Friday's Promenade fun, but problematic | July 25, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 25, 2007

Friday's Promenade fun, but problematic

Another event this summer unlikely

by Becky Trout and Rotem Ben-Shachar

The first, and perhaps only, Palo Alto Promenade may have snarled traffic and stifled business, but it was also a lot of fun, attendees and organizers reported.

The film and music festival, held Friday from 4 to 10 p.m., closed University Avenue to vehicles from High Street to Webster Street for the entire day. Three stages hosted music performances and films and several restaurants extended tables into the roadway.

The police reported no major incidents.

Spearheaded by Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and the Palo Alto Downtown Association, the event was an experiment, testing the effects of converting University from a packed thoroughfare to a pedestrian boulevard, perhaps as often as once a month.

The results were mixed.

"The Promenade itself turned out to be tremendously fun and successful," Kishimoto said, noting she ran into many friends she hadn't seen in awhile.

Kishimoto acknowledged the "many improvements we need to make in ... traffic control and notification."

On Friday, traffic jammed up Alma and High streets, University and Hamilton avenues and other roadways. Numerous business managers, including those at Palo Alto Bicycles and the Peninsula Creamery, said they'd heard little to nothing about the event beforehand and expressed concern about the drop in business.

"The environment of the Promenade was not conducive to shopping. People came with their families, and did not want to come into the store with their kids to shop," Letter Perfect owner Gwen Gasque said.

For the University Coffee Café, business dropped by 20 percent before 4 p.m., but then jumped 30 percent after the Promenade began, owner Lynn Kuo said Monday.

"I think it would be great if there was another Promenade, but the streets should only be closed at night," Kuo said.

The Promenade had no effect on business at the Peninsula Beauty Supply, employee Annette Pape said. But it was great for Madison and Fifth, according to restaurant owner Sy Vedad.

"I think University should be closed every Friday and Saturday night," Vedad said.

Palo Alto Downtown Association Execturive Director Sherry Bijan said downtown businesses and residents received a mailed notice of the closure in early July and an e-mail last week, although she admitted the e-mail list may be incomplete.

In addition, the radio station Alice@97.3 promoted the event extensively, as well as contributing about $60,000, Bijan said.

Bijan also acknowledged there was "some chaos during the day."

"By the time the event started, it was wonderful. ... All the businesses were bustling, the restaurants were certainly packed and overflowing," she said. "By and large anyone who attended thought it was amazing."

Bijan said about 3,500 people attended the festival, which cost $90,000.

The money came from sponsors, including the City of Palo Alto and Stanford University. Attendees could also purchase $10 tickets to vote for their favorite performances. Film producers had to pay $20, Bijan said.

Bijan said if the association hosts another event this year, it will be a smaller production, with more casual performances.

Kishimoto said she hoped in the future the city could close streets later in the day and allow vehicles access to Emerson Street, where they could turn either left or right, rather than being routed onto the one-way High Street as they were Friday.

She said she takes the concerns of retailers "very seriously."

Councilman John Barton said the event caused confusion and traffic problems but also attracted many attendees.

"In the abstract, I think it was really successful," Barton said.

Councilman Bern Beecham also joined the crowd, initially as a skeptic. But after seeing the crowd and talking with many people he said he has shifted from "pessimistic to agnostic, in the sense that I have an open mind" about future closures or events.

"It was packed. I've never seen so many people out on the street," he said.

In a man-in-the-street questioning style, Beecham said he approached numerous strollers and asked why they were there and how they heard about the event. About a third said they read about it in the Palo Alto Weekly, he said. The rest were divided between those were heading downtown to dine or who just came across the street closures and decided to see what was going on.

"It was kind of fun," Councilwoman Dena Mossar said of her visit to the event with her husband, Paul Goldstein, and their leashed dogs. "But downtown Palo Alto is not set up for such events," she added.

"It's a wonderful idea, but there's a difference between a wonderful idea and a practical opportunity." The traffic snafu during the day was deeply unfortunate, she said, noting she even got caught up in it when returning to Palo Alto in the late afternoon.

When the City Council gave a nod to the idea, "It never crossed my mind that I was voting to close University all day Friday," she said. "University Avenue is a major east/west thoroughfare. It's a bit like closing Page Mill Road," with a difference in scale.

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at