News

Castro Street's car-free future

City prepares plans for walkable downtown after closing road at train tracks

At what some describe as a make-or-break juncture for downtown Mountain View, the city is pressing ahead with plans to steer Castro Street toward a pedestrian-friendly future.

At its Tuesday, Dec. 10, meeting, the City Council approved a new set of studies for closing off Castro Street at the Caltrain tracks and potentially blocking off sections of the street to traffic and creating a pedestrian promenade.

In 2016, city leaders decided closing off Castro Street was the best option available to preserve the character of downtown while performing needed upgrades to the train crossing. As Caltrain prepares to launch faster and more frequent train service, Mountain View and other Peninsula cities have been urged to prepare grade separation projects, removing locations where auto traffic crosses over the train tracks.

The most obvious way to accomplish this, tunneling Castro Street under the train line, was expected to cost $120 million, and city officials decided it would be too expensive and disruptive. Instead, they favored a cheaper alternative to block off Castro Street at Central Expressway and build a new underpass for pedestrians and cyclists. Vehicle traffic heading into downtown would instead be routed along Shoreline Boulevard to Evelyn Avenue.

Now three years later, the plan remains controversial among downtown residents and business owners. Skeptics have warned that if plans are poorly implemented, it could ruin the charm of Mountain View's downtown.

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Those concerns popped up again on Tuesday night, as council members reviewed a new environmental study for their multifaceted plans for the Castro area. The study, a mitigated negative declaration, essentially served as an official report affirming that the disruptive impacts caused by the Castro Street project would ultimately be balanced out. Barely anyone at the meeting disputed the study's findings, but the report still elicited many familiar concerns that fiddling with the layout of Mountain View's successful downtown carries big risks.

Councilwoman Alison Hicks, who previously worked as a city planner, did not mince words to describe what's at stake.

"I see the grade separation and underpass, it could potentially wreck the walkability of the downtown, or be an opportunity to make it much better," she said. "As we change the traffic situation ... how will that interface with the most popular walkable block in the city?"

Public works Director Dawn Cameron fielded questions about the project as best she could, although she pointed out that many aspects are still undetermined. By next spring, city engineers expect to be one-third finished with the design for the project. Part of the uncertainty is that Mountain View is still negotiating an agreement with Caltrain and the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which is expected to be signed by March. Once that three-way deal is finished, the grade separation project can move into its final design, with plans to begin construction in 2022. In any event, the city will eventually face a hard deadline to close off Castro Street because the train service will become so frequent that cars will no longer be able to cross, Cameron said.

For the project, Cameron pointed out the city should be able to make use of $60 million in VTA funding collected under the 2016 Measure B sales tax initiative. She said that Mountain View is well ahead of Palo Alto and Menlo Park in preparing its grade separation infrastructure.

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"VTA said to us that since we're so far along, they'll consider us first in line for the funding," she said. "They've committed to funding this grade separation, but they haven't committed to the timing."

During the same meeting, the City Council also commissioned a new study to explore transforming a section of Castro Street into a pedestrian plaza. When complete, the study is expected to provide a variety of options for improving the pedestrian experience, which could involve a full or partial closure to vehicle traffic. The study is expected to focus on the 100 block of Castro, between Evelyn Avenue south to Villa Street.

After screening different planning firms, city officials decided to hire the San Francisco-based Gehl Studio for the study, at a cost of $265,000. The work plan for the study is expected to include up to three public meetings next year, and the City Council is expected to review a draft report by Gehl by in June.

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Castro Street's car-free future

City prepares plans for walkable downtown after closing road at train tracks

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 12, 2019, 3:33 pm

At what some describe as a make-or-break juncture for downtown Mountain View, the city is pressing ahead with plans to steer Castro Street toward a pedestrian-friendly future.

At its Tuesday, Dec. 10, meeting, the City Council approved a new set of studies for closing off Castro Street at the Caltrain tracks and potentially blocking off sections of the street to traffic and creating a pedestrian promenade.

In 2016, city leaders decided closing off Castro Street was the best option available to preserve the character of downtown while performing needed upgrades to the train crossing. As Caltrain prepares to launch faster and more frequent train service, Mountain View and other Peninsula cities have been urged to prepare grade separation projects, removing locations where auto traffic crosses over the train tracks.

The most obvious way to accomplish this, tunneling Castro Street under the train line, was expected to cost $120 million, and city officials decided it would be too expensive and disruptive. Instead, they favored a cheaper alternative to block off Castro Street at Central Expressway and build a new underpass for pedestrians and cyclists. Vehicle traffic heading into downtown would instead be routed along Shoreline Boulevard to Evelyn Avenue.

Now three years later, the plan remains controversial among downtown residents and business owners. Skeptics have warned that if plans are poorly implemented, it could ruin the charm of Mountain View's downtown.

Those concerns popped up again on Tuesday night, as council members reviewed a new environmental study for their multifaceted plans for the Castro area. The study, a mitigated negative declaration, essentially served as an official report affirming that the disruptive impacts caused by the Castro Street project would ultimately be balanced out. Barely anyone at the meeting disputed the study's findings, but the report still elicited many familiar concerns that fiddling with the layout of Mountain View's successful downtown carries big risks.

Councilwoman Alison Hicks, who previously worked as a city planner, did not mince words to describe what's at stake.

"I see the grade separation and underpass, it could potentially wreck the walkability of the downtown, or be an opportunity to make it much better," she said. "As we change the traffic situation ... how will that interface with the most popular walkable block in the city?"

Public works Director Dawn Cameron fielded questions about the project as best she could, although she pointed out that many aspects are still undetermined. By next spring, city engineers expect to be one-third finished with the design for the project. Part of the uncertainty is that Mountain View is still negotiating an agreement with Caltrain and the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which is expected to be signed by March. Once that three-way deal is finished, the grade separation project can move into its final design, with plans to begin construction in 2022. In any event, the city will eventually face a hard deadline to close off Castro Street because the train service will become so frequent that cars will no longer be able to cross, Cameron said.

For the project, Cameron pointed out the city should be able to make use of $60 million in VTA funding collected under the 2016 Measure B sales tax initiative. She said that Mountain View is well ahead of Palo Alto and Menlo Park in preparing its grade separation infrastructure.

"VTA said to us that since we're so far along, they'll consider us first in line for the funding," she said. "They've committed to funding this grade separation, but they haven't committed to the timing."

During the same meeting, the City Council also commissioned a new study to explore transforming a section of Castro Street into a pedestrian plaza. When complete, the study is expected to provide a variety of options for improving the pedestrian experience, which could involve a full or partial closure to vehicle traffic. The study is expected to focus on the 100 block of Castro, between Evelyn Avenue south to Villa Street.

After screening different planning firms, city officials decided to hire the San Francisco-based Gehl Studio for the study, at a cost of $265,000. The work plan for the study is expected to include up to three public meetings next year, and the City Council is expected to review a draft report by Gehl by in June.

Comments

A Talking Cat
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Dec 12, 2019 at 8:40 pm
A Talking Cat, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 12, 2019 at 8:40 pm

This is great news! I’m happy to hear the plan to make downtown more pedestrian friendly is coming along.


Resident
Old Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:15 am
Resident, Old Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2019 at 10:15 am

I find the thought of a pedestrian promenade to be quite appealing, as someone who lives on the "right" side of the tracks, but I have also lived in this city for a long time, and based on experience, I expect the city planners to do precisely the wrong thing on every decision to make a nice promenade. Maybe I'm just old and cynical now...


Fair
Monta Loma
on Dec 13, 2019 at 11:39 am
Fair, Monta Loma
on Dec 13, 2019 at 11:39 am

"...was the best option available to preserve the character of downtown..." Really?

The character of downtown Mountain View is long gone. What we have left is essentially a massive food court. Corporations and the city of Mt. View have dropkicked all of our unique Mom & Pop businesses and restaurants right to the curb.


Cheapest option
Jackson Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 1:41 pm
Cheapest option, Jackson Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 1:41 pm

Instead of running super expensive studies, why not use some cones and block off Castro for a week or two as a pilot (similar to what is done for Art and Wine festival but only blocking what will be blocked in the plan being proposed) The signals will still work so pedestrians and bikes can still cross with building an underpass and we can easily and quickly learn what blocking cars will do to the vibrancy of downtown.


MV Renter
Shoreline West
on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:58 pm
MV Renter, Shoreline West
on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:58 pm

I suggested just what "Cheapest option" said at the City Council Meeting three years ago. It's not hard to pilot the program in real-life and assess the impact. Pylons are cheap, and tickets could be plentiful. Start doing it on the weekends. Win-win.


Dan Waylonis
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:01 pm
Dan Waylonis, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:01 pm

I agree with @Cheapest option. Close the connector over the train tracks with some barriers and pylons. Route traffic to Evelyn and Shoreline and see how it goes. And then fine tune the plan.

I also think the underpass for pedestrians is way too much cost and effort with little to gain.


Me
North Whisman
on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:06 pm
Me, North Whisman
on Dec 13, 2019 at 3:06 pm

Ugh.

I feel like they're going to create a "vibrant pedestrian area" ... that no one will ever go to because people don't walk here and doing this won't make them. Downtown already has huge issues with parking, and I already do my best to avoid it except during off-peak times ... changes like this are only going to drive me and everyone I know even further away.

Just fix Castro/Moffet properly, with an *car* underpass.


I'll be there
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:00 pm
I'll be there, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:00 pm

I love this idea. LOVE the idea of the pedestrian only zone.
Just think how nice coffee or dining on the street would be if lines of cars weren't constantly idling 5 feet from you!
It would also be a noticeably quieter area...sounds like a good stress reduction zone, haha. Bring it!


Walker
North Bayshore
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:14 pm
Walker, North Bayshore
on Dec 13, 2019 at 4:14 pm

A great idea. It will make Castro Street unique and a go to destination.


John B
another community
on Dec 13, 2019 at 8:09 pm
John B, another community
on Dec 13, 2019 at 8:09 pm

I'm from Europe, and live in East Palo Alto and there are plenty of pedestrians zones in Europe and it's just an amazing feeling to be walking, shopping and dining in a pedestrian zone. I can't wait for a pedestrian zone near home.

Hopefully Palo Alto will also turn downtown pedestrian!


Rodger
Sylvan Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:02 pm
Rodger, Sylvan Park
on Dec 13, 2019 at 9:02 pm

This is a great idea but is too limited in scope , i think more of downtown should be plaza not just a block or two of Castro street.
I spent a couple of weeks in late August and early September in Umea Sweden. They have many blocks of down town built as a plaza, no curbs, no cars, just bikes and people walking. Umea has all kinds of shops plus restaurants of course. I loved it and would like to find a similar place in the US why not turn Mountain View into this wonderful design. The City should send a couple of planners to Umea to get ideas. One interesting feature of Umea which we don’t need is the plaza is heated in the winter to melt snow and ice!


Cv
Old Mountain View
on Dec 14, 2019 at 12:38 pm
Cv, Old Mountain View
on Dec 14, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Pedestrian zone is great, but how are people going to get there? This will take away a few more precious parking spots in addition to all the parking that will disappear during planned construction (e.g. hotel and office building at evelyn/castro that do not have enough parking). Sure, people could park in the local streets and walk...but it will turn off a lot of people from visiting, businesses will suffer and then there's not much to visit in the pedestrian zone. Locals will also get upset when they can't easily park in front of their homes, may insist on more parking permits and further restrict parking. The city needs to consider more parking areas. Web Link Web Link


amused
Castro City
on Dec 14, 2019 at 2:53 pm
amused, Castro City
on Dec 14, 2019 at 2:53 pm

It's endlessly amusing listening to a bunch of posters...of a certain generation... who simply can't wrap their minds around people getting anywhere without their cars. Rather than invest in public transit, they think we should throw even more money at the Almighty Car and give away free parking. What a precious group of people...


Rossta
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Dec 14, 2019 at 3:59 pm
Rossta, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Dec 14, 2019 at 3:59 pm

Glad to see this continuing to make its way along at a snails pace. It will be great when it is finished and businesses adjust to the new configuration.

For those thinking we should just block off the tracks and streets to see how it works, well, that isn't how it will work. A big part of the delay in doing this is for construction of a connector ramp from Evelyn up to the Shoreline overpass to get cars out of the downtown area and replace the tracks crossing.


Cv
Old Mountain View
on Dec 14, 2019 at 5:40 pm
Cv, Old Mountain View
on Dec 14, 2019 at 5:40 pm

We need to get creative and find a middle ground between cars and public transit. California was built around cars and public transit is years away from being efficient. Castro street is attracting new developments, which is great, but if it makes it hard for car drivers to visit, businesses will suffer. I work and live here and have noticed over the years my friends/co-workers and I visit Castro street less and less because it is a pain to find parking. Yes, it would be great to hop on a bus or train or maybe a self driving car that can take to me to Castro but that will take time.


Works for Chamber of Commerce
Shoreline West
on Dec 15, 2019 at 5:58 pm
Works for Chamber of Commerce, Shoreline West
on Dec 15, 2019 at 5:58 pm

What's good for business is good for America - I mean Mountain View. Sure it is.


Not a troll:) or a Boomer
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2019 at 8:37 pm
Not a troll:) or a Boomer, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2019 at 8:37 pm
DoctorData
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Dec 16, 2019 at 7:40 am
DoctorData, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2019 at 7:40 am

@“Me”

> “ changes like this are only going to drive me and everyone I know even further away.”

“No one goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”


Patrick Neschleba
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Dec 16, 2019 at 2:46 pm
Patrick Neschleba, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Dec 16, 2019 at 2:46 pm

I've been visiting downtown MV for over 20 years & can probably count on one hand the number of times I actually parked on Castro or used it to get around by car north of California Street. The formula is simple: use Shoreline to get close, park a block off Castro, take the tunnels, and go have a good time.

Posters here are spot-on that Europe has the pedestrian mall concept nailed. Think about Castro Street with small kiosks (or wine bars!) down the center... or a massive outdoor eating area for whichever restaurant is knocking it out of the park. Have a permanent busking area for musicians. Add a little more parking, preferably underground. Make the area even more of a destination! Right now the closest thing we have to this is Santana Row, which is a pain to get to in the evenings, and besides don't we want MV businesses to take our money instead? :)


Old Steve
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Dec 17, 2019 at 11:54 am
Old Steve, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2019 at 11:54 am

Folks, We understand that some folks can't get around without our personal car. Most of us though just need to get over ourselves. Walk, Bike, Hail a ride, MVGO Community Shuttle, VTA from further way...

So many ways to get there without having to park.


Linda Curtis
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Dec 17, 2019 at 3:54 pm
Linda Curtis, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Dec 17, 2019 at 3:54 pm

For those thinking they like this idea for now will hate it when they are old and crippled like me. As I can only walk about 30 steps at a time, through no fault of my own, I & many other seniors, etc., will be cut off from downtown enjoyment. It is what I moved here for & these changes break my heart! Please DON’T DO IT! Do not mess with success!!


Old Steve
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Dec 18, 2019 at 3:06 pm
Old Steve, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2019 at 3:06 pm

We understand that folks who use their cars and a ADA placard will have less access. In the 100 block there is already no parking generally. That is the only block in question. As train frequency increases, traffic at Moffett/Castro/Central will get worse. Many alternatives have been studied, this one has been selected by the City and mostly funded by the VTA.


Greg David
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Dec 18, 2019 at 4:37 pm
Greg David, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 18, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Whatever plan is finally put in place you can count on the city to completely miss the mark and make things worse. Latest case in point is the free valet parking. Why on earth would you spend money on labor to park someone's car 50 feet from where they drop it off two blocks from Castro? The concept of valet parking is to allow people to drive to the "front door" of where they are going and have the valet do the walking to get park and retrieve the car. It makes as much sense as their utterly failed attempt to limit street parking and charge for lot parking on 49er game days. Nothing but wasted money. I guess we need to spend the budget surplus on something. Never mind unfunded pensions...


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