Downtown Mountain View is the heartbeat of our city. People from up and down the Peninsula, as well as from Mountain View, come to our Performing Arts Center, our downtown restaurants, and our businesses. Once a four-lane boulevard, Castro Street has become a destination.
In March, 2016, the Mountain View City Council, with an eye both to pedestrian safety and the anticipated increase in train traffic, signaled its support for terminating Castro at the railroad tracks and re-routing traffic onto Shoreline Blvd. The City started planning a Transit Center that would connect to Castro Street, with a bicycle/pedestrian tunnel connecting to Moffett Blvd.
At first, the proposed re-route drew opposition from downtown business owners, who felt they had not been consulted. They feared that closing the grade crossing would dampen business.
Meanwhile, some Council members proposed that the first three blocks of Castro be converted to a pedestrian mall, with cross streets open, once the grade crossing was eliminated. Numerous local residents, many of whom had enjoyed car-free downtowns in European cities they had visited, were enthusiastic. In June 2018 the city’s Environmental Sustainability Task Force endorsed the idea.
By March 2019, some downtown business leaders, having talked with city officials, had warmed to the idea of a car-free Castro Street, and the city embarked on a slow process that might have barred traffic from one block.
Then, when COVID-19 hit, restaurants were closed until June, when the County authorized outdoor dining. The Mountain View City Council voted to close Castro Street to cars between West Evelyn and Mercy. To support downtown businesses, it authorized outdoor dining on the right-of-way.
The program helped restaurants stay in business and created a popular, energetic pedestrian downtown. When in June 2021 a majority of businesses from Evelyn to California endorsed continuing the street closure, the Council voted to continue the temporary program to January 2022. The less busy fourth block, between California and Mercy, was opened.
As popular as the pedestrian downtown is, it suffers from its temporary status. The street hosts a loose collection of canopies, table, chairs, and potted plants. It’s hard to find businesses. There is no street entertainment. Businesses are subjected to archaic rules that limit their operations.
To thrive as an exciting destination after the pandemic is controlled, Castro Street needs attractive landscaping, an inviting streetscape, easy connections between parking spaces and businesses, and logical bicycle access. It needs signs that point to businesses and other facilities, both on the street and on line. The City must alter the regulations and policies that hamper its businesses as they adapt their products, services, and hours to meet the demands of their 21st Century clients and customers.
We call on the City Council to make the closure permanent and to authorize a comprehensive review of the investments and policies necessary to transform the success of the COVID-19-triggered experiment to a downtown beloved by both its merchants and its citizens.
To view and sign the petition, go to https://www.change.org/p/keep-mountain-view-s-castro-street-walkable
Photo: Runner1928, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons