This exciting new redesign would include a pedestrian-friendly two-lane street with bike lanes, more parking, additional landscaping, and a park-plaza at the east end near Caltrain. The street would be completely repaved and feature bulb-outs to ease pedestrian crossings, colored crosswalks and parking areas that would add variety to the expanses of asphalt.
The idea is to create an environment that is much more open to pedestrians and bicycles and present opportunities for strolling and leisurely dining outside. More plantings would be added to compliment the crop of new street trees that are taking root now after last year's unfortunate tree-cutting experience.
The concept of converting four lanes to two is already working well for Menlo Park's Santa Cruz Avenue and Mountain View's Castro Street, which both cater to pedestrians and outdoor dining. Merchants on these thoroughfares are happy with the changes. Menlo Park has added a row of street trees on Santa Cruz and many merchants on Castro Street use plants to separate their dining areas from the street.
The number of parking spaces on California Avenue would jump to 135 from 111, and the current 45 degree angled parking would be changed to 60 degree angled spaces. More loading zones would be included to make sure merchants can get timely delivery of their products.
During hearings before the Planning Commission's unanimous vote to support the project, Vice Chair Lee Lippert had it right when he said of California Avenue, "This is not an arterial. If anything, this is really a shopping center…The goal is to make the retail area a destination point."
When testifying at an earlier commission hearing, some merchants disagreed, fearing another "project" would keep customers away from the popular street.
Jessica Roth, of European Cobblery, said, "People are finicky about their time and convenience. Six months of construction is going to kill my business, just kill my business."
And David Bennett, a partner in Mollie Stone's, the anchor market near the Caltrain station, is even more concerned, giving the commission a written statement and petition signed by several residents and businesses objecting to the lane closures. He said the loss of lanes would "put the market in a difficult position with reduced access" and could lead the company to develop the property for a different use.
But we like the city's promise to deal with these issues. Planning director Curtis Williams said he understands the merchants' concerns and has pledged to reduce construction impact during the project by phasing the work and making sure entrances remain clear.
And a massive study shows that worries about reduced traffic capacity are unfounded. In fact, the study shows that the lane reduction will not reduce capacity on the street by significant amounts. Vehicles may experience delays of two to three seconds, but that is far below the 10-second delays considered meaningful by traffic engineers.
In our view, when this project is completed California Avenue merchants and shoppers will get to enjoy a much more interesting and inviting environment. The makeover uses the latest techniques in urban design to create safe and comfortable spaces on the avenue. We urge the City Council to gives this project a thumbs up when it comes before them Monday night.