To encourage safe physically distant activity, the Redwood City Council unanimously passed a measure implementing a pilot safe streets program for about 5 miles of roads. 

Safe Streets-Redwood City, the city’s version of a safe street program, seeks to enforce a “soft closure” for leisurely activities such as walking, jogging and bicycle riding. Access to select roads would be limited to residents of the street, final destinations to shops along the street and emergency situations. 

The proposal, in effect May 1, follows the implementation of similar programs in neighboring cities including Foster City and San Mateo. It is estimated to cost the city $10,000 for signs and up to $30,000 for other program costs. 

Council concerns motivating the approval of the measure centered on social distancing efforts forcing pedestrians to walk in roads.

“People have already made efforts to slow people down in their neighborhoods and I see this as an attempt to do it in a more organized way. People are already walking on the streets because they’re trying to avoid either parked cars or other people, being respectful of other people coming through,” said Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre. 

The council and the public shared concerns for including a portion of Bridge Parkway, beginning at Redwood Shores Parkway and ending at Marine Parkway, in the program due to the road playing a vital role for residents attempting to access nearby markets. A section of Poplar Street was also considered but removed due to the structure and traffic of the road. 

The other streets to be closed are Flynn Avenue from Middlefield Road to Spring Street; Stambaugh Street from Charter Street to Maple Street; Allerton Street from Winslow Street to Whipple Avenue; Vera Avenue from El Camino Real to Alameda de las Pulgas; Ebener Street from Geneva Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue; Page Street from Second Avenue to 17th Avenue; Cypress Street/East Oakwood Boulevard from Woodside Road to Oakwood Avenue; C Street from Stafford Street to Industrial Avenue; Katherine Avenue from Elwood Street to Nevada Avenue.

Councilwoman Janet Borgens showed hesitation for supporting the proposal, expressing concerns for side effects such as greater congestion in neighboring streets. She also said community members were taking advantage of public spaces leading her to believe there was little need for the program. 

“I can support [the program] but I really want us to be mindful that in certain neighborhoods there’s other concerning issues, not just blocking sideways but blocking corners, parking in areas you’re not supposed to park which makes it already an unsafe situation. So I really hope that moving forward as we look at these kinds of programs we also have the ability to revisit some of the bad habits that are already causing some real safety concerns within some of our neighborhoods,” said Borgens, who ultimately voted in support of the measure. 

A lack of partnership with neighborhood associations was a concern for Councilman Ian Bain who said he feared the council was reverting back to “old ways” of operation.

“For the last five years we’ve worked very hard to rebuild the neighborhood associations and have them be an advisory body to the city in terms of how we implement programs particularly on a neighborhood level,” said Bain. “The fact that we had 26 comments today ... tells me we could have taken a bit more time to email people, online poll them, get some feedback before putting this in the staff report and informing the neighborhood associations that this was happening.”

Councilwoman Giselle Hale echoed comments made by residents that Redwood City is not Oakland but praised the East Bay city for its widespread implementation of their program covering an estimated 74 miles of road. She said she understands concerns but stressed the importance of providing public spaces to those without private outdoors space.  

“This is not about closing streets, it’s about showing compassion for our neighbors who just need a little bit more space to move around so they can get through this time in better physical and mental health,” said Hale.  

Poplar Street was ultimately removed from the proposal but modifications were made to maintain inclusion of Bridge Parkway by making pedestrian sidewalks one way. Staff will also continue to accept input from community members on the effectiveness of the program. 

Other items approved by the council include the adoption of a resolution appropriating $300,000 to the San Mateo County Strong Fund, a local effort to provide relief aid to businesses and residents. Another $393,000 was approved to be allocated to a COVID-19 emergency rental assistance program. 

The council also adopted a resolution waiving late payment penalties for solid waste, water and sewer utilities for March until August for residential and commercial customers due to the pandemic. 

Staff was also advised to look into the necessity of passing a resolution creating a moratorium on commercial evictions.

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