A pedestrian mall is coming to segments of South B Street in downtown San Mateo following City Council approval, with the safe street walking zones closed to vehicles hailed as a way to increase community and improve the downtown’s long-term future.

“This council’s commitment to providing this pedestrian mall is a commitment to our sense of community, our yearning for community,” Councilmember Diane Papan said.

The council Sept. 20 passed a resolution to establish pedestrian malls on South B Street between First and Second avenues and Second and Third avenues. Pedestrian malls are streets with limited or no vehicle access to create safe streets zones for pedestrians to walk. It will be closed to all vehicle traffic, with exceptions for delivery, service and maintenance trucks in the mornings before 10 a.m. and emergency vehicles. The proposal allows for through east-west traffic to continue on First, Second and Third avenues.

The city said parklet structures would not be allowed in the pedestrian malls to ensure restaurant outdoor dining options can be removed for public events. Temporary street closures currently on South B Street have occurred through water-filled barricades and traffic diversion signs. The city plans to install bollards, change road markings and adjust traffic signals at the cost of $400,000, a city staff report said. If the pedestrian malls are successful, a second phase calls for an extensive redesign of the road segments of $3 million to $4 million. A portion of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan funds could offset costs, city staff said. Around 60 parking spaces would no longer be available, resulting in lost revenue. The average parking space generates $1,000 in revenue per year.

Mayor Eric Rodriguez said the city must take a long-term view of downtown, particularly as the businesses, uses and the focus of the area evolves. Citing past important long-term decisions like allowing a movie theater downtown or redeveloping its race track, he believes pedestrian malls will serve future generations downtown.

“I really think that this is one of these types of decisions. It’s a decision like this that requires vision, bold action, and I truly believe that future generations are going to be very happy that we took these actions in 2021,” Rodriguez said.

Councilmember Joe Goethals also praised the pedestrian malls as key to improving downtown now and for future generations.

“The vision that we have for 10 or 15 years from now is an even better downtown. It’s a wonderful project. I support it wholeheartedly,” Goethals said.

The City Council adopted a June resolution declaring its intent to establish pedestrian malls year-round as part of the state Pedestrian Mall Act, giving property owners and tenants time to submit objections and file claims for damages by Sept. 20. The city said it had not received any claims for damages due to pedestrian malls in the area, although it received written objections from the downtown cinema and 321 Partners, the property owners of 147 B St. Comments from the community have supported and opposed the proposal, with speakers supporting street closures at the Sept. 20 meeting. Objectors have cited a reduction in parking supply and reduced car access for seniors and others with disabilities.

Deputy Mayor Rick Bonilla said while he understood public concerns, he felt the street closures help fill the needs of people who have asked for the program. He asked city staff to look at adding additional accessible parking spaces nearby for those that need it.

“I understand the caution some people have, but I think our City Council is doing all of its homework,” Bonilla said.

Councilmember Amourence Lee said the pedestrian malls were a clear example of helping the public by giving the streets back to the people and creating a better environment for local businesses.

“I am so thrilled to see this come together, and I strongly support it,” Lee said.

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