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No-entry plan for cars on Rodeo Drive splits Beverly Hills

In spite of its name, it has been a very long time since there were hitching posts on Rodeo Drive, the four-block mecca of luxury shopping in Beverly Hills. Where horses may have clip-clopped up and down it 99 years ago - the street was first laid out in 1907 - today there is only the pretentious purr of Bentleys, Porsches and Ferraris.

For most of us, a visit to Rodeo Drive has little purpose, except to ogle at the wares we could never afford, to survey the face-lifted men and women who apparently do have more money than sense (the average outlay of customers at the design shop Bijan is $100,000) and, finally, to look at all the nice cars.

But as the street approaches its centenary, plans are afoot to change the character of arguably the most chi-chi of the Rodeo blocks by banning cars and delivering it entirely to pedestrians.

Depending on whom you talk to, the idea is either perfectly practical, or it is something close to heresy. Rodeo Drive, which boasts such brand names as Chanel, Ferragamo, Tiffany, Prada and Gucci, is a byword for posh. But as critics of this proposal point out, Rodeo Precinct sounds anything but.

Reaching agreement on the plan, floated this week by the vice-mayor of Beverly Hills, Jimmy Delshad, may prove trickier than settling the North Korean missile crisis. So no one in City Hall is placing an order for paving stones just yet. (We assume only Italian white marble would do.)

Among those anxious about the idea is Fred Hayman, who has spent 40 years promoting Rodeo Drive. In 2005, the street generated revenues of $350m (£186m), a tidy sum for a relatively small number of shops.

"I don't think the street should be closed," Mr Hayman told The Los Angeles Times. "Exotic cars are part of the attraction of California." On the other hand, he added, the idea of making space for tables, chairs and maybe for wandering musicians does have some appeal. "The street has to be more fun to walk," he said. "It must be more of a destination."

Others worry about further opening up a street where bona-fide shoppers are already outnumbered by tourists who, it cannot be denied, do not always dress to the standards set by the mannequins in the windows. Wrought iron benches a la Parisienne may prove popular with dowagers weighed down with bags from Yves Saint Laurent, but what if they become perches for beggars?

Mr Delshad, who has asked the city for a feasibility study into his traffic-free proposal, may have one ally. Bijan himself has apparently signaled that he is not necessarily opposed. "He said he wanted to think about it," Mr Delshad reported.

One thing may give Bijan pause, however. He rides to his shop nearly every day in his navy blue Rolls-Royce. Where would he park it if the plan goes through?