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Castro Street could stay closed to traffic after the COVID-19 pandemic

A family dines outside on Castro Street on April 5. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Mountain View's experimental closure of Castro Street during the pandemic has transformed the city's downtown corridor, replacing cars and parking spaces with a pedestrian mall packed with outdoor dining spaces and heavy foot traffic.

The pilot program, dubbed Castro Streats, has been a temporary lifeline to save businesses struggling to survive amid indoor dining and shopping restrictions. And as the pandemic winds down, so too will the traffic closure. The street is slated to reopen and return to normal two weeks after the local state of emergency has been lifted.

But city officials say the future of Castro Street is anything but set in stone. If there is a groundswell of support from businesses and the community, street closures could be extended or even made permanent. The decision ultimately falls to the Mountain View City Council.

"If at a point we come to a place in the program where the wind down of the Castro Streats program is in sight and there seems to be significant support in keeping one or more of the blocks of Castro Street open for outdoor uses, staff will return to council for further direction," said Tiffany Chew, the city's business development specialist, during a panel discussion last week.

Mountain View, like many Peninsula cities, cleared the way for outdoor dining in June last year as a short-term measure to keep restaurants and other small businesses alive. Up until then, sales were largely take-out and delivery only, and many restaurants along Castro Street had little sidewalk space for socially distanced tables.

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Though the closure has evolved over time, the first four blocks of Castro Street now have a patchwork of distinct outdoor dining spaces for each business, connected by designated bike and pedestrian walkways. Lights for cross streets function as two-way stop signs.

After the first three months of the program, businesses reported anywhere from slight to significant increase in revenue -- though still fell short of sales prior to the pandemic. An online survey of customers found 70% of the respondents visited downtown multiple times since the pilot began, and that 90% felt positively about the program and wanted to see more of it in Mountain View.

Tents set up for outdoor dining on Castro Street. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The mood has been consistent since then, Chew said. Surveys in December found that a majority of businesses preferred to keep Castro Street closed even as county public health officials reinstated outdoor dining prohibitions, and a survey last month found businesses are still making more revenue since the start of the program.

At the same time, Chew said there is a minority of business owners who have asked for Castro Street to reopen. The way their customers travel to downtown Mountain View and the need for deliveries have made the street closure a hindrance rather than a help, she said.

Any decision to make the closures permanent would need "extensive outreach" with the downtown businesses, Chew said, to better gauge the interest in creating a pedestrian mall absent a global pandemic. The Castro Streats program was designed with COVID-19 in mind, and the ever-shifting public health rules under the state's four-tiered system. If that outreach comes back with overwhelming support to keep Castro closed, the city could consider extending the program or making it permanent.

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Doing that kind of outreach seems premature right now, however, with many businesses narrowly focused on operating during a public health crisis, said Dawn Cameron, the city's public works director.

"Right now they are focused on their day-to-day survival with the restrictions in place," Cameron said.

Peter Katz, president and CEO of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, said it's tough to say where the downtown businesses will land on a permanent closure. While restaurants with limited outdoor space have benefited from the pilot, there are some that say the loss of vehicle access on Castro Street has curbed foot traffic. As much as the city likes to tout itself as a pedestrian-friendly destination, many people still use their cars to visit downtown Mountain View, he said.

A car drives by outdoor dining areas on Castro Street on April 5. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

As for traffic, Cameron said there have been no complaints or observed backups on Shoreline Boulevard and other roads that serve as alternate routes to Castro Street. The downtown corridor and nearby streets form a tight grid pattern, she said, which makes it easy for traffic to divert and disburse. Traffic accidents on Castro Street have also declined significantly during the program, with six collisions reported between July 2020 and March 2021, according to data from the Mountain View Police Department. By comparison, there were 18 collisions between July 2019 and March 2020.

The results aren't all too surprising. In an entirely separate project, the city is currently studying closing Castro Street at the Caltrain tracks, replacing access from Moffett Boulevard with a bike and pedestrian undercrossing. The traffic study for the proposal found no significant impacts to traffic in the area.

The caveat is that fewer people are on the road during the pandemic. Traffic volumes are way down during COVID-19, and many of the office-based downtown spaces remain dormant as employees work from home. It's unclear if the street closures would cause traffic snarls and parking problems once commuters return to Castro Street.

"It would be difficult to predict how traffic patterns would be impacted by these blocks being closed," Cameron said.

In the immediate term, city officials are expected to seek the City Council's approval next week to waive sidewalk cafe permit fees, which allows businesses to apply to operate outdoors free of charge. Applying for a permit wasn't necessary so long as Castro Street remained closed under the pilot, but would become important for an eventual reopening.

People dine outside at Eureka! on Castro Street. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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Castro Street could stay closed to traffic after the COVID-19 pandemic

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Apr 6, 2021, 1:09 pm

Mountain View's experimental closure of Castro Street during the pandemic has transformed the city's downtown corridor, replacing cars and parking spaces with a pedestrian mall packed with outdoor dining spaces and heavy foot traffic.

The pilot program, dubbed Castro Streats, has been a temporary lifeline to save businesses struggling to survive amid indoor dining and shopping restrictions. And as the pandemic winds down, so too will the traffic closure. The street is slated to reopen and return to normal two weeks after the local state of emergency has been lifted.

But city officials say the future of Castro Street is anything but set in stone. If there is a groundswell of support from businesses and the community, street closures could be extended or even made permanent. The decision ultimately falls to the Mountain View City Council.

"If at a point we come to a place in the program where the wind down of the Castro Streats program is in sight and there seems to be significant support in keeping one or more of the blocks of Castro Street open for outdoor uses, staff will return to council for further direction," said Tiffany Chew, the city's business development specialist, during a panel discussion last week.

Mountain View, like many Peninsula cities, cleared the way for outdoor dining in June last year as a short-term measure to keep restaurants and other small businesses alive. Up until then, sales were largely take-out and delivery only, and many restaurants along Castro Street had little sidewalk space for socially distanced tables.

Though the closure has evolved over time, the first four blocks of Castro Street now have a patchwork of distinct outdoor dining spaces for each business, connected by designated bike and pedestrian walkways. Lights for cross streets function as two-way stop signs.

After the first three months of the program, businesses reported anywhere from slight to significant increase in revenue -- though still fell short of sales prior to the pandemic. An online survey of customers found 70% of the respondents visited downtown multiple times since the pilot began, and that 90% felt positively about the program and wanted to see more of it in Mountain View.

The mood has been consistent since then, Chew said. Surveys in December found that a majority of businesses preferred to keep Castro Street closed even as county public health officials reinstated outdoor dining prohibitions, and a survey last month found businesses are still making more revenue since the start of the program.

At the same time, Chew said there is a minority of business owners who have asked for Castro Street to reopen. The way their customers travel to downtown Mountain View and the need for deliveries have made the street closure a hindrance rather than a help, she said.

Any decision to make the closures permanent would need "extensive outreach" with the downtown businesses, Chew said, to better gauge the interest in creating a pedestrian mall absent a global pandemic. The Castro Streats program was designed with COVID-19 in mind, and the ever-shifting public health rules under the state's four-tiered system. If that outreach comes back with overwhelming support to keep Castro closed, the city could consider extending the program or making it permanent.

Doing that kind of outreach seems premature right now, however, with many businesses narrowly focused on operating during a public health crisis, said Dawn Cameron, the city's public works director.

"Right now they are focused on their day-to-day survival with the restrictions in place," Cameron said.

Peter Katz, president and CEO of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, said it's tough to say where the downtown businesses will land on a permanent closure. While restaurants with limited outdoor space have benefited from the pilot, there are some that say the loss of vehicle access on Castro Street has curbed foot traffic. As much as the city likes to tout itself as a pedestrian-friendly destination, many people still use their cars to visit downtown Mountain View, he said.

As for traffic, Cameron said there have been no complaints or observed backups on Shoreline Boulevard and other roads that serve as alternate routes to Castro Street. The downtown corridor and nearby streets form a tight grid pattern, she said, which makes it easy for traffic to divert and disburse. Traffic accidents on Castro Street have also declined significantly during the program, with six collisions reported between July 2020 and March 2021, according to data from the Mountain View Police Department. By comparison, there were 18 collisions between July 2019 and March 2020.

The results aren't all too surprising. In an entirely separate project, the city is currently studying closing Castro Street at the Caltrain tracks, replacing access from Moffett Boulevard with a bike and pedestrian undercrossing. The traffic study for the proposal found no significant impacts to traffic in the area.

The caveat is that fewer people are on the road during the pandemic. Traffic volumes are way down during COVID-19, and many of the office-based downtown spaces remain dormant as employees work from home. It's unclear if the street closures would cause traffic snarls and parking problems once commuters return to Castro Street.

"It would be difficult to predict how traffic patterns would be impacted by these blocks being closed," Cameron said.

In the immediate term, city officials are expected to seek the City Council's approval next week to waive sidewalk cafe permit fees, which allows businesses to apply to operate outdoors free of charge. Applying for a permit wasn't necessary so long as Castro Street remained closed under the pilot, but would become important for an eventual reopening.

Comments

KL
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2021 at 1:41 pm
KL, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Castro Street feels so much livelier with the outdoor dining setup. I've been really encouraged by the greater sense of community downtown during this pandemic. It'd be a huge shame to shut it down, especially if the traffic can tolerate the street closure. Make this permanent please!


A Talking Cat
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2021 at 1:55 pm
A Talking Cat, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 1:55 pm

YES! Please please keep Castro Street closed. The pedestrian-friendly, European-style, outdoor space that's there now is SO nice. Much better than risking death every time you cross the street. Plus, you can fit two or three tables of people outside, in the same space that a single car takes up in a parking spot.


AC
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Apr 6, 2021 at 2:20 pm
AC, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 2:20 pm

It's been working well. As they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

Besides, this seems a better implementation than the street closure proposal from a few years ago.


Karen G
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2021 at 3:14 pm
Karen G, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 3:14 pm

I've felt more connected to people with the downtown walkable. It's slower, nicer, easier to stop and notice things. I think it's helped the businesses very much. Most of the downtown businesses have back entrances for pick-up or delivery, which should really help. Many of us have traveled through Europe and loved the car-free pedestrian city centers. I'd love to see this one street - or a good batch of blocks - remain free of traffic. How lovely to dine outdoors, and stroll without car noise and smells. Thanks to the City for giving permission to make it happen. A great experiment, and a hope for the future.


Alex M
Registered user
Willowgate
on Apr 6, 2021 at 3:28 pm
Alex M, Willowgate
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 3:28 pm

I sure hope Castro remains a pedestrian-only mall. It's been great.

Even without the pandemic, Castro would get closed on a regular basis for events. Every other week in the summertime, I recall. It worked OK then being closed to cars, it's working OK now, so don't change it.


Concerned
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Apr 6, 2021 at 3:34 pm
Concerned, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 3:34 pm

Keep it closed - but have some design elements so it is not an unattractive mismatch of everything. It needs to be transformed into an elegant European-style pedestrian boulevard.


DG
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2021 at 3:40 pm
DG, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 3:40 pm

It's funny that with so much energy around the green revolution, people a pushing for more cars rather than fewer. You'd think a pedestrian area would be just what the doctor ordered. With great free parking a block away, walking to a quiet tree-lined street does not seem like a big hardship. It's so nice to stroll Castro without dodging cars, noise, and fumes. And eating outdoors is not so great with noisy polluting cars right nearby. Please keep Castro closed!


MV Resident
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2021 at 4:51 pm
MV Resident, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 4:51 pm

"As much as the city likes to tout itself as a pedestrian-friendly destination, many people still use their cars to visit downtown Mountain View." who are these people who will only visit Castro street if they can find one of the approximately two dozen street parking spaces vs the hundreds upon hundreds in garages and on side streets? This would eliminate nearly zero actual parking spaces, and the effect it's had on making Castro a pedestrian boulevard is fantastic!


Jeff
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Apr 6, 2021 at 4:51 pm
Jeff, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 4:51 pm

I actually prefer allowing cars but, if that is not to be, then please allow bikes to ride on Castro Street also.

Thanks,
Jeff


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Apr 6, 2021 at 4:59 pm
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 4:59 pm

I agree that Castro St would be lovely to bike down, if a bike lane can be consistently and safely included in the layout. This winter, the bollards and tables actually made it harder for me to bike down Castro St with my toddler in tow than it was to bike down it amongst car traffic.


Jeremy Hoffman
Registered user
Rengstorff Park
on Apr 6, 2021 at 5:01 pm
Jeremy Hoffman, Rengstorff Park
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Cars take up so much SPACE. And parked cars don't even do anything, they just sit there. Castro St is a much nicer downtown if that space is occupied by humans.


SallyVP
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Apr 6, 2021 at 5:25 pm
SallyVP, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 5:25 pm

I hope that city staff will survey residents in MV as well as businesses on Castro to gauge how people feel about keeping Castro closed. I prefer it closed. The businesses should not be the only ones who get a say in the decision.


Ramone
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2021 at 5:49 pm
Ramone, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 5:49 pm

I also hope it stays closed, and that businesses will create some more attractive semi-permanent outdoor areas. Curious what that would mean for festivals? Would the festivals still take over Castro and replace the restaurant seating for the weekend, or might the festival move over a block?


Lenny Siegel2
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2021 at 7:17 pm
Lenny Siegel2, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 7:17 pm

It's time to ask HOW, not WHETHER, to convert Castro Street into a permanent car-free zone. How will deliveries be made? Is there a place for bikes? Where will festivals take place? How should public and private spaces be demarcated? To what degree should Castro serve businesses on side streets? What will the permanent streetscape look like?

There are a few models in the U.S, but plenty more overseas. Let's learn from them.


minor character
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2021 at 7:35 pm
minor character, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 7:35 pm

It is lovely space without cars. People can easily reach Castro Street by car, park a block away and go on foot from there. I've actually visited more of the retail (frame shop, Books Inc. and Ava's), since it is so convenient to walk down the center of the street. Eating outdoors has also been really nice, even in the middle of winter. We used to dine outdoors pre-pandemic too, with cars driving by, but that was much less pleasant. Hope the city won't open Castro St. back up to car traffic.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Apr 6, 2021 at 8:01 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 8:01 pm

I'm all for closing permanently some blocks of Castro to traffic (cars and also bikes actually) to make it a true pedestrian mall (cars and bikes can easily park at the periphery). If the primary use will remain for outdoor dining, I'd like to see more room for pedestrians (in a few areas, tables take so much space that it's actually difficult to walk around them). Also tables should probably be moved back inside at night to allow for morning deliveries and street cleaning. As to festivals, move them closer to El Camino?


Maria McCauley
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2021 at 8:19 pm
Maria McCauley, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 8:19 pm

I love Castro with no cars! It feels safer as a pedestrian, more enjoyable, and is less noisy. The sidewalks were too crowded when so much public space was given to parking and traffic.


Bill Mark
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2021 at 9:43 pm
Bill Mark, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 9:43 pm

I also like Casto Street with no cars. There's not even any significant downside for drivers. In the past, even when Castro St. was open to cars, I avoided it whenever possible when driving. I would use the parallel side streets instead, which were less congested and have better access to parking lots and garages. Likewise for the intersection of Castro with Central, where I once waited for about 10 minutes at the light for four different trains to pass before I could go through the intersection.


Roland
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 6, 2021 at 10:13 pm
Roland, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 6, 2021 at 10:13 pm

I definitely support keeping Castro closed permanently, and in fact I would suggest considering closing Dana and Villa between Wild Cherry and Blossom, to create a longer uninterrupted pedestrian stretch on Castro and open up some space for businesses on side streets.


Vaccine sites NOT bureaucracy!!!
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Apr 7, 2021 at 7:13 am
Vaccine sites NOT bureaucracy!!!, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Apr 7, 2021 at 7:13 am

ABSOLUTELY AGREE WITH THIS COMMENT. “Keep it closed - but have some design elements so it is not an unattractive mismatch of everything. It needs to be transformed into an elegant European-style pedestrian boulevard.”

The public works signs and barriers are UGLY. In addition there are no design standards. This is the centerpiece of our city make it an attractive destination.


Mitch Cumstein
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Apr 7, 2021 at 10:22 am
Mitch Cumstein, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Apr 7, 2021 at 10:22 am

Yup - keep it closed! The COVID beta test has been a roaring success.

I would agree that keeping a lane for bike access is sensible - let's not force bikers to weave around tables and onto sidewalks.


Polomom
Registered user
Waverly Park
on Apr 8, 2021 at 11:27 am
Polomom, Waverly Park
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 11:27 am

@Jeremy Hoffman and @Mitch Cumstein : As a regular user of the Stevens Creek Trail I can only hope there will be no dedicated bike lane on the 3 blocks that make up the closed off section of Castro. Bicyclists should be asked to push their bikes those blocks and park their bikes in designated areas. As Stevens Creek Trail shows nobody cares about speed limits and the motorized bikes/scooters and skate boards are flying by the pedestrians. I grew up with pedestrian only inner cities, deliveries are managed in the early mornings all during the same time. Tables and chairs get pushed aside overnight for a.m. street cleaning and bicyclists have to push their bikes through the closed off sections. Salt Lake City implemented a pedestrian friendly downtown over the last 10 years, might be an example closer than Europe.


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