Street design and walkway improvements along a San Carlos portion of El Camino Real not only brought a much-needed facelift to the corridor, they also won the city an award this year.
A San Carlos streetscape project caught the attention of those working on the Grand Boulevard Initiative, a regional effort to improve the otherwise desolate stretch of thoroughfare connecting cities across the Peninsula.
Updates to the streetscape at the intersection of El Camino Real and Arroyo Avenue included replacing a left-turn lane with a tree-filled median, widened sidewalks, colored crosswalks and a small plaza with benches at a major intersection connecting pedestrian and bicycle traffic from San Carlos’ downtown and transit centers.
Though the changes may appear minor in comparison to other Peninsula developments, they are paving the way for the future look and feel of El Camino Real. The Grand Boulevard Initiative is leading the charge to reimagine and improve the major thoroughfare’s functionality, safety and aesthetics.
The effort is a collaboration between 19 cities and local agencies through which El Camino Real runs, from Daly City to San Jose, according to the initiative’s website.
At an awards ceremony earlier this month, a task force within the Grand Boulevard Initiative recognized the San Carlos streetscape as one of five projects or plans embodying 10 guiding principles set forth by member agencies that define the Grand Boulevard Initiative vision.
The priorities along the corridor include housing and job growth, multimodal access to public and private areas, balanced transportation optionality, attractive public spaces, improved public safety and health, as well as environmentally- and economically-viable developments.
San Carlos Mayor Bob Grassilli, who previously served on initiative’s task force, discussed the plan’s goals.
“The concept of the Grand Boulevard is looking at El Camino Real as a ‘grand boulevard,’” he said. “There are some parts of it that aren’t as attractive as we’d like it to be. We’d like to make it out to be a thoroughfare [so you can have] bikes and walking together.”
Grassilli noted that the San Carlos City Council and staff look to the Grand Boulevard Initiative as an advisory commission, providing guidance on projects such as the new streetscape at El Camino Real and Arroyo Road.
San Carlos’ focus on the Grand Boulevard Initiative’s guiding principles drew the attention of those looking to exemplify the GBI’s vision. April Chan, chief planning officer at SamTrans, has been working on the Grand Boulevard Initiative since 2012 when she began overseeing the project’s general direction. She helped coordinate a scoring process for this year’s awards ceremony, but did not assign scores herself. A working committee comprised of a subset of the task force scored 15 projects submitted for consideration.
“In general, we evaluate [them] to see how well they met the principles,” said Chan. “To the extent that [a project] meets more of those, we look at it more closely. The City of San Carlos project floated to the top.”
Chan noted that the working committee was particularly impressed with how well the San Carlos streetscape addressed almost all of the guiding principles.
The construction project replaced a left-turn lane on the southbound side of El Camino Real with a median containing a waiting area for pedestrians. Existing sidewalks were widened, and new ones put in place on the east side of El Camino Real — which had been covered almost entirely with gravel between the curb and the railroad tracks prior to the updates.
Crosswalks were made more visible by being repainted with a series of vertical lines instead of just two parallel lines crossing El Camino Real. A public gathering space with benches adjacent to the pedestrian and bicycle crossing underneath the railroad tracks was also added to the intersection. The improvements increased the area’s greenery, drainage and seating to make it more attractive as a pedestrian thoroughfare. Curb extensions on either side of the street, accompanied by the addition of a designated bike lane at the intersection increases clarity between car, bicycle and pedestrian lanes. Improved street lighting and pedestrian pushbuttons bolster pedestrian safety while increasing traffic pattern visibility.
For Chan, the awards are an opportunity for the Grand Boulevard Initiative to showcase exemplary projects that are taking shape along the El Camino Real corridor. She has seen several projects and plans come under the review of the awards working committee, and looks forward to seeing some of the plans submitted come to fruition.
“It takes some time for planned projects to be constructed,” she said. “Initially, we were looking at planned projects to see if they are meeting principles. Now, we are actually seeing projects constructed.”
San Carlos Councilman Ron Collins currently serves on the Grand Boulevard Initiative task force, representing the City of San Carlos. He noted the complexity of meeting objectives outlined by the Grand Boulevard Initiative in conjunction with existing city projects, including the development of an improved transit center at the San Carlos Caltrain station, for which construction is underway.
“What we did is we develop a design that was along the lines of what the task force wanted and fit in with our transit center,” he said.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102