Palo Alto's University Avenue Friday will be packed with people, not cars.
As part of a six-hour "Palo Alto Promenade" downtown, beginning at 4 p.m., University is to be closed all day until 1 a.m. between High and Webster streets. If the event goes well, Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and others plan to work toward opening University to pedestrians regularly, or perhaps even permanently.
The mayor, who often stresses the importance of developing a "walkable community," said she came up with the idea because she frequents restaurants on University and California avenues most weekends.
Kishimoto said she thought, "Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could spill out into the streets?"
"It's been done successfully in other cities."
She began working with the Palo Alto Downtown Association on a trial event. Volunteer Alison Williams expanded the test into a full-fledged festival, with music, films and food.
Although another promenade isn't currently scheduled, Kishimoto said she would eventually like to see the street close every month, perhaps for a Friday evening that would spill into the farmers' market Saturday morning. The market is currently held behind the downtown Palo Alto Post Office on Gilman Street.
Dozens of entertainment options wouldn't be necessary for each closure, Kishimoto said, noting that closures cost the city money for permits, law enforcement and other needs.
The business community is supportive of the closures but wants to progress slowly and iron out logistical details with parking, traffic, crowd control, access and other issues, Downtown Association President Sherry Bijan said.
Bijan said University is too crowded for most drivers hunting for a parking spot and that passersby on foot would be more likely to stop in a store or restaurant than someone driving through.
The May Fete parade and the annual Festival of the Arts close down the street each year, but no other regular event allows pedestrians to take over University, Bijan said.
No significant opposition has been levied against the trial event, Kishimoto said. The recent Walgreens building fire, which closed three blocks of University for a week, may have even generated support for a more frequent closures or a permanent closure.
In the city's history, University has never been closed to traffic, according to former mayor and informal historian Gary Fazzino. Hamilton and Lytton avenues were made into a one-way loop in 1967, but vehicles could still drive on University. The one-way loop was rescinded in the face of an initiative petition.
The closure of University has been a popular topic lately on the Weekly's online forum, Town Square.
"Everyone goes to University to walk down it anyway; does anyone need to tour it by car?" downtown resident Andrew Sharpe asked. He said the street would be safer and that it is not very useful for parking or driving through now.
The closure could send too much traffic onto nearby streets and neighborhoods, however, wrote forum commenter "Not so fast," who lives in the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood.
"The issue may be diverted into the 'let's have consultants study the matter and have the public discuss it endlessly' pipeline.'"
Bijan said she thinks merchants along Lytton and Hamilton avenues would be pleased because the closure would bring additional traffic by their businesses.
On Wednesday evening, Palo Alto residents Ami and Ronit Citri, who had grabbed one of University's rare available parking spots, agreed that the street's closure would make it more difficult to park downtown.
Morgan Yang, 21, who works at Juut Salonspa on University, said she thinks it would be "cool" to have the street open to pedestrians, though she agrees parking would be problematic.
"I think it would actually bring business," said Shane Whittemore, a Mills the Florist employee, said as he closed down the store.
But Alison Sands, who is spending the summer in Palo Alto and was dining outside at Zao Noodle Bar Wednesday, said she doesn't think it would work.
"This is a town with streets; it's not a park," she said, referring to the policy of closing New York City's Central Park roadways on weekends.