Uploaded: Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 9:47 am
Newell bridge replacement project moves forward
Residents respond to three staff-selected design alternatives at community meeting Thursday night
Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents Thursday night aired their views on replacing the 103-year-old, 18-foot-wide Newell Road bridge over San Francisquito Creek after city staff presented three options narrowed down from eight selected for analysis in an Environmental Impact Report.
Last year, staff proposed eight alternatives for revamping the bridge, which crosses over the flood-prone creek, after residents had voiced strong disagreement over what to do about it. On Thursday, Palo Alto's Assistant Director of Public Works Brad Eggleston reviewed staff analysis of the eight options in light of screening criteria developed by staff late last year.
The criteria include the ability to withstand a 100-year flood of the San Francisquito Creek, impact on traffic conditions on nearby streets, and the bridge's capacity or incapacity to accommodate multiple modes of transportation (cars, bikes and pedestrians). Staff's analysis was based on May 2013 traffic counts in 13 intersections as well as projections for future years 2020 and 2035. Staff said an average of 3,000 cars pass over the bridge each day.
Within this criteria, staff recommended that only three designs a one-lane bridge with traffic signals (known as alternative five), a two-lane bridge that maintains the existing alignment of Newell Road (alternative six) and a two-lane bridge with partial realignment of the bridge (alternative seven) move forward to be further analyzed as part of an Environmental Impact Report.
All three options could accommodate the 100-year storm and have minimal or no impact on traffic levels, staff said. Each design was also awarded a number of stars, from zero to three, to represent its capacity to handle cars, bicyclists and pedestrians. Staff gave alternative five two stars, and six and seven, three stars.
Eggleston said that alternative five a one-lane bridge with bi-directional traffic and signals is "unlikely to carry forward" but is "worthy of more study."
It's also standard to carry forward into the Environmental Impact Report the option to keep the bridge as-is, but that route is not being seriously considered, staff said.
Multiple community members voiced disappointment that staff dropped the option to build a two-lane bridge that fully realigns Newell Road on both the Palo Alto and East Palo Alto sides (known as alternative eight).
"I'm disappointed that option eight has been taken off the table," an East Palo Alto resident said. "I don't know why the road has been aligned the way it has ... but it seems to me if were going to do a project, we might as well do it right."
Palo Alto City Manager James Keene responded frankly that Crescent Park residents on the other side of the bridge simply will not accept the increased traffic flow that a fully realigned Newell Road could bring to the neighborhood.
"We dropped off eight and used some criteria to do that," he said. "I'm sorry (but) we have gobs of people in Palo Alto that are just not going to accept that project no matter what, so we just have to be sensible."
Jane Kerschner, who lives five houses from the bridge on Edgewood Drive in Palo Alto, said she's hoping for the city to "recognize the complexity" of the project and work with the public to develop a more unified set of screening criteria.
"My point is, without us agreeing on criteria for determining important elements of the bridge ... without us understanding what goals we have and agreeing on those goals, it's going to be hard for anyone to agree," she said. "I'm appreciative of the process you guys have already gone through ... (but) I'm reluctant to adopt any of the conclusions because I don't think we have a set of criteria we've agreed upon."
She, among many others, also compared the Newell bridge process to current talks underway to replace the nearby Pope-Chaucer Street Bridge.
"I don't know there won't be a phase two down the road," she said, citing designs for Pope-Chaucer that include eventual tall floodwalls, retaining walls, roadway elevations and other controversial elements that many residents raised issue with at a January community meeting.
One man who identified himself as a father with two children at Duveneck Elementary School concurred, saying he was "horrified" at some of the proposed design elements for Pope-Chaucer and warned they have "major ramifications."
Len Materman, executive director of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, which is a partner in the bridge-replacement project, took to the podium to dispel concerns over this comparison.
"We don't have the money for floodwalls; we're not getting into floodwalls," he said. "Please don't get sidetracked by potential future projects down the road that may or may not come to fruition that are not funded. ... Right now we have to focus on what we can do and what we have the money to do."
Eggleston laid out a timeline for the project, with the next step taking the form of environmental-review preparation in March. Staff pegged final EIR certification for spring 2015 and construction to begin in summer 2016.
Staff has not yet scheduled more public meetings, but will do so throughout the environmental review process, they said.
"Ultimately, the jurisdictions are going to have to make some choices and decisions," Keene said. "All we're asking to do today is move forward with essentially three options and the no-project option for much further study and analysis."
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Posted by Hopeful
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 4, 2014 at 4:26 pm
Like many of you, I have read the reports and attended the meetings and I am disheartened by how easily the City of Palo Alto is allowing what was supposed to be a solution to a flooding problem, become a back door into providing a smoother "cut through" path for commuters, at the expense of the safety for our children, who commute on bikes to the various schools that the Newell bike route serves.
In my opinion, it is irresponsible of the City of Palo Alto and East Palo Alto to, by design, bring in more traffic on roads that are heavily used by our children to commute to schools, especially since this conflicts with Palo Alto's stated goal of, "Palo Alto is committed to promoting and encouraging bicycling as a safe, healthy, economical, environmentally friendly mode of transportation that is a viable and convenient alternative to the automobile." Plus, with increased traffic, it will be impossible for automobiles to meet the new law that requires automobiles to pass at least 3 feet away from bikes. With bikes travelling on both sides of the road, sometimes biking 2 or 3 abreast, and cars traveling in both directions, cars will not be able to share the road in a safe, lawful way. This problem will be further exasperated when the city increases the cross-town bus system threefold.
I send out a plea to the City of Palo Alto to seize this opportunity and take a leading role in promoting and encouraging SAFE streets for all bicyclists. Palo Alto needs to address how to curb traffic along school bike routes, but certainly not increase it. This bridge project has presented itself as an ideal opportunity for the City of Palo Alto to make a stand and say, "we are serious about the safety for our children" and "we are serious about encouraging commuters to use bikes, rather than cars." Bring back alternatives 2-4 of the Alternative Screening Analysis Report and remove alternatives 6-8. I'd hate to see option 6, 7, or 8 implemented, just to have barriers and diverters (like what you find on Bryant street and Park Blvd) placed along Newell, to compensate for the increased traffic, which would seem the inevitable outcome.
Additionally, I agree with Puzzled, that it is very clear that the Screening Report criteria and how the criteria are being evaluated were developed in such a way to unfairly result in only adopting a two-lane bridge option. My concerns are threefold:
1) The criteria used are not focused on the problem at hand, or solving the flooding problem, but rather the criteria used are mainly about evaluating traffic changes,
2) The recommendations were solely based on a pass or fail of the criteria, rather than providing a scale or weighted criteria, which would have been more appropriate, and lastly,
3) The criteria were evaluated using different standards for some of the options, which resulted in directing the answers to options 6-8.
It appears that the recommendation being made by the study does not evaluate the best solution to our flooding problem. A two-lane bridge is being recommended, yet there has been no evidence presented or evaluation performed that shows a two-lane bridge versus a one-lane bride or no bridge, is a better solution to deal with the flooding situation. First and foremost the flooding issue needs to be addressed and it is not sufficient to only ask "Does Alternative Accommodate the 100‐Year Storm Flow?" Other, more thorough criteria, need to be used, so that each alternative can be assessed in detail, as to which alternative is better. At a minimum, a more relevant question might be, "which alternative accommodates the 100-year storm flow at the lowest cost?" Other questions might be about the aesthetics of each solution to the immediate vicinity. But assessing traffic flow has absolutely NO impact on the storm flow. Shouldn't we first come up with a short list of recommendations that best satisfy the storm flow problem, using more detailed criteria, and then after that, evaluate the short list against other criteria, like changes to the current traffic?
When a pass/fail system is solely employed, the results are very misleading, as it is easy to write questions and define the "acceptable" answers to these questions in such a way that the pre-desired result is the only option that passes all criteria. For example, in the Screening study, only the options with 2-lanes could receive 3 stars for "multi-modal" traffic. When did the community decide that it values most a bridge with 2 lanes? We didn't, but this criterion assumes this, because it gives the highest rating to only those options that include a 2-lane bridge. The criterion for "LOS" follows the same logic. By definition, if you define the status quo as the minimum level of service, then any option that is lesser would not pass. In order for this criterion to be valid, we first need to decide if we will accept nothing less than a replacement bridge that accommodates traffic, as it does today. I wasn't aware that Palo Alto had made this an absolute requirement, yet the study makes it an absolute requirement.
Lastly, the study should fairly evaluate all criteria against each alternative. For example, under a fair evaluation, the TIRE criterion should have eliminated options 6-8. Options 2-4 were eliminated instead, for not meeting this criterion, because the study indicated that the diverted traffic would be anticipated to increase the level of vehicular noise and speed on some streets. Although this is true, what the study left out was that noise would be reduced on other streets, yielding ZERO net new noise. Options 6-8 will increase traffic and noise in all streets in the surrounding Newell bridge area, with a large bulk of the increase on the span of Newell between Woodland and Embarcadero, yet options 6-8 passed this criterion. Don't the results seem flipped? The study seems to be ignoring the traffic infusion on Newell Road itself. All residential roads need to be included in this evaluation and fairly estimating the new infusion of traffic and related noise brought on by a 2-lane bridge needs to be considered. I suggest if you consider net new noise in all neighborhoods and by assigning a fair estimate to the increase of traffic brought on by a 2-lane bridge (4% to 10% is ludicrously low), options 6-8 would prove not viable.
I further suggest the screening study should be redone, in an unbiased manner. It should separate criteria into the pass/fail category (with these categories being pre-approved by the community) and then it should apply another set of criteria (also pre-approved by the community) to the options that pass the first set of criteria. The second set of criteria should also be detailed and weighted as to their relevance.
If Palo Alto has decided it needs to address traffic in our city, then I suggest this should be studied apart from the flooding project and it should evaluate the most impacted traffic areas in Palo Alto. Whether or not the Newell Bridge area would make this short list, I don't know, but I do believe that mingling a traffic analysis with the flood project is a back door way of avoiding a "true" traffic analysis and changes that Palo Alto residents can get behind and endorse.