SJ restaurateurs push city to pump brakes on car traffic along popular downtown street

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Saturday, April 10, 2021
Restaurateurs push SJ to stop car traffic along downtown street
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Keeping cars away after COVID-19 is the goal for a group of restaurant owners along San Pedro Street in Downtown San Jose.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Keeping cars away after COVID-19 is the goal for a group of restaurant owners along San Pedro Street in Downtown San Jose.

Restaurateurs are asking city leaders to consider making the popular stretch, between Santa Clara and St. John St., permanently car-free.

ABC7 News first introduced viewers to the City of San Jose's Al Fresco concept in April 2020. The coordinated effort has allowed permitted businesses to operate in specific outdoor spaces.

Along San Pedro St., most businesses have expanded service into the street, and owners want to keep it that way.

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"We don't need to get back to 100%," Sushi Confidential owner, Randy Musterer told ABC7 News. "We need to get back to 150% for many, many years just to recoup all the losses that we've had."

Musterer said he and other restaurateurs have done a number of pilot studies over the last few years, uncovering interest in what he calls an "urban feel." In this case, a pedestrian mall of sorts.

"We've done a number of pilot studies over the past few years, starting with the Super Bowl and the National Championship," he explained. "If there's a silver lining with the pandemic, we're realizing that this street should be closed to allow everyone in the community here- to come down and to dine, and allow these restaurants to flourish."

"With the high-rise residential, all the corporate and the restaurants, this is exactly what Downtown San Jose needs," Musterer continued.

However, before any decision is made, Colin Heyne with the city's Department of Transportation (DOT) says there is much to consider.

"Whether full-time or a part-time, limited closure would be the most appropriate. How we might maintain access to the parking garage, what impact the closure of this portion of San Pedro Street would have on surrounding traffic and on access to the garage itself, and how we could still continue to support large community events that need access to that parking garage, if we had access closed," Heyne elaborated.

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He emphasized the idea is still in its infancy.

"It would be a significant change to our downtown street network," Heyne added. "It would require funding for engineering and implementation- and we don't have any funding identified in the budget at this time."

Another big issue surrounds maintaining access to the parking garage- a 1,200-space structure in the middle of San Pedro Street.

"When we get back to pre-COVID levels of traffic and business for that part of downtown, we may see some significant demand on that garage, that we would have to deal with," Heyne shared.

Still, he said that in a general sense, the Department of Transportation has always supported mixed-use of many of the city's rights-of-way.

"We have long supported local merchants by establishing parklets- those extensions of outdoor space for restaurants and other businesses out into the street," he explained.

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"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 ABC7 News. "But it is a complicated proposal when you start to look at all the factors."

Most of all, Heyne said DOT wants to absolutely make sure they don't do something that causes an unacceptable level of congestion in and out of the parking garage, or to the surrounding streets.

However, traffic issues won't detour business owners looking for a more permanent solution.

"There's a number of hurdles we still need to jump through," Musterer admitted. "And we're hoping that the city, the community, the city officials, the fire department can find ways to be able to make this a safe place. And be able to minimize any traffic issues that might be caused by this."

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Musterer added, "Closing down the street would give us that opportunity to be able to increase our revenue and have additional sales to counteract all the losses we've had over the last year."

Additionally, he told ABC7 News, "Since the street has been closed, I actually feel it's so much safer down here because there's so many people out and about. A lot of people are working from home still, but they're bringing their dog down here. They're sitting here on their laptop. And having more people in the community here, creates more of a sense of safety."

Musterer shared a diagram of potential traffic control, on behalf of the San Pedro Square Committee.

When asked about the possibility of San Pedro St. reflecting the diagram, Heyne said, "It's a good illustration for us to have a discussion around, but it's nothing that- as far as I can tell- has been officially submitted to us for review."

The City of San Jose recently voted to extend its Al Fresco program through the end of the year. Permitted businesses will be allowed to continue to operate in specific outdoor spaces until at least December 31, 2021.