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University, California avenues could close to traffic as soon as June 4, providing relief to restaurants

Original post made on May 30, 2020

University and California avenues could be closed to traffic four days a week as soon as next week, allowing restaurants to use the streets to serve diners once permitted to do so by Santa Clara County.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, May 30, 2020, 5:18 PM

Comments (49)

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 30, 2020 at 8:09 pm

Sounds like a thoughtful approach. I hope they'll measure where the traffic and parking load goes, gather as much hard data as they can from the restaurants, and publish the results.

Posted by Trish
a resident of University South
on May 30, 2020 at 9:02 pm

Where is the parking?????????????????????????/

Posted by Carolyn
a resident of Downtown North
on May 30, 2020 at 9:44 pm

Yes yes yes! Best thing I have heard all day. Put in more bike parking as summer approaches and make sure neighborhood have a slow-streets network to get people there. What a win!

Posted by NobodyYouKnow
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 30, 2020 at 10:32 pm

To all who are asking about parking, park far away and walk. It won't hurt. This is a way to support local restaurants that are struggling. Why not look at the positive? Still unhappy? Get takeout or eat at home.

Posted by John
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 30, 2020 at 10:49 pm

Best thing I've heard today!! Ahead of SpaceX successful launch!!

Posted by Art Prof
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2020 at 11:06 pm

For now, park at almost-empty Stanford Mall and take the shuttle, or park at your train station and take the train right to the top of the restaurant district.

Posted by Art Prof
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2020 at 11:11 pm

Redwood has had a big success projecting film out of doors. The Stanford, currently closed, could sponsor projecting a popular feel-good classic like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday in the large open patio across the street from them. Social distancing would be tough to figure out, I admit.

Posted by Barry Katz
a resident of Ventura
on May 31, 2020 at 12:11 am

Make the closures permanent. Seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to show how we can wrestle our streets away from cars and return them to people.

Posted by Esmee
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 31, 2020 at 4:18 am

This is an idiotic idea. You can "wrestle the streets away from cars" as Barry suggests and close streets and parking lots to traffic all that you want. But that isn't going to help Palo Alto's restaurants bring back their full & robust dining clientele. This idea is so short sighted, that it could be funny, if real businesses, real employees, and real neighbors weren't going to be so adversely affected. The plan essentially shuts down Palo Alto to those from neighboring communities like Menlo Park, Stanford Weekend Acres, Ladera, Portola Valley, Redwood City, Mountain View and beyond and creates a sense of "other" for anyone who doesn't live within a few blocks walk of University or California Avenue. We dearly miss our favorite restaurants and are eager to see the day we can once again enjoy an evening out at some of our long time favorite restaurants like Siam Royale, Typhoon, Palo Alto Creamery, Joya, Nobu, and Tamarine again. But our family is certainly not not going to walk four miles to get there. Cut us out and you cut out a significant share of the business these wonderful restaurants have enjoyed throughout the years. And need I say, take away street access and parking and Doordash and to go orders will significantly dwindle, as well. In the meantime, Palo Altans on foot can likely find all the seating they like at their local restaurants, as there should be plenty of empty tables left while those cut out of the loop seek new options that welcome rather than shut us out.

Posted by Wolfy
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2020 at 5:40 am

Car exhaust causes cancer, heart disease and dementia.
Breathing poison air is really bad for you.

Studies have shown time and again that children walking to school along polluted streets such as ours have stunted lungs

Did you know that car exhaust combines with cholesterol in your body to produce super globules to clog your arteries more effectively?

Posted by DB55
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 31, 2020 at 8:27 am

This is a great idea! And the comments here are taking a weird turn - this will have next to no impact on parking since there are hardly any parking spaces on California or University. People will park in nearby lots/garages or on side streets as they always have. I’m looking forward to dining outside at PA restaurants this summer, and hope that increased seating will help them stay afloat.

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 31, 2020 at 10:48 am

@DB55: From the article: "Palo Alto is exploring full- and part-time street closures, expanding outdoor seating through parklets and temporary closures of parking lots..."

The idea is to block a major east/west route, privatize more public spaces (for examples, see Caffe Riace and St. Michael's Alley) and take some TBD number of downtown parking lots as well as on-street parking out-of-service. On the flip side, we've heard nothing about reducing traffic or parking demand, and if this is successful in driving a lot more business to the restaurants, it might even increase traffic and parking demand. The concern is that this traffic and parking load will just flood the nearby neighborhoods.

As a temporary measure to help the businesses and gather some valuable information, I'm for it. As a permanent measure that turns the nearby neighborhoods into sacrifice zones, I'm not. The Comprehensive Plan is clear about the City's priorities: "It encourages commercial enterprise, but not at the expense of the city's residential neighborhoods."

I suspect there are ways to implement things like downtown pedestrian malls that don't sacrifice the nearby neighborhoods. A huge part of our parking and traffic demand comes from offices in deliberately-underparked buildings that have drastically increased their employee density over the past 20 years or so. Policies that reduce office-generated traffic and parking demand in the downtown areas could solve a lot of problems. Enforcing downtown zoning, fixing the in-lieu parking system, gradually reducing commercial permit parking in the neighborhoods, and creating head taxes are all possibilities.

In the meantime, I think a temporary measure with a clear sunset provision is a good idea.

Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2020 at 10:54 am

Social distancing safety rules are going to limit the capacity of these restaurants. Most office workers are continuing to work from home. If you need to drive, there should be plenty of parking in the lots on the side streets. One or both of these restaurant districts should be within easy walking distance for most Palo Alto residents.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 31, 2020 at 12:02 pm

Castro Street in Mountain View is reduced to one lane each way and has the very busy restaurant business. Go check out how they have handled it. There is more to the streets than restaurants, I am sure that all of the businesses along the streets want to have business. The first problem is that you have parking on the street - take away the street parking and now you have space for overflow eating.

Posted by Castro Street pick up
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 31, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Picking Up Dinner on Castro Street at dinnertime has become more and more dangerous. Guessing that most of the traffic is pulling into restaurants for curb side pick up means that drivers are busy looking for the restaurant they have ordered from and a convenient pick up spot to wait for the restaurant to come and deliver to the car.

Too many cars attempting to do the same thing at the same time make for drivers not paying attention to traffic or pedestrians. This curb side pick up idea is going to backfire the more popular this becomes.

Posted by Art Prof
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2020 at 12:56 pm

Helpful and intelligent discussion, nobody calling anybody else Hitler. How did this happen? I take the point about sunset provisions to spare the neighboring streets becoming parking lots. Wouldn't like that foot traffic in front of my house.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2020 at 1:42 pm

I'm in favor of it as long as there is an exit plan. I'm very concerned that this will just become a random permanent gift to building owners and landlords with no recompense to the city.

Please do not just bumble into this. The city attorney needs to make sure that city residents interests are protected. We don't have a good track record with things like this.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 31, 2020 at 2:58 pm

Yes, an exit plan is critical because when we fully re-open, closing off direct access to one of the three access roads to 101 will just push traffic to Embarcadero and neighboring streets.

If you've been following the lead-up to this move, I suspect it's just part of the plan to "renovate" downtown -- another costly, disruptive move we can't afford and don't need.

Posted by James Félix Cook
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2020 at 5:01 pm

Fantastic idea! Can’t see how you’d comply with County health orders and be able to enjoy a restaurant meal otherwise. Great win win for the residents and the restaurants. I’d go one step further and consider making this change permanent after the new parking structure is complete, provided businesses believed they could operate well in this configuration. It works extremely well in Santa Monica. Another option would be to have this configuration one night a week during the week as San Luis Obispo does. Will be great to try! Can’t wait to see friends and neighbors there!

Posted by A friendly neighbor from Community Center
a resident of Community Center
on May 31, 2020 at 8:47 pm

Posted by DTNResident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 1, 2020 at 12:16 am

Don't worry about parking, just take the free Palo Alto shuttles that are being shut down.

As for supporting businesses, most restaurants are supported by the office workers in the area staying after work or using them for lunch. Without the office workers, no restaurant is financially viable. Until the office workers return, you'll see more restaurants going out of business. You can't stay in business with even 20% of your customers out of commission.

Posted by DTNResident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 1, 2020 at 12:27 am

This is mere window dressing on the real problem, the lack of office workers, who are at least 20% of the business, and 100% of the profits, of the restaurants. Without them, none of them will make any money.

Posted by LM
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2020 at 8:44 am

Sounds like this helps the restaurants on Cal Ave and Univ that will have closed streets in front but what about everyone else? Parklets would have a greater impact and allow all the restaurants to utilize outdoor seating instead of a lucky few. This program sounds well intentioned but poorly planned and executed. I hope the city will focus on trying to help everyone.

Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2020 at 10:26 am

This is a brilliant idea, finally... some common sense and ingenuity. Long-term, they should close all parking along University (and California) and use that added space to create expanded sidewalks and outdoor seating.

Posted by Dianne
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2020 at 10:55 am

I don’t get the screaming about parking. Who parks on University or California anyway? In all the times I’ve patronized PA restaurants, I don’t believe I ever have. Plus, why would you be worried about parking if there’s nowhere to go...which is what will happen if we don’t have creative solutions to keep businesses running? Or do you just want to be able store your car in a ghost town?

Posted by carlt
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 1, 2020 at 11:07 am

If we don't try it we'll never know what the positives and negatives of this proposal will be. What's written on paper or debated forever is often quite different than the actual result or impact. Do not lock the proposal in stone but be ready to change the specifics quickly as needed. Also, Palo Alto will need to eliminate some of the parking time restrictions earlier in the day so people can take early dinners when it's still warm out. Rather than restricted parking to 6 make that 3:30 or 4. Let's not debate this until summer 2021 but take action now.

Posted by Gecco
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jun 1, 2020 at 11:36 am

It sounds like we have models for working with this already: the Art Fair weekends on University and the Farmer's Market Sundays on California. We just need to extend and adapt, and we can find way to make it work all around. Definitely worth a try!

Posted by Kerry55
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 1, 2020 at 11:50 am

What a good time to try this and look at City car free zones to encourage residents to walk and bike throughout the City during this pandemic. in addition use flexibility to take into account tech workers telecommuting and not driving into work and a new normal for the businesses to survive here. The silver lining here is that neighbors now have priority for walking in their residential neighborhoods over vehicles speeding to jobs and leaving at end of the day. This would also be a good time to get everything ready for grade separation plans being reviewed and advocated by XCAP. Maybe this new normal will finally stop the out of control vehicle traffic that has taken over many parts of Palo Alto and severely downgraded the quality of life for the majority of Palo Alto residents. Seize the moment!

Posted by Cindy
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2020 at 11:54 am

I am a huge supporter of trying out the idea of closing these primary streets. I rarely drive or park on them anyway - there is never room, traffic is clogged, so I don't think we lose very much. I do appreciate the concern of neighborhoods becoming parking lots. For California Ave and University Ave there are huge parking structures that I could almost always find spots in - in the busiest of times. You do have to walk a bit. This requires a change of habit - we'll have to leave home earlier...seems doable!
I agree that we must plan ahead to collect data, interview business owners and neighbors to get real-time feedback, and adjust accordingly.
Thank you all for not calling names or labeling, and just calling out pros and cons. It makes discussion pleasant and productive.

Posted by More bike parking, please.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2020 at 11:58 am

I will ride a bike , as I most often do from my south PA home. Even at 60 years old, it's a lovely, flat, shady, easy ride down Bryant Street. Takes me a little less than 20 minutes, and I don't break a sweat. Then I feel no guilt at all about ordering dessert!

Dear City of Palo Alto, we do need more bike parking downtown under normal circumstances--and at all of our shopping/eating areas around town. That is a relatively inexpensive thing to do. Now might be the right time to do it..

Posted by Marianne Mueller
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 1, 2020 at 12:18 pm

Mary, or perhaps even most of the nearby streets that might be targeted for parking arein the residential permit parking program and although our neighborhood used to be a parking zone for downtown since the RPP started, it's no longer is. note, Cars iswithout permits can still park for two hours in any of the zones. I think this is wonderful idea but support some of the side streets being included such as Emerson what about JingJing's and others on that atreet

Posted by Long time resident cyclist
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 1, 2020 at 12:20 pm

Love love love the idea.

@esmee - I believe you’ll find parking closer than four miles away.

From an exit plan perspective, why reopen university if you build a healthy ring road alternative.

Stanford to 101 traffic turns right at high and Hamilton becomes a one way to Middlefield (we have that with Channing and Homer already and it works).

101 to Stanford traffic turns right at middlefield, Webster or Cowper then left to one way Lytton until High street when they join that one way to university to continue their route.

This creates a nice “esplanade” similar to what Santa Monica, Minneapolis, or cities already have.

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 1, 2020 at 12:26 pm

@Dianne: Since you're in Menlo Park, you might not know that parking became such a serious issue near University and California Aves that the City had to create permit programs to control commercial parking in the neighborhoods nearby.

The changes that are being proposed here will eliminate parking along the two streets, of course, but they will also eliminate adjacent parking lots. (When you read the term "parklet", you should translate it to "converted parking lot".) They will also close a major through street. So potentially, a lot of parking is being lost and traffic is being diverted.

Right now, traffic and parking demands are much lighter than usual, so these changes shouldn't have much negative effect. The possible benefits for the businesses are worth giving it a try. But as things return to normal, if the changes are made permanent, all that traffic and parking load has to flow to the only nearby places it can go -- the neighborhoods. That's why people are concerned.

To put this into perspective, my house is on the far edge of the permit parking zone, so it's not in one of the areas that's most affected. But pre-shutdown roughly 6000 cars/day passed my house, the air quality index never got better than 130 ("Unhealthy for sensitive groups") and the noise level during the day was 80dB (about the same as a garbage disposal). Accidents have been going up for years. So a significant increase in parking load or traffic, *after shelter-in-place is finished*, is a big worry. And a legitimate one, I think.

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 1, 2020 at 12:37 pm

@Long time resident cyclist wrote: "From an exit plan perspective, why reopen university if you build a healthy ring road alternative."

Slowing down the main route by adding lights and turns means Waze will direct more people onto the adjacent neighborhood streets. This is believed to be the reason why traffic on Lincoln Ave has gone up 85% over five years as University Ave became slower.

Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 1, 2020 at 12:41 pm

Fantastic/Finally! There is not much parking on University, nobody goes downtown expecting to park there and adjacent street parking can be altered to accomodate more cars. Let's give it a try and see how it works.

Posted by Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 1, 2020 at 1:09 pm

As usual the City has consulted and surveyed the business community BUT HAS NOT CONSULTED THE RESIDENTS WHO WILL BE AFFECTED. Not one word from the City about where people who are coming to University Ave or California Ave will park -- and trust me, they will not be walking from Greenmeadow, Palo Verde, Midtown, or outside Palo Alto. No, you will be wanting to park in my neighborhood. Diners will be coming and going at all hours of the day and night. They will beep their cars multiple times to unlock their doors, they will have loud conversations with their friends or on their cell phones, they will dump their take out containers on my lawn, and then roar away to THEIR quiet neighborhood. I know this for a fact, because that is what happens every time Stanford has an event. "NOBODY YOU KNOW" says to "park far away and walk". Like on my street?

The article says that trash collecting could be moved to side streets -- live where people live and children play? How creative to shove business issues back onto residents.

Don't get me wrong. I think we need to help restaurants. I just think maybe there should be some consideration for the residents who will be affected by proposals. Not consulting residents -- but doing widespread consulting with businesses -- is just wrong. And, believe me, it can happen to you whatever neighborhood you live in.

Maybe I will try to go to various parks and restaurants and take out places where you live and park in front of your home since I won't be able to sleep in mine.

Posted by Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 1, 2020 at 1:10 pm

I wonder why Judy Kleinberg, the head of the PALO ALTO Chamber of Commerce does not live in Palo Alto, but feels free to tell the City and the residents how they should live. Apparently, she couldn't stand it either.

Posted by Cal Ave resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 1, 2020 at 2:43 pm

This is a great idea that's long overdue! I'd be happy for this to be made permanent and I think many of the people who are resistant should give it a chance and I believe they will also be supportive after they see how it works.

Posted by Esmee
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2020 at 2:50 pm

Before Palo Alto leaps onto this bandwagon about how wonderful creating a Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade is for the local community, I thought I'd share this comment from a long term Santa Monica resident.

"The Promenade has essentially turned out to be a disaster. It had more charm when I first came here--back when you could angle-park up and down the street and enjoy a lot of very local diners and stores. The current configuration is surrounded on all sides by extremely difficult traffic problems, and parking is so difficult, virtually no local residents, according to certified surveys, will go there at all. Only tourists, and, of course they're gone now because of the virus, so only the homeless. Even before the virus, the Promenade had become a sore spot. Local and unique businesses were completely replaced by chains that could afford the higher rent. So it was selling exactly the same stuff as every other cookie-cutter shopping district in America. They were about to work up another face-lift and were considering a squeeze on landlords by charging them a punitive vacancy tax if they didn't fill the many empty spots. But tax and business revenue collapsed with the lock-down, so all plans are on hold. Plus, 81 businesses in that vicinity were looted yesterday and the rest are now boarded up and waiting for the next round of thieves."

And in response to Alan Akin,
re; "Since you're in Menlo Park, you might not know that parking became such a serious issue near University and California Aves...". Alan, wake up. We're in the same community -- living in Menlo Park, doesn't make one an alien in terms of local politics. Most of us have lived in or own homes in a number of different neighborhoods on the peninsula, including Palo Alto! I remember watching RWC become increasingly less appealing for dining/theater options when it reduced parking and made driving to the city more difficult. Then, we watched California Avenue dwindle as a destination after its road diet and made parking more sparse. I fear that once Palo Alto bans traffic & parking on University to move restaurants out onto the street, it will simply be too much of a hassle for anyone but those living nearest University to frequent the restaurants and businesses there. No one wants to disturb private residential streets by winding through them at night and searching for parking. Besides, what are your chances of finding parking there anyway as a visitor since most residential streets rightly reserve parking for residents. And in terms of Diane's comment about "who parks on University anyway?" I do. Clearly, I'm not alone since most of the spots are always already taken!

Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 1, 2020 at 3:18 pm

I'm very excited about this, and I hope this works so well we decide to keep it permanently.

Posted by Bambi
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 1, 2020 at 3:56 pm

Bad idea- there is a much better idea- the parking lots out front can be closed - allowing thru traffic- University Ave is the gateway to our town - you need to allow University to be left open or kill retailers - do not close University - you want not just locals to walk dwtn - you want to allow sidewalks to be open for seating too - but do not lose University Ave - there is a history of closing University is a death wish - plus what about all of the other restaurants off University -

Posted by John Sack
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 1, 2020 at 4:01 pm

I support this move and also the stated (in the article and city blog) trial of "parklets" (I had to look up what that is!) for the many other restaurants not on Univ. or Cal. Ave and on side streets off those streets.
It won't be perfect, but when we do learn what the challenges are, let's see if we can handle *those* creatively. The situation we're in calls for creativity and supposedly our area is famous for that. Let's show some here.
(I also appreciate the calm tone to the comments -- positive and negative -- and I wonder if that is because the Weekly site now requires a paid subscription to view content and presumably to write comments?)

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 1, 2020 at 4:56 pm

I am willing to bet that most of the restaurants in downtown survive due to office workers rather than residents.

I would like to see this work, but residents probably cannot keep every single restaurant from going under if most of their prior business is from those that work in the area but do not live in the area.

Until people are allowed back to work, restaurants will suffer. This can be said for other areas also whether it is RWC, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, etc. Not all offices have free meals and even those that do still have workers who want to eat outside their office.

Posted by Former resident
a resident of another community
on Jun 1, 2020 at 6:27 pm

I see two problems with this. One is that those of us who need to use handicapped parking spaces close to businesses will have to walk significantly farther, especially on California Avenue. Provisions should be made to convert some of the spaces on the side streets to handicapped spots.

Second, there is an inherent inequity for those restaurants not located directly on University or California Aves., such as Jing Jing (one of our favorites!). If some side streets are also closed off, the same need to convert more parking spaces to handicapped will pertain.

Posted by Kaboli
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 1, 2020 at 7:27 pm

Best thing I have heard all day! What an excellent idea, have been advocating for this for some time and it would be a great way for us all to pitch in as a community to support our business while giving this idea a trial.

In terms of parking, I think many people will come to find that you never really tried to park on Cal Ave or on University Ave to begin with. Side streets yes, but on the main drag, no.

Posted by YP
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 2, 2020 at 9:56 am

Great idea, I can't believe some of the whining above. Our poor restaurants are dying , seems a worthy idea to try and if it's a disaster for whatever reason then stop it in a few weeks.

Posted by Doesn't suffer fools
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 2, 2020 at 10:38 pm

The County should just lift the stupid lockdown. Problem solved.

Afraid of infection? Then stay away.

Posted by Tom Dodd
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 18, 2020 at 10:53 pm

If you've been to Barcelona, you'd understand how well this works. Cal Ave especially is well set up for this, with that new parking garage being built. I would hope it to be a permanent change to a pedestrian street. At the very least, it could be seasonal.

Posted by Carl
a resident of El Carmelo School
on Jun 19, 2020 at 10:42 am

I have walked down the newly closed Cal Ave three times in the last week. Twice I was nearly run over by a bicyclist riding down the middle of Cal Ave in the midst of pedestrians. Watch out there as the City has not posted any signs to tell bicyclists to walk their bikes now that this is a "pedestrian walkway". There were few diners out on the street -- which looks just like what it is, i.e., an asphalt street with chairs on it. The barricade on the El Camino side has no large colorful banner advertising restaurants and retail open for business, nor signs indicating how to navigate around to find parking. The barricades make it look like the street is closed for a demonstration.

If you want this to be a success, they need a lot of marketing and other help to make it look attractive and inviting. Take a look at the parklets in Town & Country Village and on Santa Cruz Ave in Menlo Park (which street is not closed). Looks nice and much more vibrant than Cal Ave. The City has gone this far in providing support to these businesses, so they might as well spend more for what needs to be done to make it successful. I hope you will all join in supporting a special "restaurant district" city tax to help out.

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