More than 50 Palo Alto bikers hit the road Saturday morning on a tour of the city's south streets, stopping at points along the way to give feedback to city officials about the enjoyable, uncomfortable and hazardous features of the routes.
Saturday's bike-along was one of a series of "meetings on wheels" with interested locals the first outreach of its kind in Palo Alto, prompted by the city's aim to implement 23 new bike projects throughout the city.
"We're not designing today," Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Official and bike-along host Jaime Rodriguez told fellow cyclists. "We're just soliciting your input."
The bikers -- some in jeans and T-shirts, others in fluorescent spandex, but all donning helmets -- began at Piazza's Fine Foods on Charleston Road before crossing through Cubberley Community Center and onto Nelson Drive. Though several people enjoyed the tranquil ride through the campus, others had concerns about Cubberley's activity on the not-so-quiet weekdays.
"I know it's legal for children to ride on the sidewalk, but they should know that cars aren't looking for them there," longtime Palo Alto resident Patricia Morris said.
Another woman agreed, citing several times bikers on the Cubberley campus have been hit by car doors as they were being opened by parked motorists who weren't expecting oncoming bikers.
One solution to ″dooring″ is already in the works, officials said. The city's bike plan calls for installations of "sharrows," symbols that designate biking space on roads without bike lanes to prevent "dooring" from parked cars.
The tour proceeded north on Alma Street's sidewalk to avoid sharing the thoroughfare's narrow lanes with passing cars. Some residents felt safe up on the sidewalk, though one man said he didn't think he would feel safe riding on Alma even if a bike lane were put in.
"Alma is just one of a network″ of bike paths, Rodriguez reminded residents, adding that the city's bike plan is geared toward giving choices to cyclists.
In March, the city approved $2.2 million to start the planning of its numerous projects, which include bike boulevards, "sharrows" installations and multi-use trails.
On May 14, Rodriguez updated the city's Planning and Transportation Commission on active bicycle projects, which are part of a master plan the city approved in 2012 with the goal of making Palo Alto one of the nation's top biking destinations. Rodriguez touched on the outreach tours, saying that the bike-alongs have had a diverse turnout with kids, parents and seniors alike.
"It's been a great discussion," he said.
Tours earlier this month and in late April explored proposed bike boulevards on Stanford Avenue and Wilke Way; Homer and Channing avenues' enhanced bikeway projects; and the Barron Park neighborhood bike routes.
Saturday's tour covered southern projects that are being funded by Internet search giant Google. Those include the San Antonio Avenue bike route and the Alma Street enhanced bikeway, among others.
Stopping with the tour near some of Google's newly acquired Palo Alto and Mountain View properties, including the former Mayfield Mall at Central Expressway and San Antonio Road, Palo Alto resident Vijnan Shastri voiced his concern on crossing San Antonio Avenue.
"Going across is great, but coming back is not so great because you're on the wrong side of the road to push the button," he said.
Rodriguez said Google wants to fix this exact problem. The company's partnership with the city will support connections with Google facilities, though one Google source said that the company's projects are not tied to any one piece of its recently growing property portfolio and that the main goal is to increase bicycle connectivity between Palo Alto and Mountain View, benefiting Google employees and residents alike.
Currently, Google is financing the planning phases for six south city projects, Rodriguez said, but he hopes the Mountain View-based firm will also fund the next phases.
Google's projects include: the Alma Street enhanced bikeway from Charleston Road to San Antonio Avenue; the Cubberley Community Center trail from Middlefield Road to Nelson Drive; the Middlefield Road enhanced bikeway from Charleston Road to the city's southern limit; the Montrose Avenue bicycle boulevard from Charleston Road to Middlefield Road; the San Antonio Avenue bicycle route from Byron Street to Alma street; and the San Antonio Road Bicycle route from Bayshore Parkway to Byron Street. Added together, the routes total more than three miles.
Rodriguez said that Google is paying the consulting companies directly for their planning services. A Google source said the sum is less than $200,000 for two of the projects currently underway.
Representatives from Fehr & Peers and Alta Planning & Design, two of four consulting companies the city has enlisted to help with the bicycle projects, joined Saturday's tour. Rodriguez cited wanting a variety of expertise as reason for hiring several companies.
In addition to reaching out to residents via bike tours, the city also hosts a table at the Palo Alto Farmers Market where residents can ask questions and get more information about the city's bike plan. Residents can also visit City of Palo Alto to give their input online, dropping a pin on a bike route map and typing in concerns or suggestions for improvements.
"A lot of work is focused on the planning phase," Rodriguez said of the projects.
The city will likely be in the planning phase for the next year at least until it can move forward with the approval processes, full design and finally construction, he added.
Rodriguez expressed optimism about Palo Alto's future as one of California's most bicycle-friendly cities.
"I always hear the same thing from the community," Rodriguez said. "We have a wonderful plan."