Last night the Council appointed a subcommittee (Ron & Adam) to develop ideas in three areas;
– Creating a temporary pedestrian mall on the northern few blocks of Laurel Street, the core downtown area;
– Make recommendations on if and how to implement a “slow streets” program;
– Make recommendations on streets that might be closed temporarily (e.g., for the weekend) to create bicycle recreational routes
I’ll address the first item in a separate post. The last item is, IMHO, the least likely to result in anything because it involves “big” non-residential streets (e.g., a long part of Old County Road). Closing off such a stretch of road involves a lot of issues, many of which were cited by staff in its report to the Council last night.
The “slow streets” program is far more interesting. I have to admit I didn’t “get it” when I first heard about it. But a number of other communities (e.g., Redwood City, Burlingame, San Mateo) have adopted some version of it.
Let’s start with its most important feature. “Slow streets” does not involve closing a street, either temporarily or permanently. All that’s involved is posting signage at the entrances to a stretch of road to warn drivers they’re entering a “slow street zone” where they should proceed cautiously and keep a sharp eye out for pedestrians in the roadway, bicyclists, kids playing ball, etc.
A good way to think of a “slow streets” program is as a way to reduce the speed limit on a residential street, and in such a way that drivers would be unlikely ignore the change. That’s because the signage warning them is put in the roadway; they have to slow down to get around it. But the signage doesn’t block access to the road, allowing necessary traffic1 to proceed. That’s why it doesn’t close the street2.
There are some trade-offs involved. One is that it inconveniences drivers. it might also concentrate traffic onto nearby streets3. Not all streets are amenable to it, either. Getting around the sign has to be possible but difficult (the difficult part is what causes the traffic to slow). In that sense it’s similar to the situation involving roundabouts. If a driver can whip around the signage (or whip around the roundabout) the slowing process never takes place and the risk to pedestrians and bicyclists isn’t mitigated.
I think there are a number of residential streets in San Carlos where the slow streets concept would be a good experiment to run during the pandemic and where the residents would appreciate it. There are a lot more people and bikers out and about. Slowing traffic below the normal 25 MPH limit would substantially reduce the risk of them being hit.
Moreover, one of the most common complaints I’ve gotten from residents over the years is “the traffic on my street is too fast”. The slow streets program may be a good way of responding to that long-running concern, at least during the pandemic.
If you’re interested in the “slow streets” program check out what some of our neighboring communities have done. And, whatever your views on the idea end up being, make sure you share them with the subcommittee and the Council.