Inspired by Oakland, San Mateo officials are considering temporarily closing certain streets to cars or at least reducing speed limits so residents have more space to safely recreate during the ongoing stay-at-home order.
The City Council endorsed the proposal during a remote meeting Monday, and agreed that new traffic rules should be implemented in dense areas where residents don’t have backyards.
“[We should] prioritize the study and resources in the direction of our transit-oriented developments like Bay Meadows that are more dense and don’t have as much access to private backyards and green space,” said Councilwoman Amourence Lee.
Aside from Bay Meadows, the only other specific location mentioned during the meeting as a candidate for restricting car access was downtown.
In addition to closing certain streets to cars, councilmembers proposed reducing speed limits in all of the city’s residential areas to between 15 mph and 20 mph. The existing speed limit in residential areas is typically 25 mph.
Mayor Joe Goethals after the meeting said the new rules could be decided upon at the next council meeting and then implemented soon after that.
San Mateo is just one of many cities throughout the country that has or is considering closing streets to cars during the coronavirus crisis. Oakland on Saturday made 74 miles of streets — 10% of the city’s streets — accessible only to pedestrians and cyclists. In San Mateo County, Redwood City is also considering restricting cars on certain streets.
During the Monday meeting, City Manager Drew Corbett said staff has already been exploring potential street closures and reduced speed limits, and said the effort has been a challenge.
“Closing streets is a challenge especially when you have people still needing to come in and out and deliveries,” he said. “The key problem we’re finding is that to do it effectively such that pedestrians are able to recreate in the street and be safe you have to close the road and enforce it. The problem is then how do people get in and out. That becomes a logistical problem.
“If you’re not fully closing the street because you want to have people have access to their homes and get deliveries then you don’t want to encourage people to be out in the street” Corbett added.
Corbett also noted some have proposed closing a single lane of a street to cars, but said doing so will create conflicts between motorists.
Goethals, who supports the idea, said he doesn’t want the project to occupy too much staff time.
“I don’t want this to become something where we get so caught up in the design, signage or enforcement that it ends up costing way more staff time than we want to invest,” he said. “If it can be implemented in a way that doesn’t take everybody away from the projects they need to be working on then I’m very supportive of it.”
In other business, the council is considering creating a grant program for small businesses that will be further discussed at the next council meeting. The program will likely cost between $300,000 and $500,000 with $10,000 potentially awarded to each businesses, Corbett said. He described the proposal as an investment in one of the city’s top revenue sources and noted the city can absorb the cost despite the financial impact of the ongoing crisis.
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