Published in the October 31 – November 13, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life

Zachary Hilton

It’s 5 p.m. on a recent Thursday and we are walking down Fifth Street from Miller Avenue, which is one of our favorite neighborhoods. We are on our way to Downtown Live, but first a stop to Golden State Brew & Grill.  This was actually our daughter’s idea because even though Golden State Brewery’s beer is pouring at Downtown Live, she loves their grilled cheese sandwiches and playing their board games. We come up to Church Street and it’s a constant flow of traffic from the downtown being closed. No crosswalks, or flashing beacons to alert drivers that we are there. Someone sees us as we creep out and we cross safely. What worries me is that we still have to cross that intersection at night.

In 2018 we have closed down the streets around downtown to automobiles and have opened them up to walkers/bikers more than in the recent past.  Events like Downtown Live, National Night Out, Garlic City Car Show, and the CARAS Tamal Festival support the equity of our streets to other users besides an automobile.

The Gilroy Bicycle Pedestrian Commission supports these open streets events, and we are advocating for the use of Measure B funds once released to host a variety of open streets events sponsored by the city. Measure B funding will provide annual funds for education and encouragement of bicycle and pedestrian activities. One of the unintended consequences from shutting the roads down and encouraging the neighboring residential districts to walk and bike downtown is that diverted traffic will use Eigleberry and Church streets.

This extra traffic is creating a hazard when crossing Church Street at Fourth and Fifth streets where there are no high visibility crosswalks. Our commission is aware of this and we are working with city engineering employees to come up with solutions.  When we encourage routes we need to make sure they are safe and accessible by all. We are a Complete Streets city by resolution.

Another way the city is trying to boost downtown foot traffic is the recent ordinance adopted by the Gilroy City Council that allows ground floor office space within the Historic Downtown expect from Fourth to Sixth streets, which is considered the core of downtown. They opened this up for a period of two years to stay with the trend that regular retail is in the past. Creating more foot traffic around the downtown during the daytime will be a boost to downtown’s economic development.

One other use that was suggested by Gary Walton of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association is to split up some of these large buildings. Some of these buildings might look narrow in the front, but once you walk in they are huge. Many tenants don’t need the extra space and it goes unused. Allowing this will support activating Gourmet Alley into a bicycle/pedestrian only destination, which is in our commission’s work plan.

Imagine a vibrant office up front on Monterey Road that’s inviting like The Real Society and then out back on Gourmet Alley is a specialty crepe shop with outdoor seating.

I just finished up applying for a Bicycle Friendly City Award from the League of American Bicyclists. Only seven out of 15 cities in Santa Clara County have this award. Please help us out and complete a survey on our website regarding the award. Having this designation will allow us to attract more grants and funding to support a healthy community.  Each year Santa Clara County Public Health scores cities through their Healthy Cities Initiatives. Our commission is actively helping Gilroy score higher on this list.

Being an effective advocate for these programs and policies means that you need to build good relationships with your city council members. Councilmember Dan Harney was my council sponsor for the Downtown Bicycle Parking Plan and many Safe Routes to School issues. Dan recently posted another accomplishment by Gilroy in receiving the Age Friendly City Award from the World Health Organization for Gilroy. This award states an age-friendly world enables people of all ages to actively participate in community activities and treats everyone with respect, regardless of their age, and it helps people stay healthy and active even at the oldest ages and provides appropriate support to those who can no longer look after themselves.

Our Commission will have an opening for a four-year position beginning January 2019. Check out our section of the city website to see what we are all about. Follow us at #GilroyBPAC

Zachary Hilton is a member of Gilroy’s Bicycle Pedestrian Commission. He wrote this column for Gilroy Life.

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