LOS GATOS (KPIX 5) — In one week, downtown Los Gatos will undergo a rapid and dramatic transformation, all in an effort to boost business, encourage foot traffic and entice visitors to linger and stay a bit longer.
“We want people to know that we are rolling out the welcome mat so they can come out and enjoy Los Gatos,” said Los Gatos Mayor Steve Leonardis.
Mayor Leonardis is referring to a “road diet” for the town’s busiest stretch of traffic. Next week, the northbound lanes of N. Santa Cruz Avenue from Bachman Avenue to Elm Street will be shut down. One way traffic will continue as normal for southbound drivers.
The extra space from the lane closure will be used to create “parklets,” parallel parking spaces that are converted into free, public leisure areas for pedestrians.
Parklets have seen widespread adoption in cities all across the country, with varying designs that include wood decking for flooring and planter boxes for barriers.
Los Gatos plans to use concrete K-rails as barriers, but will wrap them in a decorative covering and install colorful tables and chairs. Given the temporary nature of the project, the parklets will use the existing asphalt as flooring for the seven planned parklets.
“I think people want to take advantage of what we have in California, which is this beautiful weather. So the parklets really provide that opportunity to experience the outdoors in California as opposed to narrow sidewalks, or being inside all of the time,” said Matt Morley, Los Gatos Public Works Director.
According to Morley, part of the strategy for the road diet was to try and capture some of the tourism dollars from the beach traffic that the Waze app detours through downtown Los Gatos. The increase in traffic has frustrated business owners and neighbors, who have complained to Google about diverting drivers off Highway 17 on their way to Santa Cruz during the warmer months.
The Los Gatos City Council unanimously passed the road diet project earlier this year. Staffers will re-evaluate the pilot project in September.
Mayor Leonardis brushed off any comparisons to downtown Palo Alto, Mountain View, Campbell or Willow Glen.
“All these downtowns are wonderful places, and we’re all unique. Everybody has their different little niche. So, we’re just playing our part in the greater regional shopping experience in the Bay Area,” said Leonardis.
Laura Smithwick, the general manager at Great Bear Coffee on N. Santa Cruz Avenue, says the beach traffic has steadily worsened over the years. Smithwick is encouraged to see the city implement bold and dramatic changes.
“I think you might as well. You can’t make it worse,” said Smithwick.