Town Square

'Every seat outside would help.' Cities consider closing streets to traffic to make space for struggling restaurants

Original post made on May 13, 2020

Midpeninsula cities up are considering temporarily closing their downtown streets to traffic to give restaurants and other businesses.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 13, 2020, 9:46 AM


Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2020 at 9:54 am

Noisy indoor restaurants are a breeding ground for all airborne viruses. There are a lot less cars on the street these days. We may as well let restaurants and pedestrians use that space and enjoy the smog-free air.

Posted by A Bad Idea
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 10:11 am

This measure will only create more parking & traffic gridlock in areas not designated for 'pedestrian only' usage.

Have you ever been to one of those pedestrian (no pun intended) 'street fairs' that are held on just about every local main street during the summer?

That will give you an idea of what happens when streets are closed off to traffic. For those with other errands to run (as well as attendees), having to park blocks away is the end result & residents in the adjacent neighborhoods tend to get PO'd.

One blessing of the COVID-19 mandates...most likely, no street fairs will be held this summer which is terrific news because 'if you've been to one, you've been to them all' & most of the stuff being peddled is not that great at all.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 13, 2020 at 10:30 am

This deserves careful consideration, maybe a way to set it up temporarily as a test for two years.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 10:38 am

This should be done, I am in great favor of the idea.

I also think that hand in glove ways to help people park near the downtown areas should be implemented. The color zones, and ambiguous parking restrictions don't help. We should simplify parking so that parking in all lots and garages can be used rather than city streets.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 10:44 am

It is worth thinking about. Assuming that we actually care about preserving the restaurants that we have. They are already all too expensive for me now, anyway, and I don't see any way to bring back affordable restaurants.

Mainly, I don't see how to make it work, though, because there are (or were) too many homeless, mentally ill, substance abusers wandering the sidewalks. There needs to be a plan to keep the mentally confused physically-distanced from diners, or, it won't work. Space would have to be assigned to/rented to restaurants, making the space temporarily private.

The public owns the sidewalks and streets -- we also have to make sure that legally, the restaurants don't become -entitled- to it. 100% I don't want to privatize the sidewalks and streets.

It is an interesting concept, but, please don't think it will be legally or logistically simple.

Posted by Paly alums
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 13, 2020 at 10:53 am

Great idea! Weather dependent, obviously. Lets give it a quick trial through the fall.

Posted by commonsense
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 13, 2020 at 11:06 am

The timing couldn't be better to test this out and either implement long term or shut the door on this idea once and for all. It's also a great opportunity for the council to step up and prove they can get something done quickly. If this has to go through the normal process it will be 2022 before anything happens. So, CC, can you rise to the occasion?

Posted by Derek
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2020 at 11:26 am

This is a fantastic idea. For sure it will help minimize customers' exposure to Covid, which is currently of paramount importance in all decisions like this, but converting these main streets to pedestrian only will also be a critical factor in helping some of these small businesses survive. University may be somewhat tricky, since rerouting through side streets is more challenging, but Cal Ave should have been pedestrian only years ago. Regarding issues with homeless and substance abusers, which are completely unfounded by the way, there are plenty of ways to create semi-enclosed spaces that are outside. Europe has been doing this successfully for years. It's time to adapt.

Posted by Seth
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 13, 2020 at 12:24 pm

Good idea to close some retail / restaurant streets for expanded spaced out outdoor eating.

Also consider converting next parallel street (or two sandwiching streets) to be a parking street with some spacing for commercial deliveries and with a single one way lane for vehicle ingress and egress.

Posted by A Bad Idea
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2020 at 12:34 pm

>> Mainly, I don't see how to make it work, though, because there are (or were) too many homeless, mentally ill, substance abusers wandering the sidewalks. There needs to be a plan to keep the mentally confused physically-distanced from diners, or, it won't work.

^^^ A most valid point and consideration as loitering, panhandling, public intoxication, random verbal abuses + assault/robberies are trademarks of the homeless with mental incapacities and substance abuse issues.

This in turn will be bad for the restaurant business and the customer dining experience as a whole.

Until measures/law enforcement policies are enacted to round up disruptive homeless derelicts and jailing or institutionalizing them as needed, few diners would be willing to patronize restaurant reopenings.

Posted by Abbellezza
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 13, 2020 at 2:26 pm

This should be done, I am in great favor of the idea!!!

Let’s help and support all the amazing restaurant we love by closing California Avenue in Palo Alto!!!

How amazing would be to have no cars in the street!!!

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 13, 2020 at 2:29 pm

Most residents and workers would enjoy having a larger pedestrian-friendly area. Restaurants have been operating too close to the financial edge for a long time, and this definitely would help them.

But traffic is already on the rise, and with reduced ridership predicted for transit, I'd guess it'll be months, not years, before traffic and parking demands approach pre-COVID-19 levels.

It's always going to be a blow to the restaurants to take away seating space that they're accustomed to use. Our experience with "privatized public benefit" situations like those at Caffe Riace and St. Michael's Alley suggest that once University is converted to private restaurant space it's never going to be politically easy to turn it back into a road.

So if we go down this path, how do we prevent the adjacent neighborhoods from becoming permanent commuter roads and commercial parking lots? Are there other ways of supporting the restaurants that don't have the same risk?

Posted by rain?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2020 at 4:12 pm

CSU cancelled fall classes and schools are preparing for alternate teaching schedules in the fall. What happens when it starts to rain intermittently in the autumn? This make work temporarily for the summer, but it will cut into profits when it starts getting cold and rainy.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2020 at 4:21 pm

Paris in particular, but many other European cities are famous for their outside sidewalk cafes. Their weather is not necessarily as good as ours, but they manage with innovations such as awnings and heaters.

The problem of homeless and panhandlers is more difficult. I can remember a time in Paris when hawkers were attempting to sell their wares to tourists and those sitting at a cafe. I remember vividly how quickly they dispersed when a couple of gendarme appeared suddenly. It seems they were very afraid to continue hawking as they understood the consequences of illegal behavior so disappeared without trace in a moment.

Posted by pakin
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2020 at 4:39 pm

Makes sense to help keep restaurants afloat!

Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on May 13, 2020 at 4:47 pm

Cafes in Paris are lovely. The tables & chairs are also up against the buildings, under canopies or extended eaves, usually facing toward the street. Diners can be entertained by the passing street parade while having a quick bite.
I for one am mever going to eat a fine meal in the middle of California or University Aves. I prefer to share those with other people not part of my household. 6 feet apart? Fat chance the server manages to put plates on tables from 6 ft away.
I don't believe that all restaurant workers live alone or with immediate family members sheltering in place. Every person with whom one shares digs contributes viral particles from his own outside-the-res contacts. I also think that kitchen workers aren't as scrupulous as we'd like them to be about reporting possible exposures or contamination from their household members & as directed, recusing themselves from work.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 14, 2020 at 1:56 am

My idea for downtown has been to make Lytton and Hamilton into a kind of ring road around downtown.

Make them both one-way so traffic from Alma to 101 and 101 to Alma moves easier, and then lock off University.

Put parking structures around the ring, and eventually perhaps covers for rain and sun over University so people can make use of the outside, as this article states. Like how Stanford Mall used to have no covers over the spaces between buildings.

This could give us a long term development plan, specific places for parking and a traffic plan as well ... at least as far as Middlefield.

It could also provide business spaces for food preparers who are good, but cannot support of efford to have a place on University ... them them have small kiosks to sell stuff, like the booths we used to see in Liddicoats Market way back.

Perhaps zone that public walking space along University in a way that would encourage people businesses and not office spaces.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2020 at 6:54 am

How will people get to the restaurants if they can't drive there??? All this does is disincentivize people from going to restaurants at all. It will hurt the restaurant's business! Are customers gonna park 10 blocks away and then walk??

Moreover, there seems to be an explosion in food delivery services. No one dines out anymore. People are even more reliant on DoorDash, etc. since COVID and that's a trend that I think will remain in place long after the pandemic.

They've fantasized about transforming University ave. into the Santa Monica Promenade for a long time. I think its just trendy to "get rid of cars" and people use this opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.
This idea is sort of DOA to me and I'm confused to see everyone in this thread unanimously supporting it. Be careful what you wish for...

And then other people are blaming homeless, like, can't we just make them disappear! All we need to do is purge our streets of these foul transients, right?

Posted by Cook
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 14, 2020 at 8:04 am

I for one am longing for the time I can go to a restaurant, look at a menu, everyone in the family choose a different entree, have someone bring me the food, and then to walk away to leave someone else to clean up.

I have become an almost full time cook over the past 8 weeks. We have had some food delivered or picked up takeout. But the vast majority of the meals my family have eaten have been planned, prepared, cooked and cleaned up either by me or under my supervision. My menu is planned a week in advance and if a certain ingredient was not available when grocery shopping or has been purloined by a hungry family member when looking for a late night snack, then that item has to be missing from the dish.

In other words, I am tired of eating at home. I want to have a break. I am sure I am not alone!

Posted by Carol
a resident of College Terrace
on May 14, 2020 at 8:47 am

I think they should close California Avenue. It dead ends at the train station. Seems like the best place to start. Most tend to forget about California Avenue but it was becoming a vibrant place. This would be a good test pilot.

Posted by Close them!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 14, 2020 at 9:31 am

Make it a 2 x per week deal so it's somewhat special and draws people out.
It may take a few weeks to catch on, but I bet "Tuesday Night Dine Out" would become wildly popular.

People would park in the perimeter area. Very few spaces would be lost. Most everyone already parks on the outskirts.
People would likely ride their bikes as well...with their kids.
Sounds awful, right? LOL

Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 14, 2020 at 12:30 pm

@CrescentParkAnon "ring road" - YES, YES, YES.
As I have said before, we can experiment first w/o actually making those roads one-way. Set the timing for the lights so that a car crossing Middlefield on University can turn right on Webster, then left onto Litton and get all the way to High or Alma w/o stopping. (then left on High and right on University).
For traffic coming from Stanford on University, time the lights for a right turn onto High, left onto Hamilton, then all the way to Webster or University w/o a stop.
Perhaps a setting of 23mph would work. One could tinker with the timing to see what is best. Might vary depending on time of day. Later on we could consider actually making those stretches one-way. (Note - there is historical opposition to one-way streets).
Someone (@Colorado) posted a similar idea 1-2 weeks ago on another article. There were examples of various cities in CA and the country (Boulder) that have dome similar things.

Posted by TimR
a resident of Downtown North
on May 14, 2020 at 8:42 pm

This is basically what Pizza My Heart has been doing for years, and has continued to do during the SIP, using Lytton Plaza instead of the street for outdoor seating (people don't pay attention to those signs on the tables). Nothing wrong with providing others the ability to do the same. And CA Ave is closed every Sunday for the farmer's market, and things have been very orderly and safe there during the lockdown, including people eating at tables along the sidewalk (again, even though they're not supposed to). So it's something that works and that people like to do, plus it might chase away some of the homeless invading University Ave. It's worth trying, especially since traffic isn't an issue right now.

Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 14, 2020 at 9:39 pm

Yes! Closing downtowns for traffic should be done permanently! It’s not fun to sit outside with all the noisy traffic anyway! Would be a real improvement on quality of life. And it does not kill anyone to walk a few blocks!

Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 14, 2020 at 10:28 pm

@PA Resident: "Yes! Closing downtowns for traffic should be done permanently!"

So is this about leveraging the COVID-19 crisis to permanently change downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods, or is this about temporarily adding outdoor seating space to help out the restaurants during the time of social distancing?

Posted by YP
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2020 at 5:17 pm

Love the idea, do it a few nights a week. Great solution to help our struggling restaurants and what a joy to walk down University and see all the cafes and restaurants with people enjoying dinner. We have perhaps the greatest weather in the world for outdoor dining the next few months.

I've seen a few posts above whining about this or that, well then don't go downtown!! Stay at home in your bubble!!!

Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 18, 2020 at 6:10 pm

University Avenue should at least be permanently closed to traffic, it's so dangerous for pedestrians. Drivers can use Lytton Ave. instead.