As Mountain View prepares to close off Castro Street at the Caltrain tracks, city officials are asking the public to chime in on the future vision for downtown and whether it ought to have cars at all.
At an open-house event Tuesday evening, residents were invited to consider three options for changes to the first block of Castro Street, all of which call for eliminating parking and expanding space for bicyclists and pedestrians. The key differences came down to how much to accommodate cars, ranging from preserving two-way vehicle traffic on Castro Street to closing traffic and outright moving Evelyn Avenue out of the way to make room for more outdoor space.
Mountain View has planned since 2016 to close Castro Street at the Caltrain tracks in order to accommodate a spike in Caltrain service, spurred by both electrification and high-speed rail. Once the street was closed at Central Expressway, the plan was to turn the 100 block of Castro Street into some type of pedestrian mall, though there were few details at the time on what it would look like.
Of the three options now up for consideration, one calls for keeping a 24-foot-wide road down the center of the 100 block of Castro Street for vehicles, with large 16-foot areas for "streetlife" on either side -- areas for outdoor dining and other pedestrian uses. Another would remove the vehicle lanes from Evelyn Avenue to Villa Street, creating a pedestrian-only plaza and more room for bike and pedestrian travel.
A third option, considered the most extensive and costly, would realign Evelyn Avenue in order to extend the pedestrian promenade to the Mountain View Transit Center and a short distance east on Evelyn.
Polling at the open house -- done via blue stickers on poster boards -- showed attendees overwhelmingly favored the third option, with residents calling out the need for traffic safety and a more urban design that shifts the emphasis away from cars. Keeping vehicle traffic on Castro Street polled badly, with the vast majority signaling they were very concerned with the option.
Despite the potential for closing off part of Castro Street to cars, a traffic analysis found that all three options would have a minimal impact on traffic in the area. The greater downtown corridor in Mountain View has numerous side streets and nearby thoroughfares like Shoreline Boulevard, making it easy for drivers to navigate around the street closure. City officials say the plan is to take in feedback from the community on all three options before taking it to the City Council to weigh in this fall.
Revamping the 100 block of Castro Street had been in the cards since before the COVID-19 pandemic and the city's ensuing decision to temporarily close off Castro to vehicle traffic, and the project is being treated independently of the ongoing debate over whether to keep the street closed indefinitely. The temporary street closure had a muted effect for businesses on the 400 block of Castro Street -- which includes the Bay Plaza building, Cascal and Scratch -- but boosted foot traffic and sales for restaurants on the first three blocks of Castro Street.
The city's pedestrian mall study for the first block of Castro Street is instead intertwined with plans to redesign the Mountain View Transit Center, which includes a massive overhaul aimed at helping bicyclists and pedestrians get across Central Expressway with the road closed and trains whizzing by at higher frequencies. To that end, the city is planning to build a Y-shaped bike and pedestrian undercrossing that links Castro Street to Moffett Boulevard and Stierlin Road.
City officials say there were already 300 bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the street during the busiest commute hours prior to the pandemic, and future growth could ratchet that up to 1,000 people -- necessitating new infrastructure to help get them to the transit center. The undercrossing, along with other improvements including a vehicle ramp from Evelyn Avenue to Shoreline Boulevard, is expected to cost $80 million, with construction tentatively set to begin in spring 2023.