Stack ’em up

This week, given our weather, Wednesday turned out to be the best day for a walk. I expected — and received — a bit of drizzle while I was out, but fortunately it was gentle enough that it didn’t cause me any real issues. On only one or two occasions did I find myself having to quickly cram my camera back in its bag, but fortunately those bouts of heavier raindrops were infrequent and short. The weather did cause me to wonder how much water was coming down from the hills, however, and because I was over by Roosevelt Avenue I made sure to take a peek into the concrete channel that contains Redwood Creek. The water was flowing nicely, although as you can see it was nothing at all to get excited about:

Given all of the news about the Russian River (which of course is quite a few miles to the north of us) overflowing its banks, I was reminded of Redwood City’s motto, “Climate best by government test.” Whether or not that motto is true, I am truly thankful for the good weather that we do seem to have here in Redwood City, and hope that residents of Guerneville and other communities along the Russian River are doing OK.

I was in this part of Redwood City partly because I wanted to check in on the Magical Bridge playground construction. I had heard that the weather had, to no one’s surprise, put things on hold for a bit, but as I hadn’t been by in a while I thought I’d head over to Red Morton park and get an update on the playground’s progress. Although the weather that day was fine to be out and about in, and thus the contractors could have theoretically been at work, there was no one around when I was there. There was plenty of heavy equipment, though, and lots of signs of progress.

I’ll check back in after the weather improves, which likely won’t be for a couple of weeks.

On the way to the park I had to cross Jefferson Avenue, and I used one of my absolute favorite crossings to do so:

The recent update to this crossing was finally completed a month or so ago, after having been under construction for what seemed to be an eternity (it was done as part of the Safe Routes to School Implementation Project). I love this crossing because it exists mainly to serve pedestrians. Although it is located where Hawes Street dead-ends into Jefferson Avenue, if you look closely at the signs you’ll see that westbound traffic cannot make a left turn here onto Hawes Street, nor can that traffic make a U-turn here. Eastbound Jefferson Avenue traffic didn’t, and still doesn’t, need this signal to make a right turn onto Hawes Street. The only cars that this signal actually helps are people on Hawes Street looking to make a left turn onto Jefferson Avenue. But honestly, this signal probably wouldn’t be here except for the crosswalk. To the right of this picture, up the slope, is John Gill Elementary School, and to the left, down Hawes Street is Red Morton Park and the Veteran’s Memorial Senior Center. Thus, this is a natural place for pedestrians to cross, and I’m sure a lot of kids use it every day. Jefferson Avenue is a busy street, and, without some sort of traffic signal, can be pretty dangerous to cross even at a marked crosswalk. I’ve spent years walking across Jefferson Avenue, and almost never cross it except at a signal anymore. As for those signals, they are few and far between. From this intersection with Hawes Street the nearest signal to the east is at Hudson Street, five blocks away. In the other direction, the nearest signal is at Alameda de las Pulgas, nine blocks to the west. Either of those would be quite a detour, making me extremely grateful that someone thought to place this signal here.

After I looked in at Red Morton Park, while heading across Roosevelt Avenue to check out the creek I noticed a lot of construction activity several blocks to the west. Naturally I had to check it out, even though I could guess what it was. That guess was right: the 2017-2018 Sanitary Sewer Replacement Project has finally made its way to Roosevelt Avenue. On that street the contractors are replacing the pipes between Valota Road and Upton Avenue; the work I saw going on that Wednesday was between Ruby and Taft streets:

Because the pipes run down the middle of the street, Roosevelt Avenue is closed on either side of the construction activity while the work takes place. Thus, if you drive in this area don’t be surprised if you encounter a detour.

Enough with the infrastructure! Last week Redwood City’s Planning Commission approved a proposed 64,000 square foot office building for the corner of Walnut and Bradford streets. This office building will replace the small two-story office building that is there today, which serves as the home of Yummly, an online source for recipes. You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t noticed this building before: today it is completely hidden behind the gigantic Marston apartment building, and isn’t visible unless you drive down Walnut Street or Bradford Street, something many of us have little reason to do. In case you haven’t seen it, or in case you have but you don’t remember what it looks like, here is what is there today:

The building to be replaced is the two-story white building with the orange accents and the Yummly sign on the top. The Marston building, which surrounds this building on two sides and occupies the entire rest of the block, was, as you can see, designed with the future of this parcel in mind: note the large blank walls that face the Yummly building. Today, there is a parking lot that wraps around between the Marston building and the Yummly building. The newly approved office building, on the other hand, will span the entire parcel, putting all of its parking within and below the new building.

This new building — 610 Walnut Street — will sit right up against the Marston building, and will be almost as tall. Here is a rendering showing what the building is anticipated to look like, viewed from almost the same spot:

This new building certainly makes better use of the property. The current building only uses about 1/3 of the parcel, with the other 2/3 mainly filled by a surface parking lot and some average-width sidewalks. The new building, on the other hand, will occupy about 9/10 of the parcel, with the remainder being taken up by the new, wider sidewalks along Bradford and Walnut streets.

It is a little hard to see from the rendering, but cars will enter the internal parking garage from Walnut Street, which runs along the left-hand face of the building in the above picture. The building’s pedestrian entrance will also be on Walnut Street. At the corner of the building will be a “bike kitchen” where employees and members of the public alike will be able to effect simple repairs on their bicycles. Adjacent to this will be a bicycle storage area for people working in the building who choose to commute by bike.

If you count the floors in the rendering, you’d conclude that the building is five stories tall. In fact, it is actually six stories tall, atop a single subterranean parking level. The ground floor and the second floor are both also used for parking; the design cleverly disguises these, making them appear as if they are a single, taller ground floor level. Atop the garage are four levels of office space.

For historical reasons — the Yummly building used to be owned by Kaiser, which is just across Walnut Street — this building does not fall within the Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) area, but only just: the Marston building that occupies the remainder of the block does fall within the DTPP. Even so, following the usual pattern for downtown office buildings these days the parking in this building’s garage will be open to the public on nights, weekends, and holidays. Of course, given its location — it is a good three-block walk to the corner of Broadway and Main Street, and several more blocks from there to Courthouse Square — and given how hidden this building is, I’m guessing that the public won’t be using this garage very much. Nevertheless, by making the garage open to the public during non-business hours, the developer was able to significantly reduce the number of parking spaces required based on the building’s square footage.

The building’s parking garage has been designed to accommodate 123 cars and 9 motorcycles. Both the ground-floor level and the second-floor parking level are fairly conventional. The subterranean level, on the other hand, is where things get interesting. In order to squeeze 135 total vehicles into those three levels, the architect had to employ some 35 “stackers”: individual automobile lifts that allow two cars to occupy the space normally needed by one. The stackers will all be located on the underground level, and will necessitate the presence of a valet to work the mechanisms. I was interested to hear that some of the regular users of the stackers, who work in the building during the day, may be permitted to work the stackers on their own. But members of the public using the garage during non-business hours would, once the conventional spaces on the two upper parking levels have been fully occupied, leave their cars with the valet, who would be responsible for parking and retrieving cars from the underground level.

Other than the garage, this building is a fairly conventional one. As at least one member of the Planning Commission noted, one benefit of this building is that it will help hide the Marston’s two rather large blank walls. And the design itself is rather attractive, so it should be a nice addition to this part of the city. Given its location I expect most of the traffic to and from the building will come via Veterans Boulevard, and a quick check of the project EIR shows only minor (one or two tenths of a second) added delays during commute hours at some of the surrounding intersections. Thus, this project seems to have some nice upsides, with very few downsides.

Watching the Planning Commission meeting I was wondering if there would be any pushback on this project, but there really wasn’t any of note. Given its location, its size, and its relative lack of impact on commute traffic once the building is occupied, however, that really comes as no surprise. Some of the larger projects yet to come before the city won’t have it so easy, but this one, at least, shows that a well-designed and located project of modest size can still be welcomed by the powers-that-be in Redwood City.