The City of Morgan Hill plans to spend more than $500,000 on efforts to reduce commuter traffic in the city’s downtown, install new safety measures and design a Monterey Road Lane Reduction project through the neighborhood that would incorporate parklet spaces and a protected lane for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Morgan Hill City Council voted 3-2 Jan. 19 to implement the staff-recommended schedule to mitigate traffic and implement a narrowing of Monterey Road in the city’s downtown. Councilmembers Rene Spring and Yvonne Martinez Beltran voted against the staff recommendation.
The council’s vote comes just a few weeks before the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters’ deadline to certify signatures for a citizen-led ballot initiative that would require voter approval for any future narrowing of Monterey Road in the downtown corridor.
Specifically, the council on Jan. 19 approved the following staff recommended items following a lengthy discussion that briefly grew contentious and featured a crowd of residents offering public comment on the city’s ongoing downtown improvement efforts:
– Approve a proposed Traffic Mitigation Plan to support a future Monterey Road Lane Reduction in downtown Morgan Hill;
– Approve the Lane Reduction redesign of Monterey Road from Dunne to Main avenues to be implemented at a future date (which will require another vote by the council);
– Direct city staff to install safety bollards at pedestrian crossings on Monterey Road and First, Second and Fourth streets;
– Direct staff to conduct and present a review of the city’s Parklet Program and draft a Parklet Fee Financing Assistance Program;
– Direct staff to explore the creation of a “community parklet” that features an interactive art installation;
– Direct staff to devise a consulting contract to implement a Property Based Improvement District to raise funds for improvements and maintenance of downtown public infrastructure;
– And adopt a budget resolution appropriating an additional $210,530 for the downtown traffic mitigation, lane reduction, safety efforts and aesthetic improvements.
These combined initiatives will aim to create “place branding” and “beautification” of downtown streets, along with safety enhancements, according to city staff.
The prevailing Lane Reduction concept would preserve one lane of Monterey Road for vehicle traffic; transform the existing outside lane in each direction to a pedestrian and bike lane with a buffer from vehicle traffic; and turn existing parallel parking on Monterey Road into parklet spaces. The city has previously contracted with AP+I design to create visual representations of a lane-reduced Monterey Road.
Altogether, the lane reduction (including traffic mitigation), place branding and beautification will cost $553,400. The council in May 2021—on a similar 3-2 vote—approved a $300,000 budget for the project.
The city will use a $92,870 grant to pay for a portion of the lane reduction aspect of the project, city staff said.
City officials and members of the public have been discussing different possibilities to improve traffic safety downtown for many years.
New to the Jan. 19 staff recommendation was the traffic mitigation effort that is designed to encourage commuters to drive around downtown Morgan Hill during rush hour. The main component of the mitigation plan is a synchronization of traffic lights on Butterfield Boulevard to allow north-south motorists to hit more green lights at peak hours.
This will cost about $106,000, including the installation of 13 new traffic signal controllers along Butterfield Boulevard, city staff said.
The traffic mitigation program also includes an adjustment of the traffic signal at Monterey and Cochrane roads to “prioritize the movement of vehicles onto Cochrane/Butterfield over continuing south on Monterey Road,” says a city staff report. The effort also includes a communications plan to alert motorists of the changes.
The city will take traffic counts on relevant local streets before and after the signals are synchronized. This data will be presented to the city council in the summer, at which time the body may again discuss implementing the Monterey Road Lane Reduction.
If the council opts at that time not to implement lane reduction, it may consider reducing Monterey Road to two lanes downtown again in early 2024—after the Hale Avenue extension around the west side of Morgan Hill is complete.
Much of the discussion at the Jan. 19 meeting recalled the city’s temporary Monterey Road Lane Reduction pilot program in 2015, which sharply divided the public. Mayor Rich Constantine said most of the factors cited as hindrances to a safe, smoothly running lane reduction in 2015 are now gone: there is no more major construction on Monterey Road downtown; construction of Butterfield Boulevard south to Watsonville Road is complete; and the Third Street parking garage is complete.
Only one piece of the puzzle—the Hale Avenue extension—is still missing, Constantine said. The new road, expected to be complete in late 2023, is intended to create a more efficient route around the west side of the downtown.
“Now is the opportunity to do two things: get traffic off Monterey Road—our goal has always been to get more cars off Monterey Road, and if we can do that with the traffic mitigation plan (without) a lane reduction, that is a huge win,” Constantine said. “The second thing is, we can actually find out if this is doable, if we can transmit all those cars that don’t want to stop in our city and (currently) have to go through town.”
Spring voted against the traffic mitigation and related plans because of a pending voter initiative started by a group of Morgan Hill voters in June 2021. The initiative would require any future narrowing of Monterey Road through downtown to be approved by the voters.
The group collected 3,467 voters—well over the approximately 2,800 that were required—and submitted the completed petition to election officials in December. County elections officials are in the process of completing the petition’s signature count, and have until Feb. 4 to do so.
The initiative is titled “Citizens’ initiative amending the General Plan to require voter approval of any future Monterey Road Lane Reduction.”
If the petition qualifies, it will then go to the Morgan Hill City Council for verification. The five-member council could implement the initiative ordinance by a majority vote, or approve it for a future ballot.
The Jan. 19 council discussion followed months of community meetings, workshops, working group sessions and other efforts by city staff to solicit input for its recommendations to the council.
Parklets for the public
A cornerstone of the City of Morgan Hill’s “Place Branding” initiative for the downtown neighborhood is the creation of parklets. These spaces would transform existing parallel parking spaces on Monterey Road in the downtown into more welcoming, inviting spaces for people to enjoy outside their vehicles.
The spaces would mostly be used by individual businesses—such as a restaurant that wants to create an outdoor dining patio. The city, however, wants to create at least one “community parklet” that is open for anybody to use, whether they plan to buy anything downtown or not.
“(Staff) can use this space to create an interactive art installation that can illuminate and activate the Downtown through community use and gathering,” says a city staff report. “Staff recommends a community parklet with an art installation to create a visual attraction and support the efforts to make Morgan Hill a tourism destination.”
The city created a parklet program in 2018. The concept didn’t catch on for downtown tenants or property owners until the Covid-19 pandemic hit, moving more commercial, recreational and personal life outdoors.
The city council’s Jan. 19 vote includes direction to city staff to review the status of the existing parklet program, draft a Parklet Fee Financing Assistance Program ($50,000 estimated cost) and explore the creation of a community parklet with an art installation along Monterey Road ($200,000 estimated cost).