Palo Alto's ambitious plan to give residents and bicyclists convenient, year-round access to the Baylands took a major leap forward Wednesday morning when Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss unveiled a new proposal that would invest $5 million in a new bicycle bridge over U.S. Highway 101.
The proposed bicycle-and-pedestrian bridge is a key component of Palo Alto's Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, a document aimed at making the city one of the nation's top bicycling destinations. Staff, consultants and members of the bicycle community have been evaluating possible locations for a new highway crossing for more than a year. Last year, the council accepted a recommendation to build a new crossing at Adobe Creek.
The biggest wildcard for the project has been its price tag, which staff pegged at somewhere between $8 million and $10 million. The $5 million grant, which the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider Tuesday morning, would be the first significant funding source for the project.
The proposal, which Kniss unveiled at a press conference Wednesday morning, also includes $3 million to complete the Dumbarton link in the San Francisco Bay Trail between Redwood City and Alviso. The 27-mile link would be the latest addition to the Bay Trail, a 500-mile shoreline trail that rings San Francisco Bay. So far, 310 miles of this trail have been completed.
The money for the two projects would come from a pool of funds that Stanford University contributed to the county more than a decade ago, when it was applying for a General Use Permit (GUP). The permit enabled Stanford to add close to 5 million square feet of buildings to its campus. Stanford's contribution to recreational opportunities in the region was one of the conditions of the county's approval.
Flanked by more than a dozen environmentalists, bicyclists and local dignitaries, Kniss called the proposal to invest in the bridge and the trail a "breakthrough" and "one of the most exciting announcements I've ever made in my public life." She noted that it's been 11 years since Stanford had received the permit and the university's $10.37 million contribution for recreational opportunities has yet to be spent. County officials had initially expected the funds to be spent on a walking trail at Alpine Road, Kniss said. In December, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 not to pursue the so-called "northern trail," allowing money to be spent on other projects.
"This is a long, long winding trail," Kniss said, referring to the process of allocating Stanford funds for recreational opportunities.
She said the pedestrian-and-bike bridge would "serve as a safe, year-round connection" to the Baylands. Palo Alto currently has one bicycle connection across Highway 101 in south Palo Alto -- a flood-prone undercrossing at Adobe Creek that is typically open between April and October. Officials have long been discussing the prospect of opening a year-round crossing. At the Wednesday press conference, Vice Mayor Greg Scharff called the new Adobe Creek bridge a "high priority" and said he's thrilled by the proposal to make the bridge a reality. Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie agreed and said the city expects 40,000 bicyclists to use the bridge every year.
"This is an extremely important link in our bike-commuter system," Emslie said.
Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez estimated that it would take about two years for the city to complete the necessary design work and environmental analysis. It would then take another two years to complete construction, he said. In the meantime, the city will continue to look for other funding sources and partnerships.
"This gets us halfway there," Rodriguez said.
Kniss also lauded the trail project, saying it will open up a host of recreational opportunities for residents of East Palo Alto and surrounding cities. These could include a possible marathon along the new shoreline trail, she said.
Her proposal was greeted with enthusiasm from local bicyclists and conservationists, including members of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Nonette Hanko, a member of the district's board of directors, said that while the district was disappointed that the northern trail couldn't be built, members are excited about the new Dumbarton Trail proposal. She called the new connecting trail a "long-held dream."
Lennie Roberts, legislative advocate for Committee for Green Foothills, praised both projects and said her group looks forward to the completion of the Bay Trail and the bridge at Adobe Creek.
"It's been over 11 years since Stanford received its General Use Permit (GUP) to develop nearly 5 million square feet of building on its campus," Roberts said. "Stanford has been building new facilities during these 11 years, but the full mitigation for loss of recreational opportunities due to campus expansion has not yet been provided."