Construction of the Hale Avenue extension played a big role in re-igniting the discussion of lane reduction.
Editorial is the opinion of Morgan Hill Life
In 2015, the city of Morgan Hill initiated what it called the Monterey Road Complete Streets Pilot program. The city temporarily set up barriers to narrow traffic from four to two lanes. The goal was to give residents a walkable, bike-friendly, family-oriented and transit-oriented neighborhood in Morgan Hill.
Many residents felt passionately either in favor for or against the idea of transforming the traffic flow through downtown by closing the sidewalk-side lanes on both sides of the median. Those opposing lane closing made the argument that complete streets would add extra time to their daily commute. Those favoring making this “road diet” permanent said it would make the downtown a more relaxed and quieter place to dine, shop and do business.
The debate six years ago really centered around what the downtown — the heart of Morgan Hill — should be: a place to pass through on the way to somewhere else, or a human experience where people gather to enjoy life as a community. Narrowing the configuration of Monterey Road between Dunne and Main avenues changed the look and feel of our downtown. Traffic slowed down closer to the legal 25 miles per hour speed limit. We no longer saw vehicles racing at up to 40 miles per hour and faster. We also saw an increase of bicyclists and families on bikes using the special buffered lanes set up for them. And we saw more pedestrian activity downtown — including families who loved the popular Pop-up Park.
The start of construction of the Hale Avenue extension has played a big role in re-igniting the discussion of the downtown lane reduction. Once completed, it will make it easier for commuters to flow through the neighborhoods west of Monterey Road, thus easing the flow of vehicles through the downtown.
The COVID-19 pandemic also serves as a factor for bringing back the complete streets idea. Restaurants in the downtown have increased their outdoor dining. It’s pleasant for patrons to eat in the fresh air, and no doubt this public health effect of the pandemic will continue. With lane reduction, the diners’ experience will be even more enjoyable because they will sit farther away from the noise and exhaust of passing trucks and cars.
The city held an April 23 Downtown Monterey Road Visioning Summit at the MOHI restaurant to bring to the public a renewed discussion of complete streets. Unlike in 2015, overall support by businesses for the plan was much more positive. The city will hold a town hall meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 6, to continue the discussion and provide more opportunity for residents and business owners to share their thoughts on the issue.
Morgan Hill City Councilmember John McKay initiated the original discussion of the complete streets plan six years ago. Back then, many downtown business owners said their commerce had been negatively impacted by the pilot program. Merchants seem far more favorable in 2021 to reducing the lanes once the Hale Avenue extension is completed.
“The business community is now the group that is driving this,” he said. “At first it was a couple of restaurants, then more restaurants, and then all of a sudden people who didn’t first believe in doing it are now supporting it. So the business community is really starting to have a change of heart.”
Let’s keep in mind the goals of complete streets. Reducing the number of lanes going through the downtown core will calm the traffic, increase safety and enhance the economy of downtown businesses by attracting people by providing a far more vibrant ambiance. It will also reduce the noise and air pollution in the downtown region and preserve mobility for those going to local businesses as well as nearby schools and other destinations.
Downtown is the heart of our community. More people choose to live here with the recent construction of apartments and townhomes, compared to six years ago during the pilot program for complete streets. We need to make sure downtown provides an ambiance that enhances everyone’s quality of life — people who live and work there as well as visitors. Enhancing the downtown experience will also help promote it as a tourism destination and bring more customers to enjoy our local shops and restaurants and explore the three downtown parks added after the 2015 pilot program.
We encourage the dynamic discussion on revisiting the complete streets lane reduction idea. The conversation has changed now work on Hale has begun. Whether you are for or against complete streets, share your opinion at the meetings or through communication with city staff.
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