Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Parking issues are apparently not confined to Los Altos’ downtown core.
According to Tracy Ross, a Los Altos resident and property owner in the Loyola Corners business district, some cyclists have made a habit of using the private parking lot she shares with other owners as a meeting place for group rides.
The 35-space lot in question is located directly behind Tom’s Depot, Café Vitale and other merchants.
Ross said the group rides typically occur around noon and 5-7 p.m. weekdays, as well as on weekends. And that’s the crux of the issue – the cars are left occupying spaces as the cyclists ride off.
She said cyclists use the lot when merchants are at their busiest, leading to a parking crunch that forces customers to circle the lot to find a space. Ross added that she’s left leaflets on the cyclists’ windshields as reminders that the lot is for customers, but to no avail.
“For all the customers who want to stop and get a sandwich or something, where do they (park)?” Ross asked. “They can’t do it. There’s no overflow here, so it’s not like there’s a secondary choice. If you run into this two or three times, you’re not going to come back.”
Ross said the problem has become so persistent that she’s planning to hire a patrol service to enforce the lot’s intended use.
“I don’t want to have to confront people about it,” said Ross, who added that employees of surrounding businesses usually take up street parking around the area. “It’s unpleasant. I don’t want to have to tow anyone or hire someone to patrol the lot. Unfortunately, they’re hurting the businesses.”
Dave Prion, however, sees the problem as an untapped opportunity for merchants. Prion, general manager of Bicycle Outfitters at 963 Fremont Ave., said he understands Ross’ frustrations but noted that the area has historically been used as a meet-up spot for cyclists. He believes surrounding merchants should work together to try and draw cyclists into stores before or after rides.
“It’s been going on a long time,” Prion said. “It resurfaces now and then and it is a problem. But you have to try and turn lemons into lemonade, figure out a way to get those guys in the stores.”
He added that some business district employees use the lot and exacerbate the logjam as well. To that end, Prion offers his own employees 15 cents per mile to cycle to work instead.
Prion also pointed to an annual fall ride by Trek promoting breast cancer awareness as an example of that “lemonade.” He said the event meet-up at Loyola Corners typically includes catering by Tom’s Depot and tents set up for the merchants to encourage participating cyclists to browse.
Suzanne Ambiel, chairwoman of Los Altos’ Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, agreed that cyclists represent a missed opportunity for some merchants. She called Los Altos “a destination location” for cyclists throughout the Bay Area.
“Merchants are not taking advantage of this group of potential customers with significant disposable income,” Ambiel wrote in an email to the Town Crier. “We do nothing as a community or business to encourage spending or enhance those opportunities to do so.”
Ambiel pointed to Sunday Streets, a series of events hosted by San Francisco where streets are closed to vehicle traffic for pedestrians and cyclists. While businesses objected at first, she said, many are now “clamoring” for the event because it has led to increased customer traffic.
“They figured out how to take advantage of the customers on bikes, on foot, on skates, in strollers,” Ambiel said. “They found out that you don’t need a car to spend money.”
As for Ross, she said her parking complaint isn’t meant to discourage cycling but as a plea for common courtesy.
“To do something good for yourself like going out and riding with friends, we all support that,” she said. “But we have to provide parking for customers. You’re doing something good for yourself, but you’re hurting somebody else.”