and civil servants.
According to the pedestrian area project, Smilsu and Audeju streets will be partially closed and their pedestrian segments will be included in the major tourist routes.
However, the project will take some time to implement. It could be six years before the streets become a realm for pedestrians only. At the moment the project has been conceptually approved by the Council's traffic commission and should be approved at the start of its regular sittings in the fall, said Ugis Vidauskis, a spokesman for the department.
In the first year the system goes into operation only traffic signs will regulate traffic, said Jana Miltina, a specialist at the traffic department. Later, if the drivers' culture fails to improve, more radical efforts will be taken. The installation of barriers, large ramps or large concrete flower pots would block the way, but in a way that will not prevent the work of the emergency services.