While some Gulf cities are removing dining tables from the streets and opening their downtown streets to motorists for the first time in 18 months, Mountain View leaders are not going to give up what they see as one of COVID’s silver linings. -19 pandemic.
On the contrary, Mountain View plans to make a major investment to transform the city’s oldest shopping corridor, Castro Street, into a permanent pedestrian center where residents and visitors can live without cars for decades to come.
“Castro Street has been successful and I know some people say, ‘Well, it took a pandemic,’ but there are positives to the pandemic, and this was one of them,” said councilor Margaret Abe-Koga.
Like many cities in the Bay Area, Mountain View closed Castro Street from Evelyn Avenue to California Street in the summer of 2020 to allow restaurants and shops to move their operations outside when public health orders prohibited them from serving customers inside.
Over the months since then, the city’s main street has evolved into a lively and bustling place where friends and family gather to eat, drink and shop.
A recent poll of the city of more than 1,500 Mountain View residents and visitors found that more than 85% of respondents support maintaining road closures.
“Castro is now more active during this unprecedented time than in recent decades,” said local resident Yonatan Shamgar. “Let’s make Castro the gem of this region and continue to make it a place everyone wants to come to to have a good time.”
Mountain View City Council on Tuesday night approved a plan to keep the temporary closure of three blocks of Castro Street until at least 2023 with the intention of gathering feedback and realizing a broader vision of making this segment of the road a permanent pedestrian center.
Their decision was made when other cities such as Palo Alto and Pleasanton went in a different direction – removing barriers that once blocked traffic on central streets and ending their favorite street business scenes. Meanwhile, San Jose recently hired a consultant to analyze the potential impact of a permanent car ban on San Pedro Street.
While the COVID-19 pandemic provided Mountain View with an opportunity to test the viability of the pedestrian center, the city was already considering the concept until March 2020.
With the upcoming electrification of Caltrain, Mountain View plans to overhaul its transit center located near the north end of Castro Street and build a pedestrian and cyclist tunnel under the Caltrain tracks and the Central Expressway at the north end of the main road.
As part of these plans, the city council expressed interest in 2019 to create a pedestrian center along the block of Castro Street closest to the tracks, in the hopes of giving pedestrians and cyclists more direct access to the transit center and allowing those arriving by bus. or by train to get to restaurants or cross the central expressway without crossing the carriageway.
Pedestrian malls of the past have not always been successful. US cities, including Sacramento and Fresno, added them to their business districts decades ago, only later to reopen them to cars when pedestrians failed to hit the expected numbers.
But Blaine Merker, an urban design consultant, told Mountain View City Council on Tuesday night that Castro Street has “everything you need to be successful,” noting the city’s ideal year-round weather, young residents and workers, and a large street population. restaurants rather than most retail stores.
Mountain View plans to start building a pedestrian tunnel on the north end of Castro Street by the end of 2024 – or as soon as Caltrain finishes electrifying its tracks. If this timetable continues, Mountain View officials expect to complete the tunnel by 2026.
As for Castro Street, the city currently envisages the creation of a pedestrian center in two stages.
The first phase, which could take up to five years to complete, was to create a car-free Castro Street from Evelyn Avenue to California Street. Various improvements will be made to the roadway to make it more accessible and attractive, including raising the road to match the current sidewalk height and adding more permanent outdoor dining areas.
At this stage, motorists will still be able to use Evelyn Street to cross Castro Street, thus cutting off the pedestrian center right in front of the train tracks and the transit center.
The second phase, however, will cut off West Evelyn Avenue in front of Castro Street and rebuild the street to cross the Caltrain rails into the Central Expressway further east. This will create a longer continuous car-free space between the pedestrian tunnel and the shops and restaurants on Castro Street.
The final vision for the city will require significant funding and is expected to take up to 10 years, according to Don Cameron, the city’s director of public works, although she did not provide a specific cost estimate.
But most residents said on Tuesday night that they thought the price and the longer lead times were ultimately worth it.
“It took a once-in-a-century pandemic to get to the place where we turned it into a pedestrian mall … and we won’t have another chance in 15 or 20 years to rethink it,” said local resident Tim Mackenzie. … “This is what not only makes it brighter and more pedestrian-friendly, but it also possibly takes us away from car travel and keeps us from building our city for single-seater travel.”