A proposed trail for bicyclists and pedestrians through the center of Midtown Palo Alto is taking some residents by surprise, and they aren't sure whether it will be such a good thing, they said.
The 1.3-mile Matadero Creek Trail would run along Matadero Creek levees and access roads, stretching from West Bayshore Road to Alma Street. City officials say it will be a community asset by providing off-road access to Palo Alto schools, including El Carmelo and Ohlone elementary schools, and parks, including Hoover, Seale and Greer.
The project is part of the Stanford and Palo Alto Trails Program, a plan to expand and create more than 8 miles of recreational corridors in and around the Stanford University campus and Palo Alto. The program would eventually link San Francisco Bay trails to Stanford University and Arastradero Preserve. The trail is also a key element of the city's 2012 Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan and would connect with future bike boulevards along Ross, Greer and Louis roads, city officials said.
The trail's feasibility study isn't even scheduled to begin until this fall, but Midtown neighborhood leaders are already concerned that portions of the trail will come too close to homes.
Sheri Furman, chairwoman of the Midtown Residents Association, last month pointed out homes with backyards adjacent to the proposed path. She said she did not think most people knew the trail would run right past their houses.
Midtown residents have expressed concern about privacy issues, the potential for littering, 24-hour noise, dangerous traffic on streets the trail would connect to, and property devaluation, neighborhood leaders said.
Julie Nolan, a Waverley Street resident whose backyard would abut the creek trail, said her home has been burglarized, and the robber is thought to have come through the backyard. The trail is located about 6 feet from her home, she said.
"The plan is for a 24/7 lighted trail. There are issues about safety and crime and who will police it. People will go by all the time. It would go along very close to a lot of houses. How is that managed? Do we really want people to be going past backyards at 2 in the morning?" she said.
Nolan also said that the proposed path would cross four-lane streets, creating danger. Bicyclists and pedestrians would ride or stroll along the quiet path and then suddenly come upon intersections with heavy traffic, she said.
At Middlefield Road the trail would cross where there isn't a stoplight, although crosswalk markings could be improved and a rapid-flashing beacon is recommended, she said.
"I don't see how that could possibly be a safe route for any child going to school on a bike," she said, noting that a safer school route is a selling point for the trail.
Chuck Bradley, a 47-year resident whose home also backs up to the proposed trail route, said he and other neighbors were caught by surprise by the proposal. He voiced similar concerns about safety, potential crime and noise.
He said he thinks the side streets do an adequate job of providing access and would link up with the planned Adobe Creek overpass, for example.
"I don't feel there is a strong need to run a hiking and biking trail down the creek," he said.
He also wondered who -- and how many people -- would benefit from the trail.
"We need to know if this investment is well-spent," he said.
City Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said Palo Alto has received a $1.5 million grant for the project from Santa Clara County. The city could provide about $500,000 as part of its 2014 Capital Improvement Projects budget.
The majority of the trail would follow an existing water-district maintenance road along the north side of the creek, except from Middlefield to Ross roads, where it would run south of the creek, according to Stanford and Palo Alto Trails Program documents.
The existing gravel maintenance road would be replaced with a decomposed granite surface, with decorative railings in places for safety and low-level lighting. New signage and improved crosswalks would be added at intersections with major streets.
The trail was introduced during the overall Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan adopted by the City Council in July. But the configuration is not set in stone. The feasibility study would include identifying preferred trail alignments and an environmental assessment, Rodriguez said.
The city plans extensive community outreach, he added. A preliminary project schedule could be developed this spring as part of the 2014 Capital Improvement Program, but until funds become available in July, no formal project planning will begin, Rodriguez said.
More information about the trail project is available here.