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Traffic snarled due to downtown 'Promenade'

Original post made on Jul 20, 2007

Traffic is heavily backed up along Alma Street and El Camino Real in Palo Alto this afternoon due to the closure of University Avenue as part of a six-hour "Palo Alto Promenade" downtown.

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Posted by Balatro
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2007 at 3:35 pm

More PAWAR - Palo Alto's Wishful Alternate Reality - to the people. ;)

Good grief! No wonder we get mocked in the national press.

It's imformative that the only comment with any context of experience came from the New York resident Allison Sands (ahh, it's soooo refreshing to hear from someone who actually knows what she's talking about!) - "This is a town with streets; it's not a park." Bingo!

Insight borne of experience is worth far more than dreams borne of a wish (can I coin that phrase?)

An occasional promenade on University is nice, but that's as far as it goes.

Note that the "retailers" who were quoted as liking the idea of a permanent promenade on University were NOT the owners of the stores mentioned - they were employees.

Those retail workers quoted might have been asked "would you be willing to see a permanent promenade on University Ave. if it meant that you would most likely lose your job within a year?" I wonder if the answer to that question would be "cool"? I wonder what the merchants who employ retail workers would think of that? Has anyone thought to ask?

I would LOVE to see a poll of merchants on University Ave., about turning it into a pedestrian promenade. Why haven't we seen that poll? Could it be because most of the merchants don't live in Palo Alto? Hmmmmmmm.....

I support the Mayor in most of her "greening" efforts, but imagining how "nice" it would be to be able to walk down University - and then promoting that utopian impulse into action WITHOUT considering the logistical and economic displacement fallout is mind-boggling. [on a more cynical note, I suppose - for some politicians - it's convenient to say that a lot of dreamy wishes would be "nice", and then take credit for "having been there first", or saying "it was my idea from the beginning" if 5% of those things ever pads one's personal future]

Look at the traffic displacement today. How much of an ADDITIONAL CO2 load did that add to the air that we breathe, or the residents on Middlefield Road breathe?

How many of those who will be able to lollygag downtown this evening are those who can walk from their homes, anyway? Will there be a survey? Just an informal survey would be helpful.

Long-term, how many locals vs. out-of-towners would come to University Ave. if we converted it to a pedestrian thoroughfare? THAT would be a survey worth taking.

How many of the almost 40% (soon to be almost 50%) of Palo Altans who are seniors would enjoy walking the entire length of University Ave. to get what they want?

How about offloading merchandise to stores? Are the alleys behind big retail on University big enough to handle that, 100% of the time? If not, better start planning how to widen those alleys.

How does the "Palo Alto University Mall" experience compete with the Stanford Mall experience? Someone better put their thinking cap on, and sharpen their pencil, because the result might not be as blurry as the original version.

How about this? How about our Mayor, who sits on the VTA board, hammering out something with other mayors to get some SERIOUS mass transit happening in our region, so that people could use the streets in convenient ways WITHOUT having to get into their cars? I'm talking SERIOUS mass transit here - accessible, affordable, and goal-oriented (gets you where you want to go, WHEN you want to get there, including the middle of the night)

Again, occasional promenades on commercial streets that are normally occupied by cars is a nice thing. Properly promoted, lots of people will come out to enjoy the festivities and have a good time - that's wonderful.

How do you maintain something like that, long-term - without massive retail displacement? Could it be that retailers are considered dispensible? That seems to be the case.

How do you, as a landlord, justify high street-facing rents to a lessee who wants storefront parking (proven to be - in our age of pathetically poor mass transit - something that people actually want - which is EXACTLY why thre mass-transit solution HAS to happen before you wan turn downtowns into bucolic promenades)

What's even more telling is the quote coming from the Downtown Association (BID) president, Sherry Bijan:

1) "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"


2) "Bijan said she thinks merchants along Lytton and Hamilton avenues would be pleased because the closure would bring additional traffic by their businesses."

Ms. Bijan, why on earth would merchant on Lytton and Hamilton be pleased about more traffic, while merchants on University would be more pleased with less? Never mind that a significant percentage of merchants downtown think that the downtown BID (Business Improvement District) is worthless to them.

This is the kind of logic that gets thrown around in Palo Alto, usually without a thought, especially when it comes to dreamy ideas that a few people think would be "cool"?

I may attend the promenade this evening; it should be fun - but when I see things written in the paper that appear to reflect PAWAR, it puts me ever-so-slightly on edge, like the retailers who will read that article and wonder what in god's name ever landed them in Palo Alto to begin with - because if University Ave. turns into a permanent pedestrian promenade anytime soon (especially before we have ubiquitous mass-transit), the merchant's respective gods are going to be the only ones that will help them (as no one with any PAWAR around here appears the faintest idea about how to do so).

See you at the promenade!

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2007 at 7:25 pm

Provide adequate signage and traffic direction to eliminate backups.

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Posted by Anamika
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2007 at 8:40 pm

This was not probably published / communicated to a wider audience .. I got to know about in on the TownSquare forums - however, three of my colleagues who pass through the downtown had no clue about this closure. They thought that there was a problem with the Walgreen's building !

I agree with Walter - this needs more communication to the people passing through on a regular basis. How about those big signs at strategic locations a week ahead of time indicating the time / date ?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 20, 2007 at 10:24 pm

This was a fiasco. Noone knew about it. The traffic barriers were erected early in the morning and at odd locations given the size of the event. I saw one bicycle police officer the entire evening. I observed cars and buses ignoring detour signs at Guinda along with their frustrated drivers. I listened to two bands with average talent. I saw one film of early school-age quality. What can I say...

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Posted by Pedestrian
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 21, 2007 at 4:02 am

What do you mean no one knew about it, I knew about it, so did my neighborhood because we e-mailed the information around. It has been talked about on Town Square and at Council Meetings - stay informed!!! Anyway you'll know next time. because hopefully this will be the first of many times University Avenue will be transformed into a pedestrian mall only.

I'm all for this change permanently. Towns throughout Europe close off their main streets and it is quickly spreading throughout the United States. So, Palo Alto is in the forefront of change - Hurrah for Palo Alto!!!!

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Posted by Anamika
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 21, 2007 at 8:42 am

This was in the PA Daily (I think) - but there are quite a few people who pass through University Ave, but are not PA residents. This was not communicated far and wide.

I am all for this change - permanently if possible. However, this needs to be broadcasted really well multiple times and well ahead of time.

I will suggest making this a family event with clowns, balloon artists walking around and restaurants offering discounts for the kid's meals - this will be good for the business and something to look forward to for the entire family.

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Posted by Eve N. Reynolds
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2007 at 9:18 pm

The recent promenade on University Avenue brought out the best that Palo Alto has to offer: music, film, al fresco dining and door to door boutique shopping. The Avenue, protected from traffic, was superbly transformed into a promenade intertwined with music, film and a “let’s go green” theme promoted by our new Mayor. I applaud Mayor Kishimoto for her desire to make Palo Alto a more walkable, livable city. Why not? It is common in cities all over Europe, and more recently a few areas in the United States to partition main thoroughfares one day per week to allow markets, shops and pedestrians to feel a relaxed, comfortable and breathable shopping day. Palo Alto is once again forging ahead!
The evening was warm, thousands of families, pets, friends, co-workers and neighbors strolled along the promenade enjoying the live music at each stage and the outdoor film-shorts viewed at dusk. The shops, with sidewalk sales and enticing interiors lulled me into believing I was on vacation in Europe and searching for that perfect holiday purchase. A most desirable combination for anyone!
However, what struck me most about the promenade was the community spirit that it developed. I had forgotten what it was like to be in downtown Palo Alto without the traffic, pedestrians and search for the closest parking spot available (even if it took 3 times around the block!) I found myself relaxed, amenable to the neighborly chat, a nibble here and a nibble there and a few stops along with way…I felt relaxed and happy. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to feel at home?
Mayor Kishimoto, you deserve recognition for spearheading the promenade and encouraging all us SUV drivers to leave the car at home and WALK. If Palo Alto is at the forefront of green living, with almost 17% of households converting to renewable energy, then it’s only right that we leave our cars behind just one day per month (or preferably per week) and remember a calmer, more gentler way of life. The promenade was a brilliant scheme to encourage all of us to get out of our conveniently polluting vehicle and walk amongst the lively crowds who were out enjoying a summer evening celebration! So the street was closed, and we were forced to walk, wasn’t that the whole point of the event? Walk, save trees and reduce those nasty green house emissions. As I understand, the electrical and power usage came from the solar and wind power grid. Based on the promenade’s estimated electric usage of 3,000 kWh, the donation of renewable energy prevented 2,636 pounds of CO2, a critical greenhouse gas emission, from entering the earth’s atmosphere. In terms of global climate change and environmental benefit, this is the equivalent to three months not driving one car or one acre of forest protected. If we all supported the weekly/monthly promenade just think how many forests could be saved.
It is hard for us to change our habits; it seems to only occur when it is forced upon us. Therefore, Mayor Kishimoto and the event organizers achieved their goal. We were “forced” to recognize our addiction to motor vehicles! We were forced to come face to face with the inevitable traffic jam, BUT we enjoyed the evening, we saw old friends, we chatted, listened to music, viewed a film clip and most importantly, remained outside of the “box” by walking and enjoying ourselves.
Mayor Kishimoto, I look forward to the next promenade!

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