The students pitched the idea as an assignment for their Creating Infectious Action class, which requires them to come up with ways to reduce gas consumption. Since then, they have created a blog and a Facebook group to promote the idea, which they believe would both reduce Palo Altans' gas dependence and alleviate the parking woes on the city's busiest thoroughfare.
Instead of clogging up the two-hour-parking spots along University, employees of the businesses along the thoroughfare could get parking permits from the city and fill the garage spots formerly occupied by Facebook employees, Hughes said. The company moved out of downtown earlier this month and into its new office on California Avenue.
The idea, Hughes said, is to promote less driving and more walking. But if it helps alleviate some of University Avenue's parking woes, so much the better.
"Parking is such a huge issues for employees, many of whom are getting ticketed a bunch of times every month," Hughes said. "If there is a customer in the store, they have to either take a gamble and stay with the customer or say, 'I have to move my car.'"
The idea of turning University into an auto-free promenade isn't entirely new. In July 2007, city officials decided to close the busiest section of University on a Friday afternoon only to see adjoining streets fill with traffic and merchants fill with anger and frustration.
But Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto, who was mayor at the time, said the biggest flaw with the event was inadequate planning and publicity. Kishimoto is a longtime proponent of creating a more walkable Palo Alto. She said the idea of turning University into a pedestrian-only zone is not without merit, provided it's implemented in gradual phases.
"I think people are very hungry for a place to just meet and mingle," Kishimoto said. "It creates an environment where you, by serendipity, run into neighbors and meet up and have dinner with them."
The first phase, Kishimoto said, could be to eliminate parking spots along University Avenue to allow for wider sidewalks and more bicycle parking spots. Later phases could include closing the busy stretch to cars on a monthly or a bi-weekly basis. The street, for example, could be closed to traffic late Friday afternoon and remain closed on Saturday morning, during which time it could host a farmers market, she said.
Kishimoto isn't alone in wishing for a car-free stretch of University Avenue. On May 13, Planning and Transportation Commissioner Arthur Keller mentioned the idea as an example of the "out-of-the-box" policies he'd like to see city consultants consider as they present recommendations for amending the city's Comprehensive Plan, which guides land-use policies.
Hughes and his group, meanwhile, are keeping busy trying to convert more residents to their cause. The group's Facebook group, Palo Alto Pedestrian Mall, aims to attract 1,000 supporters by May 27. Between May 16 and May 20, its membership swelled from 66 to 452 members.
Hughes also said most of the conversations with downtown shoppers were promising. While some merchants said they were concerned about the proposal's impact on their business, the shoppers were generally enthusiastic, he said.
"We didn't find one consumer who didn't like the idea," he said.
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