Laurel Street Closure Poll

Late last week I released a poll — an unscientific, not statistically-valid poll — seeking feedback on how San Carlans and visitors use of downtown Laurel Street had changed as a result of the pandemic.

Here are the results (this is Powerpoint slideshow I’ll be sharing with my colleagues and the public tonight under Council member comments):

What’s the takeaway? For me, the most important one is we should be hiring someone or some firm to collect statistically valid information about how the usage of our downtown has shifted as a result of the pandemic. It makes sense to act quickly, as we did back in May by closing the downtown. There wasn’t time to study the situation in depth.

But we should’ve accompanied those actions with an effort to see how they were playing out and, more importantly, whether they were addressing the key concerns of our residents. I tried to get the Council to do that on several occasions, to no avail, despite the on-going concerns being lodged with us by the non-restaurant business owners.

I hope you’ll join me in urging the Council to start gathering real data about how the changes are being perceived. We’re way past when we should be relying on anecdotal information (even the kind contained in this poll — that’s why I said my biggest takeaway is “get good data quickly”).

The other thing that’s interesting about the feedback was in response to the “why aren’t you visiting the downtown?” question. Seventy-one percent (71%) of the responses referenced fear of Covid-19 in one form or another. Inadequate parking was cited only 19% of the time.

This tells me we need to do a better job at (a) enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing and (b) communicating the extent to which we’ve done that to the San Carlos community. Because we have done some work in this area (we could always do more) but people may not be aware of what we’ve accomplished.

6 thoughts on “Laurel Street Closure Poll”

  1. Thanks for selling out feedback on the Laurel Street closure. It’s important that we get data on the impact of the change.

    Personally, I think it’s great that the city did it because Laurel Street is such a valuable resource for the city. I think it’s great that it’s become a public square for people to stroll around and spend the day. I’d love for it to be made permanent. I hope that the businesses on the street see it the same way.

  2. Mark Olbert

    You’re welcome, Eric. I’m glad you’re enjoying the change. Please remember it isn’t benefitting all the businesses. It’s positive effects for businesses are mostly limited to restaurants. It would be sad to see Laurel Street turn into nothing but eating establishments.

  3. Please always remind people of the Cal-Train lot on El Camino Real between Arroyo and the train station. It is always nearly empty and only one block from Laurel. Gone are the days we can park in front of the business we are visiting. Thank you, Len Moore, owner, Wine Gallery, 890 Laurel St. San Carlos

  4. Mark Olbert

    Hi Len,

    Not everyone is as mobile and their interests are important, too. As are the interests of those who simply like the convenience of parking on Laurel Street. They’re no more wrong to lobby for that capability than those who would like to see the downtown closed permanently to vehicular traffic are wrong to lobby for their perspective. My sense is, while there is a shift underway towards less reliance on cars, and an increasing willingness to walk further for parking, we’re still in transition. So a transitional approach to how the downtown is configured is a better match. I can’t prove that, though, which is one of the other reasons why I think the City should’ve commissioned a better survey about peoples’ reactions to what’s being run as an experiment.

  5. I think the city should have opened the plan up to the community asking for drawings or input on how to best serve all of the retailers and not just the restaurants.
    Maybe open up half the street for one-way traffic and parking on the east side while maintaining outdoor dining on the west side of Laurel. Then take up some parking spaces on the back east side of Laurel opening dining and allowing one-way traffic in the opposite direction. Copy what S.F. has done with outdoor dining and one-way streets.

  6. Good ideas, Joanne. May I suggest you share them with the entire Council? It’s always possible to adjust the configuration we’re using.

    Although that would be complicated by staff allowing restauranteurs to build into the public parking spaces in a way that does not provide adequate safety for diners should Laurel be re-opened, even partially, to vehicular traffic. The orange water walls are okay. The structure Town built way back when are okay. But the more recent structures could not handle a vehicle plowing into them.

    I don’t know why such construction styles were allowed. It’s sort of locked us into the current approach of closing part of Laurel completely unless and until the “walls” get upgraded.

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