Cities across San Mateo County are temporarily restricting or reducing traffic on designated roads to provide additional space for residents to safely recreate amid the COVID-19 crisis.
San Mateo next week will restrict certain roads to only local traffic, Foster City Thursday began closing one lane of a 1.75-mile stretch of road to cars, and the Redwood City Council on Monday will consider limiting traffic on 6 miles of roads in the city.
San Mateo’s program is specifically focused on the city’s dense areas where many residents don’t have backyards or access to open space. By Monday, a stretch of road in the Bay Meadows neighborhood will be reserved for local traffic only and if the effort goes well, then the same could happen in the Central, North Central, Hacienda and San Mateo Village neighborhoods, but a start date for those neighborhoods has not yet been determined. Officials are also assessing possible locations east of Highway 101.
The specific streets slated for only local traffic include Monte Diablo Avenue from San Mateo Drive to Idaho Street, Fremont Street from Monte Diablo Avenue to 10th Avenue, Hacienda Street from 22nd Avenue to 27th Avenue, Derby Avenue from Delaware Street to east of Baze Road, and East 39th Street from Pacific Boulevard to Branson Drive.
In addition to prioritizing high-density areas, Public Works chose the above roads based on criteria including street layout, accessibility and traffic flow, said City Manager Drew Corbett.
Public Works will reduce traffic by placing a barricade on one end of each designated road, which will remain open only to people who live along that road and not to through or cut-through traffic, Corbett said. Signs will inform motorists of the new rules.
Earlier this week, the city also began installing changeable message signs and A-frames at various locations in the city encouraging motorists to drive slowly and be aware of their surroundings. Flashing pedestrian signal adjustments have also been made.
All of the above initiatives, estimated to be in place for roughly two months, are expected to cost the city a total of $30,000, with most of the money going toward signs.
The safe streets concept was first implemented in Oakland and has since spread to cities throughout the country. San Mateo officials were inspired to implement the idea locally by both Oakland’s effort and on recommendations by the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition.
“The program provides an opportunity to get out in a socially distant way,” said Emma Shlaes, the coalition’s deputy director. “People are looking for a way to get outside for exercise and fresh air and a lot of times the sidewalks are limited. You’re passing maybe more people than normal and with the need to socially distance we need more space, which these closures provide.”
Many San Mateo residents agree with Shlaes.
“There’s great excitement among residents about getting more space,” said Kelly Moran, president of the Bay Meadows Neighborhood Association. “We have parents who’ve been afraid to take children out to play and after school and work the sidewalks are crowded and they’re so narrow that only one person or family group can be on them at one time. If you’re tied down with children you can’t just dodge into the street.”
Bay Meadows resident Vanessa Sewell, who has three young children, echoed the sentiment.
“The biggest help is to just have more space,” she said. “Because I have three kids I’m pulling a wagon or pushing a stroller so even just passing a single person on the sidewalk is really difficult. Having that space to get around and maneuver will be beneficial.”
Leaders of the other neighborhoods in which the program may soon be rolled out are also excited.
“I’m in support of anything that slows or routes traffic around versus through our neighborhood,” said Michael Weinhauer, president of the Central Neighborhood Association. “We’re happy to see the initial rollout targets a wide swath of neighborhoods with a focus on areas having a higher concentration of multi-family, so I applaud the city in their initial scoping of the project.”
Others also see the project as a potential blueprint for rethinking streets and transportation after the COVID-19 crisis is over.
“For 70 or more years we’ve just assumed streets are for cars primarily and this is a good education experience to realize that wasn’t the case for most of human history and to see how nice it is to have that extra space for more than just the 1-ton prosthetic devices we rely on,” said Adam Nugent, president of the Home Association of North Central San Mateo.
Each of the above neighborhood leaders said they’ve yet to hear from residents with concerns about the program.
In Foster City, one lane of a 1 3/4 mile stretch of northbound Beach Park Boulevard, which is adjacent to the levee, will be reserved only for cyclists and runners. The corresponding stretch of levee pedway is being reserved for walking only.
The lane will be barricaded off from cars, parked cars are being asked to relocate and the new configuration will remain in pace until further notice.
“While this is not an invitation for more people to go outside, for those who do choose to get some fresh air, it will enable them to do so in the safest way possible,” said Public Works Director Norm Dorais in a press release.
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