Last night the Council asked staff to look into a couple of ideas I’d gotten from residents and business owners1:
- Allow neighborhoods to close off their block at certain times to create impromptu biking and play areas2; and,
- Temporarily close off the north few blocks of Laurel Street to create a pedestrian mall during the pandemic emergency.
The first idea could be expanded to do something like what Oakland and a few other communities are doing — creating bike corridors — but I didn’t pitch it that way out of a concern such extensive pathways would significantly impact people getting to and from their homes by car. The expanded version works better, I think, when you have longer roads that go through mostly commercial or retail areas because business traffic is pretty light given the shelter-in-place orders.
But people are certainly welcome to lobby staff and the Council for a larger scope. If you’re interested in seeing something like this happen (or you don’t want to see it happen) please get engaged. In addition to all the Council members I’d encourage you to reach out to Jeff Maltbie, our city manager, and Amy Newby, our parks & rec director, within whose purview I think the initial study work will take place.
The idea of a temporary pedestrian mall in our downtown core likely strikes at least some people as counter-intuitive. Aren’t we all supposed to be staying in our homes except when we have to go out?
Minimizing social interaction to slow the spread of Covid-19 is certainly the primary goal. But from the get go the emergency regulations have encouraged people — taking due precautions — to patronize local restaurants for take-out. People have to eat, and every meal purchased from a local restaurant is one less (or at least one shorter) visit to a grocery store.
Moreover, the authorities don’t want to harm the local economy more than is strictly necessary and food-related businesses are both a big part of our local economy and a part that is particularly sensitive to the kind of shut-down we’re doing. It’s essentially impossible for a restaurant (or other food-based business) to shift to a work-from-home model3.
The Bay Area counties stated yesterday the next round of emergency regulations will extend through the end of May and will contain certain relaxations of the current stringent focus on staying at home. What those relaxations will be hasn’t been made public4. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they would make a temporary pedestrian mall something that will make lives a little less stressed than they are today.
So if you have an opinion about the Council authorizing a temporary downtown pedestrian mall I’d encourage you to get engaged. The Council and Jeff Maltbie are good people to lobby, as will be, I suspect, Al Savay, our community and economic development director.
Thanx, Sonia, Greg and others! ↩
My neighbors south of me on Chestnut had an impromptu one the other night and it looked like the kids — and their parents — were having a blast. ↩
That applies to some other businesses as well, of course. ↩
No doubt because working out the details is fiendishly complicated: relax too much, too soon and we’ll undo much of the benefit we’ve gotten; but relax too little, too late and we’ll also undo much of the benefit because more and more people will rationalize their way around the constraints or simply stop following them. ↩