As the City Council discusses the possibility of turning Latham Street into a bike boulevard, city staff denied a permit for what was to be the fourth annual Latham Street Halloween block party on Sunday afternoon, apparently over concerns about blocking car traffic down the residential street.
Organizer Jennifer Sumant said she has organized the event with other residents of the 1300 block of Latham Street for three years, and "they've always permitted it in the past." The stretch of single family residences just north of Shoreline Boulevard, between Palo Alto and Mountain View avenues, won't have its usual tables set up in the street with food, games and crafts for kids milling around in costume -- an event "well-supported by everyone on the block," Sumant said.
Public works director Mike Fuller explained that the city's traffic engineer denied the permit. "Latham is residential collector street with 2,000 cars or so per day on it. We thought it would be disruptive to traffic flow," he said.
Sumant says the ordeal has caused her neighbors to question the need to allow so much traffic on Latham street. Having 2,000 cars a day "is not justified by the amount of residents in the neighborhood, yet takes priority over the well-being of the community," Sumant said.
"The City Council is saying that the city priorities this year are for non-car transit," Sumant said in an email, referring to the council's goal this year to focus on pedestrian and bicycle mobility. "In reality our city codes including the codes for block parties are written to prioritize cars."
Meanwhile, City Council members made comments at an Oct. 15 meeting about creating a bike and pedestrian boulevard on Latham as an alternative to potentially dangerous bike lanes on El Camino Real. "My preference would be bike boulevards parallel to El Camino Real," said council member Ronit Bryant.
Since the permit was rejected, Sumant says she's heard from neighbors, "Why don't we get a bike boulevard?"
In Palo Alto, bike boulevards run on streets parallel to El Camino Real. They include barriers that would prevent cut-through traffic like those 2,000 cars cutting down Latham, but allow bicyclists and pedestrians through. It is reportedly a hit with those who live along such streets, as car traffic is reduced dramatically.
Council members declined to comment on the block party permit, but member Chris Clark said he didn't mean to get Latham Steet residents' hopes up with his comments on Oct. 15.
"The point wasn't to say Latham is the street where we should invest lots and lots of money," Clark said. The point was to say, "We shouldn't be looking at El Camino as our only option."
As for the Halloween party, Fuller said it was suggested to Sumant that it be organized on a quieter side street. But "since all the neighbors who put on the party live on the 1300 block of Latham Street, it didn't make any sense to block off someone else's street," Sumant said. "It would be presumptuous to block off someone else's street for a party."