A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama!

Although my title is only somewhat related to today’s blog post, I love whimsical wordplay and the title of this week’s post is a famous palindrome: something that reads the same backwards as it does forwards (ignoring the spacing and punctuation). And as you’ll see, it does have some relevance to this week’s topic…

Back in February I wrote a post called Some Assembly Required in which I suggested that the city consider turning the Main Street parking lot (which sits in the middle of the block surrounded by Main Street, Middlefield Road, Jefferson Avenue, and Broadway) into a downtown park. That parking lot has been an important part of the downtown Redwood City parking picture, but that picture could be changed in a way that would eliminate the need for this valuable piece of downtown real estate being a place to park cars.

Back when the 168-space Middlefield Road parking lot was eliminated to make way for the Box buildings, parking in Redwood City’s downtown area took a hit. To help alleviate the problem the city made the county garage (on Middlefield Road, near Veterans Boulevard) available to the public at night and on weekends. Given that the 800-space county garage has more than four times the capacity of the lot we had lost, it theoretically made up for the loss, and then some. It didn’t help the lunch crowds, but it at least added more than enough capacity during the city’s busiest times: on Friday nights and on the weekends. However, even though the city placed a number of signs throughout downtown directing people to the county garage, whether it was due to a reluctance on people’s part to walk the four blocks to the center of downtown, or whether people just didn’t notice those signs, I still heard plenty of grumbling about our downtown parking situation.

Once the Box buildings were completed that project’s internal parking garage was also opened to the public on nights and weekends. Suddenly we had a real wealth of parking available for those who learned to take advantage—again, during the critical Friday night and weekend periods. And this new parking is very convenient: it is right at the end of Theatre Way, an easy one-block walk both from Redwood City’s twenty-screen theater building and from its Courthouse Square. Given that the Box garage follows the same model as those under the theaters—the first 90 minutes are free, and with theater validation you get four hours free—rarely do you even have to pay for parking in this garage of more than 900 spaces. And for those who are willing to walk, the County Garage’s nearly 800 spaces—which are completely free—are also still available.

The Box and the County garages are great, providing more than ample parking—but neither are available to the public during the day on weekdays. Thus, if you drive downtown to work, to shop, or to have lunch during the week, your parking options are either street parking, the Jefferson garage, the Marshall Street garage, or the Main Street parking lot.

The Main Street lot has some 150 parking spaces, and if you drive through there during the lunch hour you’ll note that it is generally full. Thus, getting rid of this lot without creating equivalent parking elsewhere would likely upset a lot of regulars. Fortunately, though, a number of our downtown building projects are paying into a city parking fund that is intended for this very purpose. And although I don’t believe that the city has settled on a specific site yet, I do know that they’ve been giving thought toward building a municipal parking garage either in place of the surface lot between Jefferson and the downtown Public Library, or in place of the park on the other side of the library—at which point they may then turn the lot between Jefferson and the library into a park. This latter solution would have two benefits over the former:

  • The parking garage would be much less visible if it was to the left of the library building (as you face the library); a multi-story parking garage on the prime corner of Jefferson and Middlefield would not present a great image to people driving through this heavily used intersection.
  • The park to the left of the library is unseen and little used. And some of those who do use it are less than desirable, at times making people walking through the park uncomfortable.

In any case, the city could easily commission a parking garage for one side of the library or the other that would hold more than the 150 cars that the Main Street lot holds plus the roughly 100 spaces we’d lose from the library lot. And because this new garage would only be about a block from today’s Main Street lot, there shouldn’t be too many the objections to the relocated parking.

With the Main Street lot gone, the large space in the center of the block could then be reworked as a nice central city park. And as a good friend noted, the city could daylight Redwood Creek (this is my “canal” from my blog post title), which currently runs beneath the parking lot. This would not only give the park a great central feature, it would also serve as a reminder of the importance of the creek in Redwood City’s history. I only wish the creek could be re-exposed from this lot all the way to Bradford Street, where it can be seen today: this would allow people at times to take a boat from the center of downtown all the way to the Inner Harbor area on the east side of Highway 101. However, that underground portion of the creek runs through the Main Street lot, across Broadway, under the Marshall Street parking garage, and under the main Fire Station; daylighting it through all that would simply be too much of an upheaval. On the bright side, though, the portion of the creek that currently is accessible near Bradford Street—which is adjacent to where a large low-income development aimed at seniors is soon to get underway—is due to be spruced up and featured in a new small park that will run from Bradford to Veterans alongside the creek.

The Bradford Street project should be adding a small park along the creek, and with a lot of luck perhaps we could get a park to replace the Main Street lot. But there is a third place where I would like to propose we add a new park. This one, too, would take the place of an existing parking lot.

When I say “existing parking lot,” though, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that the site actually is a parking lot: I’m talking about the triangular parcel that sits adjacent to the now-shuttered “Pizza and Pints.” This Winslow Street lot was closed along with the Middlefield Road lot when construction on the Box buildings got underway: it was used as a staging area for construction equipment and materials. When the Box buildings were completed the lot was returned to service, but only briefly: it was once again shuttered when the 815 Hamilton project (that tall building that is being erected right behind the Fox Theatre) got underway, again so that it could be used as a staging area for equipment and materials. So essentially the Winslow Street lot—which has at most 46 parking spaces—has been closed since October of 2013, when the Box buildings broke ground.

My wife and I were sitting outside at Cru the other day, enjoying a glass of wine before meeting up with some friends. Cru, if you don’t know, is a great little wine bar in the Box buildings, around the side by the Caltrain tracks. They have a really nice outdoor patio that allows you to enjoy your wine and any accompanying nibbles in a comfortable, albeit momentarily noisy (when the trains go by), environment. Given that it is directly across the street from the Winslow Street lot and the 851 Hamilton project, I could not help but stare at the two as I was sipping my wine.

As I sat a number of thoughts ran through my mind. I thought about how long it had been since I had been able to use the Winslow Street parking lot. I thought about how many people have moved to Redwood City since that lot was first taken out of commission, and thus may not be aware that it is even there. I thought about how the city had once envisioned a grand entrance to the city in this area, and how the Box building’s design collapsed that vision into the small cement plaza upon which I was now sitting. And I thought about how we could use more parks downtown, if only to soften the hard surfaces of our new buildings.

As all of those thoughts swirled in my brain, it suddenly hit me: why not turn the Winslow Street lot into a combination park and city gateway? I envision a park that would be designed to lure people getting off of a train, and that would take them along an enticing path through the center of the park to Hamilton Street—from which it is only a short walk to Courthouse Square. Another pathway could lazily follow Winslow to the Middlefield Road face of the 815 Hamilton building; from there it is another short walk to the end of Theater Way. Well-designed signage could direct walkers to Redwood City’s most popular attractions. And to mark the park’s main entrance? It would have to be a third “Climate Best” arch, wouldn’t it?

So my “plan” would give us three new downtown parks and one relocated one, all with different purposes. My Winslow Street park would be less of a place to linger (although there would presumably be a bench or two) and more of a green welcome to Redwood City. The relocated park alongside the library could be the kind of park where families and kids would play—with play equipment and picnic benches and the like. The Main Street park would be something for everyone: a place to stroll and observe the creek, a place to sit and take in the sun, a place to run and play, and perhaps even a place to enjoy a small concert: the property is large enough that it could accommodate a small performing space. Finally, the Bradford Street park (which is likely happening, with or without my plan) would also be a place to stroll or sit alongside Redwood Creek.

What do you think? Do you like my plan? It certainly isn’t Panama, but I’ve thought about this forward and backward and it sure makes sense to me. The city has been considering locations for a downtown park, but has yet to announce anything. I say, hey, why stop at one?

 

27 thoughts on “A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama!

  1. I love the idea of a park across from the old courthouse on Hamilton. Actually, I would love to see Hamilton closed to car traffic altogether (pedestrianized) from Veterans to the Caltrain tracks, similar to way it is closed off in the SM County government center. The street itself could be made into a park, with trees, benches, fountains, etc.

    • I’ll be very interested to see how the traffic patterns change–if they do–when the building behind the Fox Theatre (851 Hamilton) is completed and Hamilton is once again re-opened to vehicular traffic. Hamilton used to be a pretty minor street that didn’t appear to get a lot of use, but with the garage entrance/exit to the new building being on Hamilton, and with our relatively new downtown Starbucks being on the corner of Hamilton and Broadway, I could see it getting more use. Not to mention what may or may not happen with the Chase Bank property if and when it ever gets redeveloped… But I’m all for closing streets where they aren’t needed–I’m a big advocate for closing at least two or three blocks of Broadway–so I like your thinking here. I’ve seen other cities do really interesting things with streets that have been closed to traffic, and I think that Redwood City could potentially benefit from doing just that. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. @Samuel Y: the obstacles to replacing the entire Main St. lot with a 2-level garage would be cost and the creek, which is not deep at all. However, you could build around the creek which, which while shallow, is not very wide … but that still leaves cost. Building an all-underground parking garage there may cost in the range of $75-100k per space. (Palo Alto just OK’d a 5-story 339-space garage on city-owned land without a creek or high water table and only one underground level at about $60k per space.)

    • I believe Greg is proposing building a park in the Main Street lot and building a garage on one side of the library. Not building a garage where the existing parking lot is behind the post office.

  3. I’m not sure I like the idea of daylighting the creek in that square. Have you seen the water at Bradford and Main? It’s stagnant and smelly.

    I have a different idea. Ever since I heard about the new Broadway Station construction at Broadway and Jefferson, where the old Powerhouse Gym is being torn down, I thought why not reconstruct the whole Main St surface parking lot while they are at it. Broadway Station will have a 2 level underground parking garage. Extend it under the whole Main St parking lot. You’re essentially tearing up the whole surface parking lot and building a 2 level underground parking garage, just like the Jefferson St garage under the movie theater. Then add green space at street level on top of it. What are the obstacles? One, I don’t know how deep the underground creek is, and I’ve always thought that was prohibiting the creation of an underground parking garage. Is that true or not? If not, wouldn’t this be a better idea than daylighting the creek and building an above ground garage elsewhere?

    • Interesting ideas! As Adrian noted, the main objection would be the cost: an underground garage is significantly more expensive to build than a surface one. And I for one think that the creek can be cleaned up and made to be beautiful. But I’ll let the consultants that the city hired chime in: they likely know more than I do about the pros and cons of this (and other potential) sites for a downtown park.

  4. Sounds excellent to me …at I’ve earlier suggested/endorsed daylighting Redwood Creek through a park to the rear of City Hall and post office. And a “gateway to Redwood City” park on the Winslow lot in full view of the train station platforms that figuratively says “Welcome to Redwood City!” to the tens of thousands of eyes that daily pass by aboard the trains is a fantastic idea.

    So what are we waiting for? … let’s get going on these!

  5. The Winslow lot would be great as a park. People getting of the train would get a better look at what Redwood City really could be, more green then the backside of buildings.

  6. Great ideas! I LOVE the idea of daylighting the creek — Portola Valley has done it in their town center; we can too. Just make sure it’s not a sterile space of water-hungry lawn cut through with boring walking paths — it could be a native landscape with a butterfly and hummingbird garden and educational signage, as well as a “natural playground” for kids.

  7. @Chris Manton – I like the way you think but the Chase parcel was purchased by a private investor about a year ago. It will not be a park in our lifetime. That lot is currently zoned three stories along Broadway & Hamilton and TWELVE stories along Winslow.

    >

    • I keep hearing about this property being sold, but San Mateo County doesn’t know about it (at least officially): the current owner of record according to them is JPMorgan Chase Bank, who bought it from Washington Mutual back in April 2010. Of course, a private investor may well have an option on the property, which would not show up in the county records. But perhaps I’m missing something. Do you have anything to back up this sale that you say occurred about a year ago?

  8. I am all for these ideas!!! I have put out the idea of daylighting the Redwood Creek many times myself! It is a historically resource!! I like the ideas of all of the area you mentioned as parkland and green space in our downtown!!
    My one area of concern when you mentioned the library parking lot moving is where would the fireworks for Hometown Holidays be shot from? But I am sure we all could find a solution to that.
    The park next to the library now has some dedications that I would like to see moved in their honor!
    Other than those, I am ALL for these WONDERFUL ideas to come to fruition 🙂
    Thank you,
    Merrily

    • I’m sure we can find a place for those fireworks! And yes, if the park is moved from one side of the library to the other, any dedications and such should definitely be moved along with the park; those need to be preserved!

    • Thanks for the link to your article – I don’t recall reading it before! Interesting ideas. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing what the consultants come up with. The City Council seems pretty set on creating a new downtown park _somewhere_; I’m looking forward to the discussion around the topic, and will make sure to publicize it, when it gets onto the City Council’s calendar…

  9. Before I moved to Redwood City, my main impression of the town was the view from Caltrain, which at time consisted of the dingy rear ends of some retail shops and the Arya restaurant sign (this was before the Box development). In fact, the most memorable feature visible from the train going north was the giant blowout salon vinyl banner.

    A park (one more visible than the postage stamp across from the sushi restaurant) sounds like a much better impression. Your plan sounds great to me!

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