Town Square

Post a New Topic

Editorial: Approve California Avenue project

Original post made by Tyler Hanley, digital editor of Palo Alto Online, on Feb 11, 2011

Already a vibrant and popular shopping district, California Avenue is poised to become even more attractive if the City Council approves a $1.8 million makeover plan next week.'

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.

Comments (14)

Like this comment
Posted by Just say YES!
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2011 at 10:36 am

Dear Mr. Bennett,

I love your store. Mollie Stones provides me with a great Kosher butcher, deli, and Kosher foods section. I am grateful for that. You have good quality produce. When my kids were younger, your store was a fun destination with its little button-controlled puppet show.

However, you don't seem to know me at all. I drive to your store when I need to buy large loads of groceries. I bike there when I have a shorter shopping list. You have an EXISTING parking shortage for cars and bikes and EXISTING street conditions that don't promote safe, efficient movement for cars or bikes and peds, especially for moms with kids. The street IS designed to be a thruway, and it feels that way.

I often combine my trips to your store with lunch on
Cal. Avenue, trips to the paint store, Keeble & Shucat, former Printer's Inc. My kids love the new yoghurt shop. I looked at the plan because so many merchants seem to be up in arms about it. This plan is GREAT! It is EXACTLY what we (your customers) need to create the kind of shopping destination that I have been wishing for. I shop Cal Ave. like a mall, and it will work better with this design.

From what I can see, the proposed plan provides plenty of room for auto volume growth. (You could could more than double the current volume without creating congestion.) So...what, exactly, is the problem?

City Council, please vote YES, YES, YES. The data is so clear on this project. The more I read, the more I like it. Build it, and we (the shoppers) will come.

Like this comment
Posted by YES Too!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm

This is a great editorial and further emphasizes the overwhelming support for this project from all perspectives.

Like "Yes!" above I fully support the California Avenue Streetscape project. I think the many fine parts of the plan will greatly enhance this already great neighborhood. By the looks of it, these few items below are among the long list of great things about the new plan:

New benches
New bike racks
New signage
New transit center near the fountain
Lane reduction
New trash/recycling receptacles
New community kiosks
New bicycle sharrows
More parking
New news racks
Wider travel lanes
Enhanced crosswalks
Landscaped medians

I appreciate concerns brought forward by businesses, however, they haven't really reviewed the potentially positive impact of a lane reduction. It's hard to find where a streetscape project like this has negatively impacted the businesses in similar places. A simple read of the relevant materials shows that in almost all cases a lane reduction alone could improve California Avenue. However, this project is so much more than that.

Congrats California Avenue - you deserve this improvement.

Like this comment
Posted by Business Owner
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I'm a business owner on the street and I wasn't originally in favor of this project in early meetings with the naysayers. There were a few meetings with a bunch of emotionally charged rhetoric about how bad this will be. However, I looked into this and educated myself on the change and I realized that the whole project will be a great boon to my business. Further, a lane reduction alone won't be that much of an impact on traffic since traffic is so low. Regarding deliveries, I take them in the alley so that's not an issue. I also see the increase in parking as a benefit. And a lot of my patrons come to my store after visiting others. I suspect the opposite is true.

Regarding construction - I'm concerned about construction but the long term positive impact is more important to me. We just need to keep in touch with the city to make sure we're recognized in construction planning.

Let's make this a great neighborhood and renovate the streetscape with the lane reduction.

To my fellow business owners - read for yourself about other communities that have done similar projects. You'll see. Lots of improvement.

Like this comment
Posted by Outstanding
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm

This is great! Cant wait. I'd rather walk on Cal Ave anyways.

Like this comment
Posted by Louise
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 12, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Thanks to the Weekly for a well-thought out editorial! But why is it not visible on the Palo Alto Online home page??

If you would like your City Council members to make a decision on this issue on the basis of something other than the fear, uncertainty and doubt being spread by a few opponents, please send them a message and/or show up on Monday night to encourage them to vote yes on this project.

For more info, see the first 8 pages of the staff report for Monday's City Council meeting:
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I really don't understand this. Caltrain doesn't have the money. Palo Alto doesn't have the money.

Restaurants and parking are full so why do we need to attract more people there?

Shopping is incidental, there is nothing there to draw people to shop there. Unless you live in the neighborhood, get off/on a train or are already there to eat, why go there to shop?

Like this comment
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The California Ave Streetscape Improvement is a great project that will be good for business and customers. It has all these great benefits:
+ make the street safer for pedestrians;
+ use Share the Road pavement markings (Sharrows) to clarify to bicyclists where they should ride to avoid backing out cars, as well as to indicate to motorists to expect bikes in the road with them;
+ add pedestrian and restaurant seating area;
+ increase car parking (valued at $40,000 per on-street spot);
+ increase bike parking spots;
+ provide loading zones;

Frankly, I have yet to hear a convincing objection to this project. Some people say the the construction will hurt their business, but the street needs to be repaved anyway. If it is never repaved, and cracks and potholes grow to fill the street, won't that hurt business? The city has already said it will work with business to minimize the impact of construction; and with all the parking behind stores and alleys to get to the front, there will be plenty of access to stores even through construction.

Some fear traffic congestion from the lane reduction, but independent 3rd party analysis of traffic counts in November show negligible impact, maybe a few seconds of delay at the busiest hour. Cal Ave has 5280 cars per day, which is about one fourth the volume of University's or Arastradero's 19,000 per day. The one lane in each direction is conservatively estimated to have a capacity of 520 cars per hour, which is more than double Cal Ave's busiest time of day with only 244 cars in an hour in one direction: 4 cars a minute will not snarl traffic waiting for a car to park.

A few people say the project wastes money, but this smart $550,000 investment has strong returns:
+ leverages a $1,200,000 grant (which can't be used elsewhere)
+ adds parking valued at $520,000 to $680,000
+ reduces repaving costs by reducing the width of roadway asphalt and having a less expensive pavement material in the wider parking strips;
+ increases sales tax revenue by making the street a safer place to walk, bike, drive and come to shop.

Let Council know you support this project by sending them an email today at


Like this comment
Posted by Just-Say-No
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2011 at 5:02 pm

> make the street safer for pedestrians;

There is no evidence on the table that this short, dead-ended street is "unsafe" for pedestrians and cyclists. The City constantly throws this red-herring on the table, but never backs it up with data. Our transportation people are about as useful as doorstops when it comes to providing any evidence of what "safety" is.

> use Share the Road pavement markings (Sharrows) to clarify to
> bicyclists where they should ride to avoid backing out cars,
> as well as to indicate to motorists to expect bikes in the road with > them;

Cyclists should use their EYEs, and their God-given common sense to avoid cars. Given how irresponsible cyclists are in this town already, nothing short of a full-time crackdown on these people will make it safe for motorists to use Palo Alto streets.

> add pedestrian and restaurant seating area;

At the cost of $1.8M dollars? Reasoning like this is why governments at every level are broke!

> increase car parking (valued at $40,000 per on-street spot);

Adding 25 (or so additional spots) for $1.8M makes them a lot more expensive than $40K (which oddly is what is cited for parking garage stalls.

> increase bike parking spots;

The City could have done this a long time ago for a couple hundred dollars a bike stand. The fact that they haven't speaks volumes about the incompetence of the City's planners and P/W people, and the indifference to cyclists as shoppers by the Cal. Bus. Dist. merchants.

> provide loading zones;

With lot parking on all sides of Cal. Ave., load zones are important because? And at $1.8M???

These are the most hollow of reasons to blow this kind of money. Caltrain is broke, and VTA is broke. Caltrain will never see its "investment" repaid in increased ridership, since all Caltrain ridership is money losing. The Caltrain Board ought to be recalled, if this is where they are spending much Caltrain (read unaware taxpayers' money).

Repave the streets. Put in a few bike stands. And maybe throw a few dollars into the pot for art that will be purchased after a quorum of voters has approved the pieces in question.

The idea that Cal. Ave. is going to be a "destination" with both University Ave., Santa Cruz Ave. and Stanford Shopping Center is crazy. Maybe we should be recalling the P&T Commission too!

Just Say NO! to this crazy, unproductive use of our money!

Like this comment
Posted by south PA Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

I LOVE this project. I can't go to the meeting tonight (I have another meeting at the same time), but I hope Council will say YES!

My husband and I ran errands on Cal Avenue on Saturday this weeklend. We parked near the train station, walked to the paint store where we placed an order, ran into a friend and chatted on the sidewalk, walked to a restaurant for lunch, and then spent a little time at Leaf & Petal, and then walked back to the paint store to pick up our order. We then walked to our car. The whole time we were talking about how much nicer the street will be when the improvements are in place.

Great idea. Go! Go! Go!

Like this comment
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I grew up in this town and have noticed how this area has become an absolute eyesore~ especially when the trees were massacred.

I would love to see the whole street blocked off and filled with table and benches for outside pleasure which would also encourage foot traffic for the businesses. Outside dining would be a plus where one could actually eat without the smelling the cancerous odors of the automobiles passing by and trying to park.

The city, instead of filling in the area with cement and asphalt could erect a huge overhang over most of the area (like they have in the older part of downtown Las Vegas) and keep the area green and inviting to shoppers and visitors year round.

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 14, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Always find it interesting that the Palo Alto Weekly chimes in their two cents worth supporting every City Council and outside consultant idea even though few if any of their employees live in Palo Alto. What a pity.

Like this comment
Posted by Anna
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 14, 2011 at 10:01 pm

I am a student, and I bike through Cal ave to get to school everyday. It is so unsafe because there is no bike lane, and the cars backing out can never see bicyclists. At least once per week I am encountered with a driver who doesn't see me due to the lack of bike safety. Also, crossing 4 lanes of traffic as a pedestrian when the cars don't have a stop sign is even more dangerous, especially at night.

Less lanes would mean more sidewalk for outdoor seating, and more foot traffic for businesses, plus less fumes from cars driving by all the time.

Additionally, since the trees have been cut down (a terrible decision), the appeal of Cal ave has decreased tremendously. As a teen and shopper, I'd much rather go to University ave or somewhere else to get frozen yogurt or hang out with friends (and just because I am a teenager doesn't imply that when I hang out with friends I will make bad decisions, I am a consumer just like everyone else).

Last thing: What will happen to the Sunday farmer's market during the construction? and to follow that up, the market would be much more enjoyable on the 'new' Cal ave.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 15, 2011 at 12:17 am

Thank you to the Weekly for a great editorial. And thank you to the Palo Alto City Council for their unanimous support of the California Avenue project tonight!

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph Kott
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2011 at 6:41 am

Well done, Palo Alto City Council, for approving the enlightened plan for re-design of California Avenue!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Burger chain Shake Shack to open in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 16 comments | 4,555 views

The Cost of Service
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 1,038 views

This time we're not lying. HONEST! No, really!
By Douglas Moran | 9 comments | 632 views

Couples: When Wrong Admit It; When Right; Shut Up
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 512 views

One-on-one time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 439 views