UPDATE: Downtown San Jose street to become pedestrian path
San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. City officials are considering turning San Pedro Street into a permanent public walkway. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    San Jose is on the road to preserving pedestrian-only access indefinitely on San Pedro Street—but it will take years and millions of dollars in long-term infrastructure improvements to make it possible.

    The San Jose City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to give initial approval for plans to repave the street as a sidewalk and reroute the parking garage exit to another street, among other beautification measures. San Jose officials estimate the process will take at least two and a half years and cost approximately $9.5 million.

    “It will certainly be worth it,” Randy Musterer, owner of local restaurant Sushi Confidential, told San José Spotlight. “The city is not pouring in about $10 million to create something that we haven’t tried yet. We know this area is going to thrive.”

    Last June, San Jose officials voted on a trial period of closing San Pedro Street to cars everyday so restaurants and bars could continue operating outdoors, like they did during the pandemic. While the closure was positive for owners of local eateries in the area, it revealed other aspects that needed upgrading as well. The city is now redesigning the area so it adheres to fire and life safety requirements and also makes it accessible for food delivery and garbage pick up, along with other crucial city services.

    Example of potential garage reconfiguration. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

    The proposed design includes a pedestrian walkway with an emergency vehicle access lane down the center of San Pedro Street. It also recommends moving fire hydrants to more accessible locations, as well as replacing the existing curbs and road surface with a more pedestrian-friendly layout. The suggested reconfigurations would give each business about 10-12 feet, according to city documents.

    The parking garage on Market and San Pedro streets will also be reconfigured to eliminate car access on the San Pedro side.

    Councilmembers Omar Torres, Dev Davis and Bien Doan, along with Mayor Matt Mahan and Vice Mayor Rosemary Kamei, support the redesign. But they want the city to explore a phased construction approach so businesses aren’t as affected by the project.

    “(I want to make sure) there’s nothing that our small businesses along that corridor would like to do that will be blocked on us going through this process,” Mahan said at the meeting. “This is one of the most successful things we have seen come out of the pandemic… this space in particular has just been so vibrant and beloved by residents.”

    City leaders suggested painting the streets, creating a mural or possibly even AI art to make the block more colorful and vibrant. They also want to explore possible grants to support construction, since the cost of nearly $10 million will be a burden on the city’s general fund. However, the money will not be coming from this upcoming budget. City staff currently doesn’t know where the $10 million will come from.

    “(We are) seeking private sources, potentially going for a federal or a state earmark,” said Blage Zelalich, deputy director of economic development. “We have not definitively identified the sources, but we do have a few ideas.”

    The city will absorb most of the construction costs, but businesses will be required to pay for additional permits to help make San Pedro an outdoor pedestrian mall instead of a city street. One such fee is a $532 sidewalk seating permit to utilize new outdoor seating space, which includes an initial application fee for the permit, plus time and material fees for subsequent review and inspection.

    Musterer said he doesn’t mind the additional fees so long as the vision comes to life because it will be a win for businesses and residents alike.

    “It helps downtown San Jose compete with Santana Row and some of the malls, and just other areas that are a little bit more vibrant,” Musterer said. “We’re able to now build that in the heart of downtown San Jose.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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