News

Palo Alto's big dilemma: Should cars return to University and California avenues?

City Council to consider next move for two prime commercial stretches

Diners eat at tables on the street along California Avenue in Palo Alto on June 25, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

If things go as planned, Palo Alto's popular experiment with closing University and California avenues to cars could conclude at the end of this month.

But despite the City Council's recent decision to only keep the closures in place until Sept. 30, the hundreds of residents and visitors who have submitted letters in recent months in support of retaining car-free promenades have some reasons to feel hopeful. The programs, which were initially intended to stretch through summer 2020, remain in place after numerous extensions. And even with some downtown merchants and property owners clamoring to reopen the streets to cars, neither the council nor City Manager Ed Shikada have been particularly keen on pulling the plug on a program that according to an April survey had a favorability rating of more than 90% among visitors.

The fate of the program will once again be up for debate this Monday, when the council considers its next moves for both University and California avenues. The menu of options that council members will consider includes staying on the current path, which directs staff to conclude the program on Sept. 30 but which also gives Shikada discretion to keep either — or both — of the streets closed until Oct. 31.

A new report from the Department of Planning and Development Services outlines several other alternatives that the council could pursue, should it choose to keep streets closed to cars in the near term. The council can keep the streets car-free until November and then reopen them to vehicles in time for the holiday season. It can wait until the end of January before letting cars back onto the streets. It can limit the downtown street closures to weekends or it could direct staff to temporarily reopen the streets to cars during the holiday shopping season and then potentially revert them to car-free mode until the end of January.

According to the report, the lattermost option would "allow time to observe what happens this winter and decide early next year if the program continues to be needed."

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"With a stated time of the streets being open the City can create the opportunity for retailers to be competitive during the holiday shopping season," the report states.

For the council, the decision of if and when to reopen streets represents a complex balancing act. On the one hand, retailers throughout the city have seen their revenues plummet during the pandemic and downtown merchants have been hit particularly hard, according to a recent report from the city's consultant, Avenu Insights. The report showed sales tax receipts in the downtown area plunge by 51.5% between the fourth quarters of 2019 and 2020, with receipts in the "general retail" category falling by 54.8% and with the "food products" category showing a 48.6% drop.

Some downtown merchants have argued in recent months that street closures have exacerbated the pain by reducing their stores' visibility and by making parking more difficult. Roxy Rapp, speaking for a group of downtown property owners, recited in June a list of downtown merchants that have reported dropping sales, a roster that included Lululemon Athletica, Keen Garage and Footwear etc.

"Closing off the streets is just killing us," Rapp said.

But on the other hand, the pandemic has not gone away and outdoor dining remains as popular as ever. While retailers have blamed street closures for adding to their struggles, restaurateurs along California and University avenue have credited car-free streets for boosting their business during a perilous time. Nancy Coupal, who owns two Coupa Café locations in downtown Palo Alto, including one in the closed-off portion of Ramona Street, suggested during the June discussion that "if you take away restaurants from the streets right now, there will be even less people coming."

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Council members acknowledged the complex nature of the debate on June 22, when they agreed to keep the car-free experiment going until at least Sept. 30. Council member Greer Stone called the street dilemma "one of the most difficult issues that we faced this year," pointing to reasonable arguments on both sides. And while the council agreed to extend the closure, there was no clear consensus about the future of University and California avenues. Mayor Tom DuBois supported reopening streets to cars in July and September, respectively, and said he is concerned about the impact that a more long-term closure of University would have on both retailers and traffic patterns on residential streets around the thoroughfare.

"Do I believe restaurants want additional space? Yes," DuBois said at the meeting. "Do I believe the majority of diners really like eating outside? Yes, I do. But do I think it's fair for the business community? No, I don't."

“Road Closed” signs barricade cars driving through some of the cross streets of University Avenue so they don’t turn into the commercial strip, on June 27, 2020. Photo by Lloyd Lee.

Others favored keeping the streets closed and pointed to overwhelming support from the broader public, as evidenced by the more than 400 letters that the city had received in favor of retaining closures before its June 22 vote, and the more than 160 additional letters it received since then. Palo Alto resident Kim Vazquez argued in a Sept. 1 letter that University and Ramona should be permanently closed to cars, calling it a matter of "quality of life."

"Your residents need more space to feel safe while traversing and eating in downtown Palo Alto," Vazquez wrote. "Cars shouldn't take priority over people and this change has made my downtown experience a million times more enjoyable."

Council member Alison Cormack pointed at the popularity of outdoor dining during the June hearing and suggested that the council "use this crisis as an opportunity to make change."

Recent surveys of local businesses suggest that the topic continues to divide merchants, particularly on and around University Avenue. The survey of 65 businesses included 18 responses encouraging the city to maintain street closures and 13 responses urging the reopening of streets to vehicles. The report from the Department of Planning and Development Services notes that attitudes have not shifted significantly since June.

"Generally speaking, owners of restaurants located within the closed streets along University Avenue and Ramona Street corridors and on California Avenue prefer the closures," the report states. "Due to the rise in delta variant, they report that fewer diners want to eat indoors."

At the same time, businesses with retail and retail-like uses prefer the streets to be opened to vehicle traffic, the report states.

"For these businesses, they feel restaurants have had a chance to use the streets, now more balance is needed," the report states.

In addition to contemplating the extension of street closures, the council will also consider more long-term changes for the two thoroughfares. For California Avenue, which had already undergone a major streetscape-renovation project six years ago, the city is looking to invite local architects and design experts to work with the Architectural Review Board and area businesses and residents to create a "unique permanent parklet program that enhances the California Avenue streetscape and pedestrian environment."

The University Avenue project promises to be more complex, expensive and contentious, insomuch as it seeks to accommodate a wide range of conflicting objectives. The goal, according to staff, is to "adapt the public realm to maximize pedestrian and bicycle use, and accentuate and enhance the retail environment, while maintaining vital two-way vehicular access, parking opportunities, delivery and loading zones, rideshare spaces, and other amenities including performance space."

The downtown project would also take a lot longer to complete. Unlike the California Avenue plan, the city's exploration of modifying University Avenue will involve field work, environmental studies (including a traffic analysis and an arborist report), a design charrette, public hearings and an assessment analysis to allocate some of the project costs to the businesses and property owners who would benefit from the expanded space, according to staff. If the council approves staff's direction, the city would issue a request for proposals to perform this work. The design for University Avenue wouldn't be finalized until September 2025, according to the timeline in the city's request for proposals, and construction would not kick off until 2026.

"The priority is to create a more vibrant and inclusive space to support residents and local businesses," the report from the Department of Planning and Development Services states.

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Palo Alto's big dilemma: Should cars return to University and California avenues?

City Council to consider next move for two prime commercial stretches

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Sep 9, 2021, 9:26 am

If things go as planned, Palo Alto's popular experiment with closing University and California avenues to cars could conclude at the end of this month.

But despite the City Council's recent decision to only keep the closures in place until Sept. 30, the hundreds of residents and visitors who have submitted letters in recent months in support of retaining car-free promenades have some reasons to feel hopeful. The programs, which were initially intended to stretch through summer 2020, remain in place after numerous extensions. And even with some downtown merchants and property owners clamoring to reopen the streets to cars, neither the council nor City Manager Ed Shikada have been particularly keen on pulling the plug on a program that according to an April survey had a favorability rating of more than 90% among visitors.

The fate of the program will once again be up for debate this Monday, when the council considers its next moves for both University and California avenues. The menu of options that council members will consider includes staying on the current path, which directs staff to conclude the program on Sept. 30 but which also gives Shikada discretion to keep either — or both — of the streets closed until Oct. 31.

A new report from the Department of Planning and Development Services outlines several other alternatives that the council could pursue, should it choose to keep streets closed to cars in the near term. The council can keep the streets car-free until November and then reopen them to vehicles in time for the holiday season. It can wait until the end of January before letting cars back onto the streets. It can limit the downtown street closures to weekends or it could direct staff to temporarily reopen the streets to cars during the holiday shopping season and then potentially revert them to car-free mode until the end of January.

According to the report, the lattermost option would "allow time to observe what happens this winter and decide early next year if the program continues to be needed."

"With a stated time of the streets being open the City can create the opportunity for retailers to be competitive during the holiday shopping season," the report states.

For the council, the decision of if and when to reopen streets represents a complex balancing act. On the one hand, retailers throughout the city have seen their revenues plummet during the pandemic and downtown merchants have been hit particularly hard, according to a recent report from the city's consultant, Avenu Insights. The report showed sales tax receipts in the downtown area plunge by 51.5% between the fourth quarters of 2019 and 2020, with receipts in the "general retail" category falling by 54.8% and with the "food products" category showing a 48.6% drop.

Some downtown merchants have argued in recent months that street closures have exacerbated the pain by reducing their stores' visibility and by making parking more difficult. Roxy Rapp, speaking for a group of downtown property owners, recited in June a list of downtown merchants that have reported dropping sales, a roster that included Lululemon Athletica, Keen Garage and Footwear etc.

"Closing off the streets is just killing us," Rapp said.

But on the other hand, the pandemic has not gone away and outdoor dining remains as popular as ever. While retailers have blamed street closures for adding to their struggles, restaurateurs along California and University avenue have credited car-free streets for boosting their business during a perilous time. Nancy Coupal, who owns two Coupa Café locations in downtown Palo Alto, including one in the closed-off portion of Ramona Street, suggested during the June discussion that "if you take away restaurants from the streets right now, there will be even less people coming."

Council members acknowledged the complex nature of the debate on June 22, when they agreed to keep the car-free experiment going until at least Sept. 30. Council member Greer Stone called the street dilemma "one of the most difficult issues that we faced this year," pointing to reasonable arguments on both sides. And while the council agreed to extend the closure, there was no clear consensus about the future of University and California avenues. Mayor Tom DuBois supported reopening streets to cars in July and September, respectively, and said he is concerned about the impact that a more long-term closure of University would have on both retailers and traffic patterns on residential streets around the thoroughfare.

"Do I believe restaurants want additional space? Yes," DuBois said at the meeting. "Do I believe the majority of diners really like eating outside? Yes, I do. But do I think it's fair for the business community? No, I don't."

Others favored keeping the streets closed and pointed to overwhelming support from the broader public, as evidenced by the more than 400 letters that the city had received in favor of retaining closures before its June 22 vote, and the more than 160 additional letters it received since then. Palo Alto resident Kim Vazquez argued in a Sept. 1 letter that University and Ramona should be permanently closed to cars, calling it a matter of "quality of life."

"Your residents need more space to feel safe while traversing and eating in downtown Palo Alto," Vazquez wrote. "Cars shouldn't take priority over people and this change has made my downtown experience a million times more enjoyable."

Council member Alison Cormack pointed at the popularity of outdoor dining during the June hearing and suggested that the council "use this crisis as an opportunity to make change."

Recent surveys of local businesses suggest that the topic continues to divide merchants, particularly on and around University Avenue. The survey of 65 businesses included 18 responses encouraging the city to maintain street closures and 13 responses urging the reopening of streets to vehicles. The report from the Department of Planning and Development Services notes that attitudes have not shifted significantly since June.

"Generally speaking, owners of restaurants located within the closed streets along University Avenue and Ramona Street corridors and on California Avenue prefer the closures," the report states. "Due to the rise in delta variant, they report that fewer diners want to eat indoors."

At the same time, businesses with retail and retail-like uses prefer the streets to be opened to vehicle traffic, the report states.

"For these businesses, they feel restaurants have had a chance to use the streets, now more balance is needed," the report states.

In addition to contemplating the extension of street closures, the council will also consider more long-term changes for the two thoroughfares. For California Avenue, which had already undergone a major streetscape-renovation project six years ago, the city is looking to invite local architects and design experts to work with the Architectural Review Board and area businesses and residents to create a "unique permanent parklet program that enhances the California Avenue streetscape and pedestrian environment."

The University Avenue project promises to be more complex, expensive and contentious, insomuch as it seeks to accommodate a wide range of conflicting objectives. The goal, according to staff, is to "adapt the public realm to maximize pedestrian and bicycle use, and accentuate and enhance the retail environment, while maintaining vital two-way vehicular access, parking opportunities, delivery and loading zones, rideshare spaces, and other amenities including performance space."

The downtown project would also take a lot longer to complete. Unlike the California Avenue plan, the city's exploration of modifying University Avenue will involve field work, environmental studies (including a traffic analysis and an arborist report), a design charrette, public hearings and an assessment analysis to allocate some of the project costs to the businesses and property owners who would benefit from the expanded space, according to staff. If the council approves staff's direction, the city would issue a request for proposals to perform this work. The design for University Avenue wouldn't be finalized until September 2025, according to the timeline in the city's request for proposals, and construction would not kick off until 2026.

"The priority is to create a more vibrant and inclusive space to support residents and local businesses," the report from the Department of Planning and Development Services states.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2021 at 11:30 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 11:30 am

The big unknown of course is whether the coming winter will be wet or not. It is nice to sit outside for lunch on a fine December day, even have dinner wrapped in a stylish sweater under a heater. It is miserable to eat outside even under a tarp when the rain is falling and dripping nearby.


Evergreen Park
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Sep 9, 2021 at 11:35 am
Evergreen Park, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 11:35 am

I do not support the permanent closure of either California Ave or University Ave. I can support parklets if they are done in such a way as to not interfere with the non-restaurant businesses located in these commercial areas.

It is ironic that these streets are closed 24 hours a day, even though many restaurants are not open for lunch, opening only for dinner -- after the retail stores are closed. The streets are closed when retailers most need to be available for customers -- including those who drive down the street to find out where a particular store is before determining where the best place to park is -- and when only some restaurants are open. Walk down California Ave at non-meal times, and it is often dead as a door nail. Contrast with downtown Los Altos. The latter is a much nicer place to shop -- and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from.

It is also ironic that so many people want to drive their cars to Cal Ave or University Ave to enjoy a 'car free' environment.

Lastly, the City has continued to give away public resources (City sidewalks and streets) to the benefit of only SOME local businesses.

The City has done little to support the non-restaurant retailers, and as a result we are in a downward spiral. If the City waits until January, or even November to help them out, it may be way too late.

I sympathize with the restaurant owners. But, I see that they can benefit from parklets and give us a chance to have a more diverse retail environment. Heaven knows, they have raised their prices considerably to offset any diminished seating capacity.


Evergreen Park
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Sep 9, 2021 at 11:39 am
Evergreen Park, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 11:39 am

Mr. Sheyner states that the street closures are supported by 90% of visitors to these areas. Duh. Of course, they people who like to go there support it. What about the large number of other Palo Alto residents who do not go there and do not support it?

There is a problem is listening only to the squeaky wheels and assuming that their voices represent the majority.


Terrace Antelope
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 9, 2021 at 12:45 pm
Terrace Antelope, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 12:45 pm

In the long run, keeping Cal Ave closed will make it a far more desireable destination for food and retail shopping alike IMO, especially with that massive new parking structure. Retailers who blame their drop in business on the street closure are underestamating how much of it was actually due to a simple shift to online shopping forced by COVID - and that business isn't coming back if the streets get openned up. In fact, we'd be exacerbating the situation because they would now also lose the customers who are there to eat outside and maybe want to snag some items after lunch/dinner. Just my 2c.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2021 at 12:52 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 12:52 pm

University is , functionally, a primary entrance to Stanford University and provides primary access to many local businesses. There is little convenient parking abutting the rear of these other businesses. I understand the need for some auto access there--maybe consider one-way auto access, leaving room for some parklets where they make sense and don't disrupt visibility of nearby shops and walking and bicycling? What creative compromises might preserve what works and eliminate what does not?

California Ave. dead ends into a train station which disgorges hundreds of people who bike to SRP or Stanford U or walk to the Marguerite. Most Cal Ave businesses have parking abutting the rear of their buildings. A brand new multi-story parking garage was built on Sherman near Ash, right behind Cal Ave businesses at great expense to local taxpayers. Consider marking rear shop entrances better. Consider wayfinding signage from El Camino to help people find parking. Get the parking lots marked on Google Maps. Add parking info to shop web sites.

Full street closure makes more sense on Cal Ave. Creating better bike access through Cal Ave would make some sense, given the volume of bike traffic the street supports from Park Ave Bike Boulevard and between the train station and Stanford facilities. Cal Ave provides a direct bike route into SRP--which matters if we want to encourage biking to work in the face of escalating climate change.

Friends, let's not get polarized here. Let's do some creative, civil problem-solving together to find creative solutions in the way Palo Altons used to work together--listening to each other, trying to understand the issues, exploring options. City Manager Shikada, self-described "Nuts-and Bolts Guy", this requires you to let go of your impulse to control everything and allow staff to work creatively with the public, including businesses. In the past, these kinds of collaborations have worked well. We can do this.


Me
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Sep 9, 2021 at 1:19 pm
Me, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 1:19 pm

Please leave the streets blocked off. It's such a beautiful scene to see people enjoying themselves outside at tables. It's also so much safer for pedestrians because cars driving through University Avenue were driving fast and recklessly, turning right in front of pedestrians. It was always constantly an accident waiting to happen.

Lululemon and Athletica's sales are likely down because less people are going to the gym since they all bought home exercise equipment during lockdown.

Downtown should be full of restaurants and offices. Who shops downtown or at Town & Country? I have to wonder how much money can be made on people shopping leisurely. Lululemon, Sephora, Chico's, Van's, and Athletica are brand names that people will specifically drive to but any other small, unknown shops, I have to wonder what their sales are per day.

Parallel streets such as Lytton Ave. and Hamilton Ave. can be used for cars. California Ave. has parallel streets that can be used also.


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2021 at 1:40 pm
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 1:40 pm

Cal Ave, in the words of a retail business owner to me, is a ghost town most days unless it’s lunch or dinner time for restaurants. Looked that way to me too. It was about 2:30 on a sunny weekday afternoon. I’m often on the Ave. Looks like siesta time in rural Spain or Italy..

Closure is no better for Cal Ave than University given few people are on the streets from 9-5:00 The metric isn’t parking, it’s shoppers.

Convenience matters. I no longer go to Izzys, it being at the far end of the street from anything else I do. I don’t have time for the round trip schlep.

Time and convenience is gone, the view of businesses by potential customers is blocked by street restaurants, and Cal Ave has lost all its charm - it just looks ugly and shopper unfriendly.


chris
Registered user
University South
on Sep 9, 2021 at 2:47 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 2:47 pm

With vaccinations required to eat inside a restaurant, restaurants have no reason to continue to take over the streets.

As long as the unvaccinated are kept away from the restaurants, the vast majority of restaurant goers will be willing to eat inside. The vaccinated people who are too squeamish to do that are not that likely to ear in the street. Continue to promote take-out and delivery for the squeamish.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2021 at 3:46 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 3:46 pm

One suggestion if they keep it closed is to put more disabled parking or pick up only parking on the side streets to enable those with mobility difficulties or needing to collect a large item from one of the retail stores do so easily. The side streets could then have parklets for restaurants on those streets to increase business for them.

Where are our parking meters and digital signage for garages showing real time parking spots. It is hard parking when it is so complicated with zones and colors.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 9, 2021 at 3:53 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 3:53 pm

"Where are our parking meters and digital signage for garages showing real time parking spots. It is hard parking when it is so complicated with zones and colors. "

They're in Mountain View and San Francisco and Redwood City and lots of other places. Unfortunately we in Palo Alto have been asking for real-time garage signage for at least 10 years, about how long it takes Palo Alto's highly paid staff to fix a problematic traffic light. They're just too too busy supervising their consultant buddies who'll be writing up a report and constructing 3D models real soon now.


Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 9, 2021 at 3:59 pm
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 3:59 pm

As pandemic subsides it's time to reopen the streets. These are both essential arteries for travel and blocking off the 2 streets that are quite needed is extremely inconvenient. We also are mostly vaccinated as a city and wearing masks. Compared to when these 2 streets were closed (no vaccines with COVID rates rising), we have come a long way.

Time to open up, just like it's time to open up businesses and schools.


Noel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 9, 2021 at 4:08 pm
Noel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 4:08 pm

Business is down for PA retailer for the same reason it is down for all retailers, i.e. no one wants to shop indoors unless they have to. Downtown PA is now a fun place to hang out on weekends as there is more happening: crowds, live music, people on the street, etc. If the streets are reopened to cars I doubt that retailers' businesses will bounce back and am fairly certain that restaurants will suffer. Maybe we should try reopening the streets for 2 months and then re-evaluate again. In the long term, we definitely will have a more vibrant and interesting city if we create more pedestrian-only areas just as Redwood City has done to spectacularly revive their downtown pre-COVID.


Chris
Registered user
University South
on Sep 9, 2021 at 7:34 pm
Chris, University South
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 7:34 pm

The new Cal Ave garage has electronic showing the number of open spots by floor. It will eventually come to University.


cheese guy
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Sep 10, 2021 at 7:15 am
cheese guy, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2021 at 7:15 am

California Avenue is ideally configured and located to continue as a closed street. All of the businesses have rear of the building access to allow for delivery of goods. Unlike University Ave, CA Ave is has no car access to any part of PA since it ends at the Caltrain tracks a few blocks West of ECR. When we were walking down CA Ave the other evening it really did feel like you were in Europe where many (if not most) cities block off parts of the town to car traffic and create pedestrian/people friendly zones. People were socializing outdoors, nice French music was coming from the front of La Boheme (which was clearly getting more business than prepandemic when it was limited to just indoor dining, most of the outdoor and a good portion of the indoor tables were full on a Wed. night). No street noise other than people, no cars to dodge when you walk across the street. Do whatever you want with University Ave, but lets keep the original downtown of Palo Alto (then known as Mayfield all those many years ago) in a state that is people friendly, not car friendly.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Sep 10, 2021 at 7:46 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2021 at 7:46 am

Palo Alto suffers from unique and absurd dilemmas.


staying home
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2021 at 10:39 am
staying home, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2021 at 10:39 am

PA needs to find a way to allow the places with parklet style seating petition to keep them, and allow restaurant to invest in building long term space/expansion, bring them up to code, etc.. 90% of the year is suited for outdoor dining and PA is capable of becoming a foodie destination.

Completely agree that that Cal Ave is better suited for some sort of traffic reduction (one-way, time of day policy, or complete shut down) compared to University Ave. If you didn't have the streets shut down and opened to restaurant seating, then wouldn't the impact of the pandemic been greater to the retail businesses?


Claudette
Registered user
Woodside
on Sep 10, 2021 at 10:52 am
Claudette, Woodside
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2021 at 10:52 am


Elderly and disabled shoppers are at a disadvantage with street closures. If one is not familiar with where a store is you cannot drive to find that store.
Parklets are great but please keep the streets open for equitable access.


Carla
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2021 at 12:00 pm
Carla, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2021 at 12:00 pm

Let's learn from other cities and think outside the car:
Web Link

Why Walkable Cities
Web Link

How to Build a Walkable City
Web Link


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 11, 2021 at 12:39 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2021 at 12:39 pm

Just a heads-up for everyone: There's definitely something wrong with the code that converts submitted comments containing web links into HTML for subsequent display. The "href" attributes for "a" tags are getting duplicated, and intermixed with "br" tags. So for now, it looks like you should avoid putting more than one web link into a comment.


K
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Sep 11, 2021 at 2:37 pm
K, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2021 at 2:37 pm

I love the streets being closed off. There is plenty of parking behind each side of the street. Maybe a map of restaurants and stores could be posted every so often along the way (like you see in the mall) so you can find what you need. Shuttles could be available to bring people from parking lots to the main street in case walking is an issue. There are creative ways to solve this without putting the cars back on the streets.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Sep 11, 2021 at 3:40 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2021 at 3:40 pm

If you don't live near one of the closed streets, it's easy to forget that cars don't disappear -- they just move. The other day I saw a Safeway tractor/trailer driving down my neighborhood street (which Waze uses to route traffic around University when going to or from 101).

People use University for access to Stanford, the medical center, and the shopping center, among other places. It's one of the few east/west arteries Palo Alto has, and there's precious little mass transit running in that direction.

It's not impossible to close it permanently, but it would be difficult and expensive. Roads have to be redesigned and a lot of traffic re-routed. And as pointed out in the article, while some businesses are currently seeing benefits, others are suffering. A major street redesign is likely to increase those effects.

This is definitely not an easy decision to make. From reading the Staff report, I believe Staff understands this. Does Council?


chewie
Registered user
University South
on Sep 11, 2021 at 10:26 pm
chewie, University South
Registered user
on Sep 11, 2021 at 10:26 pm

Wasn't there an article that said Palo Alto tax revenue was down? The stats show that retail sales were hurt.

And Yes, I still shop at stores.

They are in an echo chamber when it comes to listening to other businesses than bars. The real test will be when the weather gets cold. The holiday retail season carries the downtown area when outside dining is cold and miserable. Closing off the streets will cause tax revenue for Palo Alto to fall again. That means fewer services and projects.


Pops9
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 12, 2021 at 9:16 pm
Pops9, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2021 at 9:16 pm

Before the pandemic, who drove downtown and expected to find parking on University during lunch or dinner hours? I find the argument about parking/convenience comical. And University wasn't exactly a high throughput thoroughfare for traffic, either.

Pedestrian boulevards in Europe empty out in the winter -- that doesn't mean they get opened to traffic in the winter in most cases. The idea that somehow we should look at how this goes in the winter is odd. Restaurants won't invest in nice setups if they're continually having to store them for seasons. Close the streets permanently, allow the restaurants to invest in permanent fixtures, and eventually the restaurants on the streets with cars will see rent reductions or move to the closed streets. We accidentally found something special here. Keep it.


atotic
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2021 at 9:25 pm
atotic, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 12, 2021 at 9:25 pm

Palo Alto has the highest job/housing ratio in the Bay Area (3 to 1). This implies that when everyone started working from home, we lost 3/4 of our workweek population. The locals stayed at home, but they only added a 1/4. Stores reported a 50% drop off, so it adds up.


ndn
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2021 at 5:23 pm
ndn, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2021 at 5:23 pm

Diverting all traffic at all times day and night just means that people off Lytton and Hamilton suffer disproportionally from noise generated from vehicles. I like sidewalk cafes but full street closures are not a good thing for small business and not a good thing for people in nearby streets. I can't find parking near my dry cleaners because of street closures, for example.If there is a drawback from street opening let us distribute its harm for all not just some. I grew up with sidewalk cafes, fairs, etc, but there were never full street closures all the time. Maybe the designated parking on University could be occupied by food parklets....or any other solution or else putting them near the people who are so very keen on denying the rest of us a restful sleep without the noise generated by the U. ave closing. Who's volunteering?


Eeyore (formerly StarSpring)
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 13, 2021 at 6:00 pm
Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 13, 2021 at 6:00 pm

I don’t think this is Palo Alto’s “Big Dilemma”.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2021 at 3:38 am
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 3:38 am

A dilemma is a choice between two bad outcomes. The only parties that view this situation as a dilemma are the billionaire commercial developers and corporate real estate investors that own most of the buildings downtown. They oppose street closures because street closures, in their perception, harm their biggest cash cow: office tenants. They oppose opening streets because it reveals them for the greedy self-serving exploitative landlords that they are.

But what is in the best interests of people who live here? What would make Palo Alto more liveable for residents and the retail and restaurant businesses they support?

Obviously: street closure. The only strong opposition to street closure from actual small businesses have been complaints made by businesses whose streets are not closed. So those streets should be closed too.

Palo Alto has too much traffic; too many cars; too many fast roads in residential neighborhoods carrying employees back and forth from office jobs. What a terrible way to treat a community.

It's not rocket science to figure out what makes a residential neighborhood liveable: more restaurants and fewer tech offices; more retail and fewer business hotels; more public shuttles and fewer cars on the road.

Europe figured this out decades ago. Palo Alto is like your grumpy grandpa that insists on driving his gas guzzling Chrysler even as it gets 8 mpg, coughs smoke, and lacks seatbelts. It's truly pathetic.


ndn
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2021 at 5:35 am
ndn, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 5:35 am

Please stop writing about Europe as if you know it. I was born and brought up there and lived (not just pass by) in a few European Countries. I have never seen total street closures 24/7 be it in large cities or small ones. I'm most certainly neither a developer nor a landlord. But I go almost everyday to University Avenue (I live nearby) and see the car lanes of University empty of people. I see people in the parklets ( evenings mostly, not so much during the day) frequenting the restaurants. So opening University Av would not be and never was (since I arrived in Palo Alto in the early 80s) a deterrent for enjoying going to food establishments. Yes, keep the the restaurants' parklets
but open that main artery open. There is no reason not to.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2021 at 9:10 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 9:10 am

If discussing Europe, it must be remembered that Europeans who work in cities do not expect to drive to their jobs. They use excellent public transport using efficient ticket systems that allow them to use multiple modes of transport for a fare that covers a time period rather than a distance or use a monthly (weekly) pass that is a certain amount regardless of the number of times used, enabling user to be able to use it for weekend and evening jaunts as well as commuting.

European road closures do work but it is often because those areas are in high pedestrian and tourist areas served by park and ride type services.

We do not have excellent public transport, excellent ticketing options, excellent remote parking with shuttles to busy downtown areas. What we do have is a City that tells us to ride bikes everywhere and a Police Department that are not concerned about bike thefts and other crimes.

Get priorities in order and learn from Europe on how things work before making generalisations that ignore the reasons why there are differences.


Bill Bucy
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2021 at 11:05 am
Bill Bucy, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 11:05 am

Cooler and - let's hope -- wetter weather will eventually return. I doubt people will care to sit around cold, wet streets and pay today's prices to dine - at least in numbers that would a difference to a restaurant's bottom line.

For the hardier among us, limited sidewalk dining has long been a feature of many restaurants on Cal Ave and University and there is no reason to ban it in the future.

Close the streets for events, weekend farmers markets and so on. But it no longer makes sense to bar traffic 24/7.


ndn
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2021 at 11:43 am
ndn, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 11:43 am

Europeans in large cities by and large use good transportation systems similarly to those of large American cities- Boston, New York city, San Francisco, Portland etc but outside those everybody uses the car, just like Americans do. As for what Bill Bucy said
"They use excellent public transport using efficient ticket systems that allow them to use multiple modes of transport for a fare that covers a time period rather than a distance or use a monthly (weekly) pass that is a certain amount regardless of the number of times used, enabling user to be able to use it for weekend and evening jaunts as well as commuting."

I have to ask, have you heard of Septa, Clipper, MBTA just to mention three? It's no different if you are in Milan...or Paris...or Lisbon....or Barcelona....or Prague....or Oslo
The fantasy that every European go to the market everyday in their two legs to buy food trough closed-to-cars cobblestone alleyways and then to work in public transport can be very alienating and tourist based.

We need to use cars and spend less time in restaurants that cater to the idea that using badly paid immigrants to produce a romantic view of life is a worthwhile and ethical pursuit.

If you want to learn about transit in San Francisco or Oakland use their transportation systems- you will be surprised how efficient it is. I know because I used it.

I can only hope that the Nimbies that refuse to allow Bart into Palo Alto
and South Bay do not all come in mass trying to prevent a rational, objective and reality based of the traffic on University.


ndn
Registered user
Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2021 at 11:46 am
ndn, Downtown North
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 11:46 am

Apologies to Bill Bucy. It was Bystander I was quoting.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Sep 15, 2021 at 1:41 pm
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 1:41 pm

California Ave is not a “dead end”. The ability to cross it helps connect the residents north of Cal Ave and south of Cal Ave — at least when construction in the area does not choke off movement almost completely. Using Park or Birch to cross Cal allows residents to reach Oregon Expressway without going to traffic-clogged El Camino Real. Closing this off would increase traffic consequences. And, those writing about how wonderful it is to get rid of cars on these streets forget that most people drive there — increasing traffic and noise pollution for residents surrounding the commercial streets. You do not need to park on these streets to use them for circulation, for driving along the street to see where a store or restaurant is in order to find the best parking, etc. Parklets are fine. They reduce parking spaces, but at least allow traffic to circulate efficiently. Heaven help us if there is a large fire there — not that many ways In and out of the area.

The reports are that retail took a hit during the pandemic, but retail (not just restaurants) are coming back much better in other nearby cities that have not completely closed their streets. So, what distinguishes Palo Alto? Closed streets and poorer retail performance. As far as I know, you still don’t send your shoes to Amazon to have the soles repaired . . . .

I agree with the writer who suggested that we need to work together to find creative solutions. That would be refreshing. So far, no one has reached out to the residents surrounding the commercial areas who will be most affected to see how the negative consequences could be mitigated. The City, does, however, regularly consult with businesses. I am told that the restaurant owners have bullied most of the small retailers along Cal Ave into silence. Time for a little consideration on all sides?

Tab


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2021 at 2:54 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2021 at 2:54 pm

@ndn

I speak of European commuting from past experience and from knowing others who commute. I am not talking about just the famous large cities visited by American tourists, but those cities where tourists rarely go as well as some large towns where bus lanes and one way contra flow take people to their work destinations and residential areas are not allowed to be used as alternative routes.

I am not familiar enough with Clipper and similar here, as I am sure are most people who are unable to use Public Transport. How do those who live in Half Moon Bay, for example, use them to commute to jobs around here.

I am also familiar with the social aspects of those who eat after work at happy hour spots in Europe and are still able to get home by public transport. These systems work well until well beyond 9 pm to allow for workers to socialize near jobs and not need to drive home over the limit. When choosing where and with who to have a beer while watching a game an efficient bus home helps with those options.


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