Sunnyvale Continues Selling Cars on El Camino but Driving Fewer of them on Murphy and Tasman

On February 7, Sunnyvale City Council moved to convert Murphy Street into a Pedestrian Mall and to extend the temporary lane closure on Tasman Drive until December 2024. The council also clarified the zoning rules to conditionally permit auto sales along El Camino Real.

For African American History Month, Santa Clara County’s Poet Laureate, Tshaka Campbell, recited a poem, “Ally in Ten Octaves.” The final line resonated with your faithful reporter, given the task at hand: “10. We will hum the journey’s chorus to you on the way up, but you, my friend, must write in the words yourself.”

For Public Comment, Margaret Lawson spoke on the nature of Fremont Avenue. The street is built like a six-lane highway with dead landscaping. Lawson advocated for rebuilding Fremont as a four-lane avenue with landscaping and protected bike lanes, citing nearby San Antonio Road in Los Altos as a model. Eric Crock spoke against a proposed dog park beneath the PG&E line between Lois and Ramona, citing the need for children to access unmanicured natural areas. Sharlene Liu, with Bike Sunnyvale, and Jonathan Blum advocated for a newly-proposed study issue on Active Transportation metrics. Angela Hickson and Eileen Lai advocated for safer transportation options for Fremont High School students. Lai, a Sunnyvale School District Board member, also advocated for a new K-8 school to be included in plans to redevelop Moffet Park. Steve Meier voiced concern over a recently dismissed lawsuit involving a stalking incident within Sunnyvale Public Safety.

Permanent Closure of Murphy Avenue

Notice of Intention to Establish a Pedestrian Mall, Murphy Ave.

During the Pandemic, the 100 Block of South Murphy Ave was closed to through traffic. Staff explained that there was widespread support among the public and local merchants to keep Murphy St permanently closed and converted to a pedestrian mall. As a pedestrian mall, the street will require accessibility improvements. Staff recommended paying for those improvements from the city’s Community Benefits Fund, as many local merchants were still recovering from business lost during the Pandemic. Once modifications are complete, the cost of ongoing maintenance will run around $200 per month per business.

Councilmember Mehlinger commented that when it comes around to covering maintenance costs, instead of charging a flat fee per business, the city could look at “leasing” specific portions of the street to business use, making the costs for merchants proportional to their benefit.

Half a dozen residents and business owners spoke in support of the pedestrian mall. Resident Bryce Beagle asked that portions of the pedestrian mall be made available as a public amenity so folks could come and sit at a table and not feel obliged to purchase something. “Right now, there are only a couple uncomfortable metal benches hidden amongst the dining tables.” Beagle also highlighted the need for more and better bike parking. Leia Mehlman elaborated on the need for bike parking and seconded a comment to bring the Saturday Farmer’s Market back up Murphy, as it has been in the past.

Council unanimously signed off on the pedestrian mall plan. This sets a public hearing for May 16. City staff will work on a project to regrade the vehicle parking bays for accessibility.

Temporary Tasman Drive Closure Extended

Tasman Drive is a four-lane road with light rail running down the center and lacking consistent sidewalks. Owing to resident advocacy, one Eastbound lane was closed to provide an ersatz sidewalk and protected bike lane in June 2020. The closure was extended in August 2021. Dennis Ng of Public Works explained that while traffic was increasing about 1% per month, it was still well below pre-Pandemic levels, with no delays in traffic or emergency vehicle response. The city is spending around $1,300 monthly to maintain the temporary barriers. A consultant will join city staff in March to study the installation of a permanent pedestrian and bicycle facility.

Several residents of the Casa de Amigos mobile home park expressed how grateful they are for the temporary lane closure and their hope for a more permanent fix. It was noted that going Westbound, traffic can flow at 50 MPH around curves that limit visibility, which is terrifying for cyclists. In contrast, on the Eastbound side, with the temporary lane closure, motor vehicles travel at a lower speed, and people have room to travel safely.

Casa de Amigos resident Harfijah Oliver explained that before the lane closure, “a lot of residents felt trapped, and we would only walk within our complex. It was not safe at all to walk to the grocery store on the corner of Fair Oaks and Tasman, and now we can. I am very grateful.” Oliver explained that she drives to work at peak times and has never had congestion concerns, either pre-Pandemic or since the lane closure. “My son goes to middle school; he uses the bike lane every single day. It has improved his mental health tremendously. Now, he loves to bicycle. He loves to be outdoors more. It also prepares him for the school day, which is really important for parents and families. It is also sending the right message with reducing Carbon footprint.”

Councilmember Mehlinger moved to extend the lane closure until December 2024, pending the analysis of a permanent lane closure, and contingent on the roadway remaining un-congested and accessible for emergency vehicles. Mehlinger explained, “I mentioned that we were opening Murphy Avenue, not closing it. That comment applies here as well. What we are doing is we are opening a new route for cyclists and pedestrians that previously did not exist. Without this facility, there are no safe routes, on foot or on bicycle, heading southwest from the mobile home parks.” Mehlinger cited the Land Use and Transportation Element of Sunnyvale’s General Plan: “the order of consideration of transportation users shall be: 1) pedestrians, 2) non-automotive, e.g., bicycle, 3) mass transit vehicles, 4) delivery vehicles, 5) single-occupant vehicles.” The City Council agreed unanimously.

Zoning for Car Sales on El Camino Real

Council unanimously amended the zoning standards to clarify that auto sales could be allowed on El Camino Real with a conditional-use permit. Director of Community Development, Trudi Ryan, explained that due to a previous oversight while working on the El Camino Real Specific Plan, auto sales were not allowed. Ryan explained that there was an application pending for a mixed-use development that includes auto sales and that this modification would allow the city to consider allowing the applicant to continue selling automobiles as they add housing.

Council adjourned at 11:21 p.m.