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To promote outdoor dining, Palo Alto plans to close California Avenue

Original post made on Jun 9, 2020

Parking spaces and driving lanes will give way to tables and chairs on California Avenue later this week, as Palo Alto moves ahead with a program to encourage outdoor dining.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, June 9, 2020, 4:29 PM

Comments (36)

13 people like this
Posted by Professorville
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Really exciting to hear.

I haven't felt safe going to restaurants on University Ave at this point because the tables are right next to heavy traffic sidewalks.

The street closures sounds like a great way to keep the tables spaced out, especially as it looks like the shelter-in-place isn't going away any time soon.


22 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:16 pm

Masks are not practical when eating. These outdoor restaurants have to be set up so social distancing is really easy, including keeping passing pedestrians far away from the seating area.


9 people like this
Posted by Eat at home
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:28 pm

Parent- how are you going to keep pedestrians , who are walking on public streets “far away” from seated diners?

This is a good idea, but it must be instituted in a way that will in no way, shape or form prevent pedestrians from using the sidewalks.

My advice- if you do not feel comfortable eating outdoors, get takeout.


43 people like this
Posted by Stefan Heck
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:30 pm

I'd like to correct false statements made by local developers last night at the Council meetings that are unfortunately repeated in this article without fact check: retail shopping and restaurants dining volume is NOT mainly driven by vehicle traffic in downtown areas (unlike shopping malls where people entering the parking lot are a proxy for how many shoppers have arrived).

The #1 way people find stores and restaurants in 2020 is THE INTERNET (lots of research on this, 50-80% of all decisions about where to eat made by which cuisine and then reviews online, similar for retail stores). The #2 driver is FOOT TRAFFIC, which these proposals would INCREASE, not car traffic. In the 1950s and 60s it may have been true that people drive by window shop, but not today. They use Facebook, Google, OpenTable etc.

Moreover, the MYTH that University is a big thoroughfare is just FALSE. The facts show (from the city's own data and shown in the brochures property owners publish) University has 6000 vehicle trips a day, vs Hamilton at over 8000, Alma at 22K, Embarcadero at 25K, El Camino over 33K. Of course all those numbers are PRE-COVID. Today there isn't much traffic, and definitely no parking shortage any time of day or night. We need FOOT TRAFFIC and safe spaces for people to walk, dine, hang out, and shop. Pedestrian zones have been shown to INCREASE foot traffic 30-80%. That's what drives retail sales (1/10th to 1/3 of the increase in foot traffic translate to increased sales).


15 people like this
Posted by Kara Fitzpatrick
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:38 pm

University closes for parades, festivals, etc. why not explore parklets and weekend closures? It balances traffic needs with weekend social opportunities. Side street restaurants should be encouraged to have parklet spaces and perhaps street closures as well.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:41 pm

The first time I use most restaurants is because I meet someone at a restaurant and if I like it, I return. Occasionally I get a recommendation from someone to tell me to try it. Otherwise, I just use the same places I like over and over again.

I don't drive around looking for a restaurant, unless it is when I come off I5.


15 people like this
Posted by Lychee
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 9, 2020 at 6:20 pm

I am looking forward to more closed streets. More space for walking and biking will bring diners out on warm summer evenings.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 9, 2020 at 6:27 pm

Stefan Heck, University Ave. is one of the three PA access points to 101 and the most direct route to Stanford University, Stanford Shopping Center and the Stanford Medical complexes so the traffic from University, Hamilton etc. has to go somewhere.

On another note, when making our on-patio reservations, call the restaurants directly and don't trust the OpenTable reservations link showing the restaurants are booked out for months.


11 people like this
Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 9, 2020 at 7:49 pm

I believe that closure for California Avenue is desired by many in town. As the avenue is shorter than University Avenue it will be easier to administer. The city will have to have a checklist for all restaurants for distancing, cleaning etc. Regarding University Avenue do most of the restaurant owners want this closure? My sense is that the restaurant owners on California Avenue do embrace this prospective change.


5 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 9, 2020 at 7:55 pm

@Stefan Heck: Can you give me a reference for that traffic count on University? I know for a fact (I have video recordings) that the traffic count at Lincoln and Waverley was 5600/day in 2018. It seems doubtful that there's as much traffic at a residential intersection here in Professorville as there is on University Ave.

A Weekly article here (Web Link) from 2019 mentions volume of 24000 to 33400 cars/day on University east of Middlefield, but after a quick look I haven't found comparable data for University west of Middlefield.


9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 9, 2020 at 10:02 pm

Traffic numbers on Middlefield from University to Oregon would be also be interesting.

A Cal Ave closure seems easier since most of the restaurants are on a single street whereas downtown you have restaurants on University, 3 parallel streets and about 6? cross streets. Only some have patios and/or are near parking lots.

As the Zola owner noted, only some restaurants will benefit.


19 people like this
Posted by Downtown business owner
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 9, 2020 at 10:50 pm

I can't believe this program is still being debated for University Ave. It should be a done deal, and asap.

ALL BUSINESSES IN PALO ALTO ARE STILL LOSING MONEY. The only way to help the situation is to expand to the outdoors; seating in the walkway is not enough. It needs to be on the actual street, and even retail stores should be allowed to expand outdoors. The side restaurants need space outdoors too; so either the street gets closed or they are allowed parklets.

But please let's do this asap!


2 people like this
Posted by Professorville
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 9, 2020 at 10:59 pm

Re: Eat at home -- eating at home is what we've been doing and it's not fun.

Being at home so much lacks the social component of dining that I really miss. Being able to safely go back to restaurants on/around University Ave would make Palo Alto feel more normal again... even if we were all sitting 6+ feet apart.

So I don't want to get takeout forever.

I thought the whole point of opening the street to tables is so more tables can be socially-distanced apart, right?

As you said, I don't understand how you can get many tables apart from pedestrians with tables on or next to the sidewalk.


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 10, 2020 at 12:20 am

We had dinner on the patio of St. Michael's Alley on Monday. Fun finally getting out!

The few tables closest to Homer had clear plastic sheeting separating them from the sidewalk plantings which ran a few feet above the seated dines's heads. It ran about 2 feet above the top of the seated diners' heads and thus was probably as tall as a 6-ft-tall passerby on the sidewalk. That part of Homer has a lot less food traffic than University / Hamilton or even the part of Homer near Whole Foods and Taverna but a lot more patio room.


9 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2020 at 7:58 am

One concern. When streets are closed, how will businesses with no rear door/access get deliveries, which often arrive midday via truck?


7 people like this
Posted by C2
a resident of University South
on Jun 10, 2020 at 10:57 am

Please please please close University ave for dining. Sitting along the sidewalk is. Or enough. There is too much foot traffic and it doesn’t feel safe.

By closing the street, you can create a safe walking path, while allowing diners to eat safely outdoors.

For the restaurants not on University and on the side streets, parleys should be allowed so they can also have outdoor space.

Lytton and Hamilton are great alternatives for drivers.


14 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2020 at 11:18 am

I'm generally in favor of ideas like this, but, I am extremely apprehensive about the law of unintended consequences. We, the public, now own those streets. If we effectively "grant usage in perpetuity" to those restaurants, then, that seating will become built in to the value of the property and landlords may increase rents further in response. I don't want another giveaway like that. We need a long-term plan to prevent building owners from capturing that value and turning what starts out today as a public benefit into a private benefit.


11 people like this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 10, 2020 at 11:24 am

Once again, if we are not going to talk about making Hamilton and Lytton one-way (in opposite directions), then let's at least TIME THE TRAFFIC LIGHTS for smooth traffic flow (say, 23 mph). Cars going to 101 from Stanford would turn right onto High and left onto Hamilton, then drive all the way to Webster/Middlefield w/o stopping. Cars coming from 101 toward Stanford would turn right onto Webster then left onto Lytton, then drive all the way to High/Alma w/o stopping. If we are actually going to close University then let's not go only half way!


9 people like this
Posted by Anne Anderson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 10, 2020 at 12:02 pm

University Avenue has the added advantage of mature trees that will provide shade for these outdoor-restaurants-to-be. I think it's a great idea and the perfect time to try out the concept in both locations.


2 people like this
Posted by Clay Carson
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 10, 2020 at 1:02 pm

A possible alternative that might alleviate some of the concerns would be to close University Avenue to traffic only during evenings and weekends, using light signals to redirect traffic as was done during the last year's construction on University. I realize that this alternative would limit permanent outdoor seating areas, but it would reduce the worries of retail stores owners.


2 people like this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 10, 2020 at 1:05 pm

Alan A. - I can't confirm Heck's numbers are correct but according to your purported number of cars on University, east of Middlefield, this would mean a line of cars lined up bumper to bumper starting in Sacramento pass by every day. I think that might be off by a bit.


6 people like this
Posted by merry
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 10, 2020 at 1:39 pm

Where exactly do customers park
If california is closed? Parking on california was always full.
Eating in the middle of street????
How pleasant is that? Food will
Be cold when it arrives to table.
Who thinks up this stuff?


3 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 10, 2020 at 1:45 pm

@commonsense: The University Ave numbers come from the "Existing Conditions Summary" of a report titled "Metropolitan Transportation Commission Program for Arterial System Synchronization (PASS)" delivered to the City and to Caltrans on January 16, 2019. I have a PDF copy, though in a quick search I didn't find one online. The report also includes a detailed day-by-day, hour-by-hour breakdown between various intersections from the Dumbarton to Middlefield, measured in September 2018. This was all done as part of the project to synchronize traffic signals on University.

25K cars/day, bumper-to-bumper length of 20 ft, going both ways in two lanes, works out to about 47 miles of cars per day. I have absolutely no trouble believing there's that much traffic on University. I have a lot more trouble believing that there's the same amount of traffic in front of my house in Professorville as there is on University, but I guess it's not physically impossible. :-)


2 people like this
Posted by ResidentX
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2020 at 2:13 pm

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2020 at 2:23 pm

Will masks be required for all pedestrians on California Ave?


Like this comment
Posted by ML
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 10, 2020 at 2:57 pm

Making (part of) University and California Ave pedestrian zones so that restaurants can spread out their tables is one of those rare plans that seem to be a win-win for everyone. Restaurants can serve more guests, citizens can enjoy dinner out, and our downtown area will have a friendlier appeal that will draw people from nearby cities to visit and shop! We should implement this plan as soon as possible.


9 people like this
Posted by SGB
a resident of University South
on Jun 10, 2020 at 5:18 pm

I don't understand all these complaints about parking and traffic.

I live right in this affected area. Have any of these people complaining about parking and traffic actually walked outside?

Downtown is a ghost town. I understand than many office worked have been told they can work from home until 2021, if they ever come back.

There's is a ton of parking everywhere-- the garages are totally empty, bottom to top! There is no traffic at all!

As far as I can tell, there is almost no one going out to eat, and more restaurants are going out of business every week.

How is a temporary street closure during shelter-in-place arguable at all?

Obviously it might not make sense forever, but we surely we don't need to debate the long term right now. If we do there won't be any restaurants left.


4 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 10, 2020 at 5:54 pm

@SGB: All of the people I know who are concerned about parking and traffic in the long run also support temporary closures. For now, just as you said, there are no problems.

But I don't think it's realistic to believe that the closures will be temporary. Once they're in place, the political pressure to retain them will be enormous, because most people enjoy the benefits without having to bear any of the costs.

The traffic and parking issues will arise as workers return, traffic increases to normal levels (possibly higher, if transit ridership goes down as expected), and some part of the existing parking supply is gone. The question is whether Staff has any intent of managing those problems or whether they'll simply sacrifice the adjacent neighborhoods.

Past experience and recent comments from Staff both suggest that if there's no pressure they'll go for the latter. So there's a lot of reason to raise the issues and get commitments from them now. It seems possible to me to have long-term closures without converting the nearby neighborhoods into commuter roads running through commercial parking lots, but the City has to be willing to commit to implementing the solutions.

BTW, the concerns about traffic and parking aren't speculative; the problems have been major issues for years, slowly spreading over ever-larger areas.

So if you like the idea of closures, please help convince Council to do what's needed to keep the neighborhoods livable.


2 people like this
Posted by Mañu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 10, 2020 at 7:36 pm

Great idea. People can walk in the center on the closed road, and restaurants can use sidewalks. If people want to enter the stores they should have access.. Restaurants shouldn't use or block the sidewalk area in front of the stores.


2 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 10, 2020 at 9:25 pm

@Stefan Heck, @Carl Jones, @commonsense: In 2016, University Ave between Middlefield and Alma carried 12000 cars/day; Hamilton 8000; Lytton 11000. See City traffic survey at Web Link pages 133, 69, and 95, respectively.

At my house traffic was going up consistently at about 6%/year for the past five years. If that's also true at University, it would be up to about 14000 cars/day pre-COVID.

These streets are heavily used. Diverting 12000+ cars from University is going to have a significant effect on the surrounding neighborhoods, unless the traffic is physically blocked from entering them.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 10, 2020 at 9:27 pm

Was just on California Ave, before the street closed to cars. It was *lovely* and we had a great meal.

Not a whole lot of masks. People are coming to their senses. But, if you are afraid, please stay home.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 11, 2020 at 10:01 am

University Ave and Cal Ave should be permanently closed down to traffic. Like Santana Row. University should be closed off from Webster to High and Cal Ave from Park to El Camino.

Neither street is convenient to motor vehicle travel if timeliness is a concern due to stoplights on University and pedestrian traffic on Cal Ave. The majority of parking for both are on the side and parallel streets already. Potentially, patronage of business along side streets would increase with the increase of foot traffic.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 11, 2020 at 10:04 am

University Ave and Cal Ave should be permanently closed down to traffic. Like Santana Row. University Ave closed off from Webster to High and Cal Ave from Park to El Camino.

Neither street is convenient to motor vehicle travel due to stoplights on University and pedestrian traffic on Cal Ave. The majority of parking for both are on the side and parallel streets already. Patronage of business along side streets would increase with the increase of foot traffic.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2020 at 12:10 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center

>> Not a whole lot of masks. People are coming to their senses.

If most people are not wearing masks, then, while people may be "coming to their senses", they are not showing a lot of sense: Web Link

>> But, if you are afraid, please stay home.

Fortunately, when I happened to be on California Ave, most people were being sensible and wearing masks while not ingesting food.

I urge everyone to stay vigilant: Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Yes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2020 at 12:23 pm

They should also close University Ave. for the safety of pedestrians. Turning cars are a constant hazard.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2020 at 2:26 pm

@commonsense:

This link appears to be on the verge of retirement, but, it is a one-sheet summary of "everyday" traffic engineering rules of thumb.

Web Link

I think it has what you need to determine if something is impossible or unreasonable. (More finely nuanced solutions require real measurement and modeling.)


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