A long stretch of Mountain View's vibrant downtown was cut off to vehicle traffic Monday, marking the beginning of a monthslong transformation of Castro Street into a pedestrian promenade with space for outdoor dining.
As of early in the morning of June 22, Castro Street had been cordoned off to cars from Evelyn Avenue to Mercy Street, with traffic signals out and thick cement barricades blocking cross traffic. City staff will spend the next week converting the empty roadway into a picnic area for downtown businesses and customers who want to eat outside -- provided they follow public health guidelines.
The plan is to begin offering customers with roadway dining by Friday, June 26. Dubbed the "Castro Summer StrEats" program, the road will stay closed through September 30.
The street closure is largely seen as a lifeline for Mountain View's downtown restaurants, many of which have lost business and have been on the ropes financially for months. Restaurants have been particularly hard hit by public health restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which outright prohibited dine-in services for months and only recently loosened the rules to allow outdoor dining.
Many downtown restaurants approaching the Mountain View Caltrain station have virtually no room to expand outdoors while adhering to county health orders requiring social distancing between customers, spurring city officials to convert the roadway into dining space north of Mercy Street. The Mountain View City Council approved the plan on June 9.
In a statement shortly before the vote, Downtown Association President Sarah Astles told council members that the business community has been overwhelmingly supportive of the closure, and that the roadway picnic area will bring much-needed business back to Castro Street after months of dormancy.
"The extra dining space is essential during these times, as many restaurants will not be able support themselves with the reduced number of interior tables," Astles wrote. "Outdoor dining space is also much safer for our guests, and it is all that may be allowed for an unknown period of time, pending county guidelines."
As of last week, the plan was to set up a total of 60 picnic tables in the street -- 15 per block -- each one spread out 6 feet from one another. But the exact details remain in flux: though local business leaders had originally envisioned a free-for-all approach in which restaurants could pick any empty table, the city is now planning to assign tables to restaurants.
Customers must wear face coverings and are limited to party sizes of up to six people, all of whom must be from the same household. Tables will be disinfected between customers, and participating restaurants must provide access to the indoor restrooms. The rules are also fairly tight on alcoholic drinks, which are not allowed at the public picnic tables.
Several Peninsula cities are considering or have approved similar street closures to keep local businesses alive during the pandemic, including Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Carlos and San Mateo.
Mountain View is already in the midst of studying transit options for blocking off part of Castro Street to traffic permanently, in many ways making the three-month closure for outdoor dining a test run for what could be Castro Street's car-free future. City officials are studying a redesign of the downtown transit center that includes closing Castro Street at the Caltrain tracks and turning a portion of the street into a pedestrian-only corridor.