San Jose considers keeping downtown strip closed to cars post-pandemic

San Jose considers keeping downtown strip closed to cars post-pandemic
Photo: SanJose.com
By Laila Weir - Published on April 12, 2021.

Like other cities during the pandemic, San Jose closed a popular downtown dining strip to cars last summer so that restaurants could host outdoor dining. Now, the city is contemplating keeping the section, along San Pedro Street between Santa Clara and St. John streets, permanently car-free.

It's a question that's popping up all over the place, as COVID-19 rates decline and safety restrictions loosen. Will community and lifestyle changes that took root during the pandemic — some of which have been widely popular and lauded for positive environmental and health impacts — lead into more permanent adjustments, or will we return to business as usual?

But creating a pedestrian zone in the area, reminiscent of those popular in many European cities, is an idea some business owners had been pushing even before the pandemic, KPIX reports. The proposal for a permanent closure faces various obstacles, however, including maintaining access to a parking garage along the strip, ensuring emergency vehicles can get through and replacing parking meter revenue the city will lose if the street is closed to cars.

“It’s creating this urban environment that I think downtown San Jose strongly needs and desires,” KPIX quoted Randy Musterer, owner of Sushi Confidential, as saying. Musterer is co-chair of the San Pedro Square Committee of the nonprofit San Jose Downtown Association.

Mike Messinger, the owner of Farmers Union, echoed a similar sentiment to the Mercury News. “The tenth-largest city in the nation deserves a great downtown, and this is something that would help get it there,” Messinger said.

The section of San Pedro was temporarily turned into a pedestrian-only area as part of the city's "Al Fresco" dining program that allowed eateries to set up tables outside while indoor dining was off-limits.

A spokesperson for the city’s transportation department told the Mercury News that the city is still in the “early stages” of analyzing a more permanent closure to vehicles.

“There are many factors to consider, such as whether a full-time or time-limited closure would be most appropriate, how access to the parking garage might be maintained, what impact it might have on surrounding traffic, and how it can best support community events,” the spokesperson, Colin Heyne, told the paper.

"In general, I can say that DOT is absolutely open to considering ideas like this, that make different uses of our street space than simply moving vehicles through or parking cars," Heyne told ABC 7 News. "But it is a complicated proposal when you start to look at all the factors."

Proponents of the plan say they've come up with solutions to address the obstacles, however, and they have the support of the member of the San Jose City Council who represents the area, Raul Peralez. “This is something that my office has been eager to try and accomplish for years,” Peralez told the Mercury News.

Musterer, of Sushi Confidential, said that creating a permanent pedestrian mall would help businesses like his recover after a difficult year. "We don't need to get back to 100 percent," Musterer told ABC 7. "We need to get back to 150 percent for many, many years just to recoup all the losses that we've had."