Will a pedestrian-only mall work on Castro Street in Mountain View? In many cities the concept has failed

Castro Street
Mountain View officials are talking about turning part of Castro Street into a pedestrian mall. Google photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Mountain View officials are taking a risk in potentially turning Castro Street into a pedestrian mall, because some cities have found that the set up can reduce business and attract vandals.

Mountain View city council had voted unanimously to explore creating a pedestrian mall in 2018, with then-mayor Lenny Siegel saying it could bring more business downtown.

As it turns out, Mountain View has many of the characteristics of cities that have built successful pedestrian-only zones, according to a 2010 study. However, the probability of failure remains high.

Between 1960 and 1995, more than 200 downtown pedestrian malls were built in the United States. Only about 30 of them remained by the end of the millennium, according to a study by the National Main Street Center, a nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation.

Cities that have eliminated them include Chicago, Washington, D.C., Eugene, Ore., and Raleigh, N.C., according to Governing Magazine, a trade publication for city officials.

In fact, the nation’s first downtown pedestrian mall appeared in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1959. But the city decided in 1998 to reopen the street after it had become a magnet for vagrants. Residents excitedly competed, via a raffle, to drive the first car down the mall, according to the urban planning website citylab.com.

A notable failure in California was the Fulton Street Mall in Fresno, which reopened to cars in 2017. In Sacramento, K Street was closed to traffic for several blocks in 1969 but gradually converted back to a regular street.

The Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica has gone through ups and downs since it was first closed to traffic in 1965, but is widely cited as a success by urban planners. The city of Santa Monica recently hired Gehl Studio, the same firm Mountain View is consulting for the proposed mall on Castro, to help redesign and renovate the walkway.

Dorian Pojani, a lecturer in urban planning at UC-Berkeley, wrote a study examining the characteristics of pedestrian malls in the U.S. in 2010. Most successful pedestrian malls are built in small- to medium-size cities, Pojani wrote in her study. Mountain View fits this criteria, with its population estimated to be 83,000 as of 2019.

In addition, many pedestrian malls are located close to a college campus or tourist destination, or some other source of “specialized, readily available” consumers. This could be the case in Mountain View, where many employees and affiliates of local tech companies mingle downtown.

Pojani wrote that pedestrian malls need to be carefully managed in order to be successful. Pedestrian-only zones that are marked with vandalism, discontinuous storefronts, and litter tend to fail, while those with rain-ready features (such as canopies) and consistent design patterns tend to succeed.

Pedestrian malls are most suited to areas “that already function as community gathering places,” Pojani wrote. Castro Street is home to the annual Art and Wine Festival, Thursday Night Live and several other crowd-drawing events.

The plan for a pedestrian mall is one of several that the city of Mountain View will study with Gehl Studio. The city will pay the urban design firm up to $225,000 to produce three ideas for how to redesign the 100 block of Castro Street. The public works department will present the ideas to city council sometime in April or May.


  1. The bigger issue is traffic flow across the rail lines, across Central Expressway and through downtown. The heavy pedestrian traffic makes that area a bottleneck, too. Ideally, the rail line would be buried or elevated, the Central/Moffett/Castro intersection would be a light-free highway interchange, and there would be a separate pedestrian thoroughfare. Of course, that would only happen if a huge earthquake leveled the entire area and forced a complete reconstruction of downtown Mountain View. Otherwise, any solution will require significant compromises.

  2. It will probably fail, just because the amount of retail business in that area is not that high. Once you make it so difficult for people to get there by car people will start avoiding that area. You need a big magnet store in such a location, but it’s just a few restaurants right now and none of them particularly special

  3. Not very many cars cross at Moffett/Central. It is infrequently used as a thru way (Shoreline is WAY faster).

    An excellent example of a successful pedestrian mall is Pearl Street in Boulder Colorado. There was the same fussing when it was constructed (~45 years ago), but it brought a lot of activity to the area.

    Frankly Castro is already almost a pedestrian mall. The vast majority of people park on one of the lots a block or two & walk the mall.

  4. My goodness. Is this a news article or an opinion piece?!

    The headline and lead make unsourced claims that pedestrian malls are risky. Then the body of the story cites a Berkeley urban planning study that Mountain View fits the profile of successful pedestrian malls. Seems like that could have been the headline or lead.

    I’m all for opening up Castro St to human beings enjoying the space rather than bulky, noisy, dangerous cars just passing through. Keep in mind, it’s such a low-volume road. When people drive and park, they will barely be affected. It’s not like the world ends when we have the Art & Wine Festival or other block parties.

    Let’s not be afraid of change! Let’s try it!

  5. Funny how candidates run for office saying they’ll reduce traffic, yet this idea will push traffic into neighborhood streets. We need to take the broom to the current council members because this is how they think. They need to be replaced.

  6. Can you imagine what this will do to traffic on Shoreline? All if those people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding Castro who come off of 101 would be forced to use Shoreline.

  7. Let’s see the research the city has done on other many other city’s results. I have not seen any examples put forth. Another social engineering dream foisted on us. Remember group-think city programs; The giant cement block at Centennial Plaza years ago, the blue bike-share where thousands were wasted, the Levis Event parking signs, ND turning Mountain View into a giant free RV park. Vote them out.

  8. Why call it a mall?
    It’s not a mall, it is mostly a string of bars and restaurants. Once you close Castro Street entrance those can spill out from their little boxes and patrons don’t have to sit next to idling cars. Castro is an unmoving mess during lunch and dinner hours.
    I will happily walk downtown more often.

  9. Last year I came home from a work trip to a mid-sized European city which had a large pedestrian-only area downtown, wishing we could do that on Castro street, and in more Bay Area cities. Very glad to hear it is being considered. I hope it is decided to pursue it. I think it could be a big improvement, and with no real downside if done well.

  10. Mountain View has said it would cut the Castro Caltrain crossing for cars. They should keep a one lane, one-way road on Castro’s downtown section. This would be better than a pedestrian-only mall most hours. For the hours where there are a lot of pedestrians they should block off Castro St.

  11. This article is misleading. The MV city council is only exploring closing the 100 block to traffic. That block only has a handful of parking spots, and the intersection only carries about 15-20% (if I recall correctly) of traffic entering/leaving downtown.

    The city is required to get rid of the level crossing. Due to a creek and lack of coordination from neighboring cities, trenching Caltrain is not feasible. Elevating the tracks is similarly difficult, especially given Shoreline goes OVER the tracks. Also considered was trenching Castro, which would run for about 2 blocks on both sides (also bad for business).

    The last option also being considered is having that end of Castro turn onto Evelyn, then add a ramp up to Shoreline (but that will be VERY close to ramps for Central).

  12. IMO a pedestrian mall is much more fit for Palo Alto’s University Avenue. It checks the boxes and traffic on University is far worse than it is on Castro.

    The failed examples in Sac, Fresno, etc. are because those cities tried to be “ahead of the game” but adopted the pedestrian mall when they didn’t really meet all the reasons to do so.

  13. Pedestrian Malls have been in most European cities for over thirty years and they are very successful. Given the level of local traffic, it would be good to get away from the noise and fumes. With adequate parking, I think it will bring more people downtown and will be a boost to local vendors.

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