Are We There Yet?

My family took a lot of driving trips when I was growing up. I come from a large family, and my parents realized that renting an RV for our annual family vacation often made much more sense than flying and staying in hotels. The RV allowed us to cook our own meals, which of course resulted in cheaper and in many ways more satisfying meals than we would have gotten in restaurants. The cost of a campsite was substantially less than the cost of the multiple hotel rooms we otherwise would have required. Of course, my folks had to pay to rent the RV, but even so the total cost of the trip was still quite a bit less than what a more conventional vacation would have run. And the RV had side benefits: we kids could play games while we drove, and, perhaps more importantly, we could use the bathroom without my dad having to stop. Finally, we were able to roam without the hassle of constantly checking (and moving) in and out of hotels.

Even with all of those benefits, the cry “are we there yet?” was often heard. There is a famous Chinese proverb that says “the journey is the reward,” but these days most of us just want to get to our destination: we don’t want to dwell on the journey itself. At the moment we are all on what could be thought of as a shared journey, having to negotiate a new way of living in this time of COVID-19. And I suspect that the feeling is universal that we just want this journey to end. We are all wondering “are we there yet?”

Unfortunately, we clearly aren’t “there,” whatever there turns out to be. The end of our journey likely won’t even be the day a successful vaccine is produced, although that will be a clear sign that we are getting close. I suspect that there won’t even be a clear sign that we’ve arrived (or, indeed, that we’ll all agree on just what “arrival” means), but more likely we’ll wake up one day and realize that we arrived at our destination some time ago. Whatever the end point, the journey we are on is one that involves constant change. As I walk throughout Redwood City I see evidence of change all over. Some of the change — these days, much of it, in fact — is positive, although some is not. When we arrive at our “new normal,” Redwood City in many ways will look like the Redwood City we had before the virus struck, although there will certainly be some notable changes.

This week I took a walk that focused primarily on restaurants: Redwood City appears to be on the verge of simplifying the process by which restaurants and retail businesses can expand out-of-doors, onto the sidewalks and even into the street-side parking spaces that adjoin their places of business. The city is thinking about closing some streets (primarily, parts of Broadway and possibly parts of Main Street) to provide even more space. Finally, businesses that operate in retail shopping centers or that have associated private parking lots may also be enabled to take over some of that parking in order to allow safe, socially distanced dining and shopping.

My walk this week took me to Redwood Plaza, down Woodside Road, and then along Main Street and Broadway. Primarily I catalogued restaurants that would be able to take advantage of the proposed new program. Although this program would only be of limited duration — currently it is being proposed for mid-July to late September — if it works it’ll be instrumental in helping ensure that when we arrive at our destination we’ll still have many, of not most, of Redwood City’s beloved restaurants. And it’ll enable us to resume dining at those restaurants. Not in them, at least not yet, but in front of or beside them, depending upon the particulars of how each restaurant is situated.

Some, such as the “Rack & Roll BBQ Shack/Lobster Shack” in Woodside Plaza, are already taking advantage of the limited sidewalk space they have in front of their stores to serve guests:

As you can see, though, even with that bit of sidewalk extending to the right edge of the picture they can only accommodate a handful of picnic tables. If they gain access to the striped portion of the parking lot in front of and/or beside their storefront, they should have room for as many, if not more, tables than they have inside the restaurant. And those outside tables can be safely spaced six feet or more apart.

Redwood Grill is another popular restaurant in Woodside Plaza. Unfortunately, the sidewalk in front of their store is not nearly so generous:

Redwood Grill isn’t a huge restaurant, but if they are limited to just the parking lane in front of their store I’d guess that they’d be hard pressed to make up for even the relatively little indoor seating that they currently have. Hopefully they’ll be able to negotiate for more space than just the immediate parking area.

Downtown, the sidewalk widths vary from block to block. That, plus the fact that, prior to the arrival of the virus, some restaurants such as City Pub and Vesta had already managed to build front patios extending into the parking area in front of their stores, means that there is a great disparity in just how much outdoor space our downtown restaurants have to work with. This week City Pub reopened for business, with certain outdoor tables blocked from use to keep dining groups safely separated. From what I could see, people immediately flocked to City Pub, showing just how successful outdoor dining in Redwood City can be. Unfortunately, other restaurants along Broadway won’t have it nearly so easy. For instance, here is the sidewalk in front of Sakura; clearly they aren’t going to be able to make much use of it unless it, and at least part of the street as well, are set aside for their use:

The Old Spaghetti Factory is in the same boat. I took the following picture because I wanted to have a record of the removal of the plywood panels that had been put in place for the Black Lives Matter protest, but as you can see the sidewalk itself leaves pretty much no room for safely distanced seating. And given the size of The Old Spaghetti Factory’s Redwood City location, they’d need to be able to set out a lot of tables in order to make up for the loss of both their main dining room and the lounge.

Every once in a while a business gets lucky. Gourmet Haus Staudt, on Broadway between El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks, doesn’t have much useful sidewalk in front, but they just happen to have a back door that opens onto a lovely little private parking lot:

I think that the chain-link fencing you can see in the middle of the photo is there to block off a part of the parking lot for dining. Theoretically they could negotiate for a lot more of this lot, if demand is there. So they are one of the few Redwood City restaurants that might not actually need to have Broadway blocked off. But their particular block of Broadway is crammed with restaurants — I counted 14 establishments that serve food and drink on that one block alone — so closing that particular block seems to be a no-brainer.

Before I switch away from restaurants taking advantage of sidewalk and street space to support safe outdoor dining, I thought I should show one extreme to which a restaurant in Vancouver, WA has gone:

My daughter-in-law, Emily, took the above picture. Apparently these are two-person “booths” that patrons of the adjacent restaurant can use for safe and stylish outdoor dining. These may look a bit odd, but note how nicely everything fits into a parking space. And note how the high backs of the seats makes a nice “sneeze guard” that helps protect diners from the people behind them. I just love what a little creativity, and a lot of wood, can do…

As I noted earlier, the more of our restaurants that can be saved, the more “normal” that Redwood City will be when we arrive at journey’s end. The main purpose of my walk was to make a list of restaurants, but as I walked I of course observed plenty of other activity as well. While that activity will certainly result in a changed Redwood City, those changes should be almost entirely for the better, so I was glad to see them. For instance, the ten-unit condominium project slated for 910 Woodside Road is now moving well along. Thaibodia, the Thai bistro that once occupied this parcel, has been completely torn down:

In its place will be a single three-story building with parking on the ground floor and living space for the ten condominiums on the second and third floors.

I of course never go down Woodside Road without checking in on the Hallmark House Apartments rebuilding project. Up until now, what little work that had been done was focused on demolition. But I’m absolutely delighted to be able to report that construction is very much underway:

Given how badly our area needs affordable housing, the eventual completion of this project will be a welcome relief to many.

The project to improve Middlefield Road by undergrounding its many overhead wires and widening its sidewalks continues apace. The sidewalks on the southwest side of the street are largely complete, so now work has shifted to the other side:

As someone who often walks along Middlefield Road, I’ll be excited when this project is done. Then, I’ll be much more apt to enjoy the journey itself, and less likely to wonder when I’ll get to where I’m going.

The project to rebuild and expand the old Young’s Auto Parts building is also moving right along now, as those of you who drive along Main Street are painfully aware: a lot of the project work at the moment is being done in the street in front of the building, meaning that negotiating that particular block is somewhat tricky right now. But work is going on in the rear as well, where a two-story addition is being constructed (apparently, using a lot of concrete blocks):

When done, the resulting building is intended to be a retail space. Whether that means it’ll host an actual retail store or will instead be home to a restaurant, once we’ve completed our “journey” we presumably will find out. In any case, I do tend to favor smaller projects like this that preserve at least some part of a classic Redwood City building (this one was originally built in 1922 for the Sunshine Grocery Store chain).

We’re all on a journey, one that we’d rather not be on. We have yet to reach the end — we are by no means “there yet” — but especially as we move through the later phases of that journey, Redwood City is showing some real signs of life. What Redwood City will look and be like once we complete our journey, we’ll have to wait and see. Redwood City will undoubtedly be changed, and some beloved businesses and residents will certainly be gone. But new things are coming, giving us all something, at least, to look forward to.

4 thoughts on “Are We There Yet?

  1. Enjoy these walks so much. Will share with our Phoenix City Councilman. We are dealing with the same issues and solutions will probably be what works for a particular neighborhood. Tempe, AZ, home of our university, has blocked off their main street for special events. But it might work to do something like that once a month to allow restaurants to set up outside seating and patrons to spread out. Or do this more often on weekends when our main streets do not have business traffic.

  2. Thank you for your post. This is indeed a journey none of us would have selected however through the upheaval perhaps good changes and re-imagining of they way we work and live is the upside. Glad to read and see of RWC’s progress into the new normal!

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