Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 2, 2011

Plan for bike bridge over 101 speeds up

Palo Alto City Council backs proposal to build overpass at Adobe Creek

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's quest to give bicyclists and pedestrians in the southern part of the city year-round access to the Baylands gained major traction Monday night when the City Council enthusiastically backed the construction of a new bridge over U.S. Highway 101.

The bridge, which could cost more than $9 million, would stretch across the highway at Adobe Creek, giving residents and employees a year-round path to the nature preserves east of 101. The council voted 9-0 to endorse a staff proposal to proceed with environmental analysis for the ambitious project.

While the price tag remains a concern and a wildcard, the proposed overpass has already received the backing of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning and Transportation Commission. The planning commission voted in August to recommend a new overpass but urged staff to consider less expensive design alternatives.

The council had fewer reservations than the commission about the project and voted to support an "enhanced" overpass featuring 14-foot lanes, lighting fixtures and a platform overlooking the Baylands. Council members also supported Councilwoman Karen Holman's suggestion to explore holding a design contest for the new structure.

"A bridge going over 101 to the Baylands that structure is going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto," Holman said. "It's going to be how people identify Palo Alto."

Staff estimates the cost of the overcrossing to be between $5.4 million and $9.4 million, depending on the design. City officials are hopeful that most of the construction costs would be funded by grants.

If the city doesn't get sufficient funding for a "really stellar design," Holman said, it should consider a "good utilitarian design" rather than settle for an "underfunded artistic endeavor."

The project would fulfill a major goal of various local land-use documents, including Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan and its new Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, both of which call for a year-round crossing over 101. Most pedestrians and bicyclists currently rely on a flood-prone underpass at Adobe Creek a passage that is typically only open from April to October.

"It's been a long time coming and people have been more than patient with this," Holman said Monday. "We'll still need more patience going forward, but we're making a big step this evening."

Public Works staff and the city's consulting firm Alta Planning + Design chose the Adobe Creek overpass option out of long menu of potential crossings, including a tunnel at Adobe Creek, various types of crossings at Matadero Creek and an overpass at Loma Verde Avenue. The undercrossing options were ultimately discarded because they would not be able to provide year-round access a major goal of the project.

Cedric de la Beaujardiere, who chairs the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the group is supporting the staff proposal for an overpass, particularly one with wide lanes.

"We feel there is a benefit to have a year-round crossing available to all users at that location," he said.

The council shared his view. Mayor Sid Espinosa said he was glad the project was finally moving forward while Councilman Greg Schmid said he "enthusiastically supports" the proposed overpass. Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd said Palo Alto's high rate of bicycle commuters makes it perfectly suited for a new bridge a project that she predicted would be heavily used.

"This is a community that supports this type of infrastructural improvements," Shepherd said.

TALK ABOUT IT

If you are in favor of the city building the bridge, do you support a more expensive, "stellar" design or a "good utilitarian" one? Share you opinion on Town Square, the online discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Casey, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:57 am

"A bridge going over 101 to the Baylands -- that structure is going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto," Holman said. "It's going to be how people identify Palo Alto."

Really? When I think of Palo Alto, I certainly don't have the University, Embarcadero, Oregon or San Antonio overpasses in mind.


Posted by How-Do-You-Identify-Palo-Alto?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 7:32 am

> "A bridge going over 101 to the Baylands -- that structure is
> going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto," Holman said.
> "It's going to be how people identify Palo Alto."

Karen Holman was recently quoted in another Weekly article that "local retail is how people identify with the town" (or some such). Seems Karen Holman has some real identity issues. It's really difficult to believe that people will use "bicycle bridge" as a search key when "googling" for information about Palo Alto.

Most people probably identify Palo Alto with Stanford, the Stanford Shopping Center, bloated home prices, stressed-out teenagers, and over-paid public sector employees. But thinking about this town in terms of a bicycle bridge? Wow!

Holman made a number of crazy statements when on the Planning/Transportation Commission. Seems that she is just a font of really odd ideas. Holman is turning out to be another Council Member that should be on the "one term" list.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 29, 2011 at 7:57 am

Agree with the above two comments. Holman does have"identity" issues. regarding the local retail there as an article yesterday about how Palo Alto wants an expansion of the Stanford Shopping Center and Holman made that weird comment about local retail. Odd that the city pushes bicycling and council members fall all over themselves to try to hinder car traffic (ie. Arastedero Road), at the behest of the bike coalition (surprised to find out that the leader is also a major backer of Measure E, so he has experience in getting people to drink the kool aid), yet they want a larger shopping center which will draw more traffic into the city. Also they want shoppers at the other retail locations in Palo Alto and also want tourists as part of Destination Palo Alto. DO they think that people will bike to all these places?
Anyway, the bridge is a good idea to help bikers across to the Baylands. However, the cost should be kept to a feasible figure given our situation. We do not want our council and the various commissions that decide on these matters to go overboard. I hope that nothing historic will have to be destroyed in order to build the bridge


Posted by Evan, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 9:03 am

Growing up, I used the Embarcadero bike bridge (not the car overpass) all the time. Seems like a good idea, if the cost makes sense.


Posted by Art Kraemer, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 9:07 am

Public safety should override public convenience. Although the bike bridge is a worthy project, it shouldn't take precedence over protecting the lives and homes of Palo Alto citizens. Replacing the Pope Chaucer Bridge should come first. It's been almost 14 years since the 1998 flood, and nothing has been done. It is estimated that it will cost $3.5 Million to replace the bridge. That should happen before we spend 7-9 Million on the bike crossing.


Posted by get it done already, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 9:50 am

Time to stop talking and get this done already. This is a major commuting route for Palo Alto residents trying to get to their jobs on the other side of Hwy 101 (south of San Antonio Road). The city should just make the existing San Antonio Road overpass bicycle-only until a safe year-round bicycle and pedestrian route is built.

The cost of a new pedestrian/bicycle bridge is a pittance compared to those new $100 million merging lanes along Hwy 101 in Palo Alto.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 29, 2011 at 9:53 am

"This is a major commuting route for Palo Alto residents trying to get to their jobs on the other side of Hwy 101 (south of San Antonio Road)."
How major? How many people use it?

"The city should just make the existing San Antonio Road overpass bicycle-only until a safe year-round bicycle and pedestrian route is built."
Sounds like something the bicycle coalition and Palo Alto's traffic guru would propose (with a straight face)--so there should be no on ramp to north bound 101 between Regsdorff and Oregon??


Posted by Wilson, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:43 am

> "This is a major commuting route for Palo Alto residents trying to
> get to their jobs on the other side of Hwy 101 (south of
> San Antonio Road)."

Fewer than 15% of Palo Altans use cycles to get to work. Since only a small fraction Palo Alto residents work south of San Antonio Road, the actual number of Palo Alto residents that would benefit can not be very many.

Claims like this one, making "enthusiastic" claims but never buttressed with actual use data, has become so common that special interest groups routinely make claims that are more often devoid of reality.


Posted by JM, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

I still don't see mentioning of when the bridge could be built. The original date I heard was 9 years, which is beyond my mind.


Posted by So, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

So if we are not supposed to believe his data, why should we believe yours?

A lot of engineering jobs are south of PA. A lot of people in PA are engineers or work for engineering companies, so while his data may not be credible, neither is yours.


Posted by Gethin, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:17 am

This bridge might be "nice to have" but its certainly not a "must have". If the quote is $9M I am sure we can all imagine that the final cost will be even more. If this is to be funded by PA tax payers I think that in these times when we need to be fiscally responsible or fiscally cautious that this expenditure is a waste of money. While it may not be a "bridge to nowhere", in my view its a "bridge to somewhere not significantly important enough to Palo Alto in general".
There has to be a better use of $9M.


Posted by Wilson, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:21 am

> A lot of engineering jobs are south of PA. A lot of people in PA
> are engineers or work for engineering companies, so while his
> data may not be credible, neither is yours.

The 15% numbers is often published by the City. The sub-20% number was published by the City several years ago, in what was called a "Nexis" study, which was required by law, prior to the establishment of so-called "Impact Fees".

So..the numbers are as credible as the City. Take it or leave it .. but clearly the truth is of no interest to this poster.

It's a shame that this sort of data is not readily available on the City's web site, but it's probably not. It's a bigger shame that there are ignorant people like this poster, who have no clue that this data exists, or what the numbers are.

> a lot of Palo Altans are engineers ..

Boy, talk about your "precise thinkers". Most engineers deal in hard data, and no reputable engineer would ever claim that "we ought to build this gizmo because there are a lot of people out there". counting actual cyclists using a given route(s) is a "no brainer".

We heard this same gobbledygook when former Council Member Dena Mosser pushed the useless "tunnel to nowhere" through the Council some years ago .. backed up by her husband's Bicycle Advisory Council's "support".

Can't wait this these people start claiming that Palo Alto needs to build a "Bicycle Bridge to Mars".


Posted by abiker, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

When the Adobe Creek underpass closes in Oct., bikers must cross the San Antonio offramp from southbound 101 in order to access the overcrossing. That is a scary proposition! And that is how year-round bikers commute to work. If it were safer, there would be more of us. I once guided some bikers, two young tourists eager to find Google, to the top of that overcrossing and pointed in the general direction of the Google campus. How flat it is out there! From that moment, I have been thinking that Google should underwrite the costs of a remarkable and artistic bridge that creates quite the image, and puts both Palo Alto and Google HQ on the physical map.


Posted by YesOnCrossing, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:59 am

I am for a permanent, year-round crossing. I am concerned about cost as well. Too bad the existing underpass cannot be made year round for less money.
What does anyone know about the cost and funding of the ped/bicycle bridge being built across 101 just south (east?) of Rengsdorff? The Permanente Creek Trail bridge.


Posted by PermanenteCreekTrail, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Permanente Creek Trail extension: Web Link

Project background and photos: Web Link

Have not found link to cost of bridge and funding sources.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm

"A bridge going over 101 to the Baylands -- that structure is going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto," Holman said. "It's going to be how people identify Palo Alto."

No doubt it will be just like the Tower Bridge in London or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

No shortage of grandiose thinking on the city council.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm

"No doubt it will be just like the Tower Bridge in London or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
No shortage of grandiose thinking on the city council."

Very amusing, Pat.
Some people here in our city and especially on the council seem to think that Palo Alto is a draw for people. What they fail to realize or choose to ignore is the fact that Stanford is the draw and the reason people come to Palo Alto. There is nothing in Palo Alto that really will bring people in--yes I know we have Edgewood Plaza (the worlds only shopping center designed by Eichler) and Eichler homes and everything in Palo Alto is historic, but somehow I fail to see them bringing people in.
Palo Alto benefits very nicely financially from all these visitors.
Too bad our city council members have blinders on--especially Karen Holman.


Posted by Linda, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Perhaps only a small percentage of people commute on bicycles to the Baylands area because it's only possible to do that safely for part of the year. I regularly ride my bike for pleasure, not for commuting, on the Baylands and take the underpass. When it's not open, I am limited to other areas, sometimes including the bicycle/pedestrian overpass farther north. I still don't understand why fixing that for a much smaller cost is not being discussed any longer. Wasn't that up for consideration at some point? Perhaps I have missed something and it's not possible for some reason, but I know that I would use some kind of safe crossing year round if it were available.


Posted by So, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Wilson,

A personal attack, that's the best you can do?

How about some real facts and not just aggressively presented assertions?


Posted by Alex, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm

abiker, I don't know if Google will help finance the bridge, but I am sure that many Google employees will find Palo Alto housing much more desirable if it's an easy year-round bike trip to Google. That's not just good (or bad, depending on your perspective) for property values. Google employees are smart, energetic, interested for the most part in sustainability, and I'd love to have more of them for neighbors.


Posted by BikeCommuter'sSpouse, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I will be very happy when this project has finally been completed. It will make year round bicycle commuting to the south (Google) much safer. Please fix this transportation problem and build the bike bridge. Utility is way more important than a fancy overpass with pull-outs for viewing.
Maybe a cable-stayed bridge like the pedestrian bridge across 280 in Sunnyvale would serve both goals. It looks sharp, modern and artistic but probably wouldn't cost $9million.


Posted by Robert J., a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Convenient access to Baylands by bike or by foot year round is wonderful. I fully support this project.

To Palo Alto, Baylands is at least equivalent to its library system or its tennis courts and soccer fields, etc., in terms of public amenities, recreational values, however one wants to classify it. Imagine having access to our libraries or playing fields only 6 months a year by foot or bike!


Posted by Barron Parker, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm

$9 million for a bicycle bridge?

I ride my bike from Palo Alto to Google every day. When the underpass near San Antonio is open, which is only 6 months out of the year, I can take it. Otherwise, Rengsdorff works fine and is about a mile shorter, but less scenic.

Holman's claims are nonsense, as many have pointed out. And $9 Million for this bridge makes no sense whatsoever.

Here's a free option that gets us 80 to 90% of the way there. Just leave the underpass open during the winter when it's not raining. Rather than closing it in mid-October, make the closure dependent on the water level in the creek. Maybe have a video cam and a sign that says "Tunnel Open" or "Tunnel Closed", which someone can turn on from the water district office.

Then we can measure usage and estimate how many people might take a bridge during the short periods in the winter when the tunnel is not open. Multiply that number by 30 years to get the total expected crossings, and divide that into $9 Million. I expect you'll get a cost-per-crossing that exceeds $50, but let's do the experiment first before spending all that money.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm

It is not feasible to leave the underpass open when there is high water. High water during a rain storm is accompanied by fast-moving sediment and debris. The debris would get caught on the fence, and the sediment would cover the surface of the path. As soon as a significant storm occurs, the underpass has to be closed. The city will want to remove the temporary fence and barriers before the first large storm.


Posted by Steven, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 30, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I think we really need to focus on fixing our existing bike infrastructure. The California Ave. tunnel is very steep and narrow, but gets 100's of users a day. We need to bring that up to current standards. We have chopped-up bike lanes all over town, and a horrible connection between Alma and PAMF although it's new. We should fix the approaches.


Posted by Car, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2011 at 8:18 pm

What is going on with the [vehicle] bridge where Embarcadero goes over 101? They removed the rails and set up,concrete barriers but I don't see any more work being done. Right now those concrete barriers create at hazard for cars coming from the 101 exit. Just the other day a mail truck flipped over. When I drive under that bridge, I feel a little uneasy about those concrete blocks right above with no railing. I think something should be done to finish this project properly before the city goes dreaming forward into bike bridges.


Posted by So, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Car,

That's a caltrans project, not a city project


Posted by Connect the bike lanes, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2011 at 10:14 am

Stephen,
I totally agree with you post. I wish more effort were directed toward connecting bike lanes and looking at the biking system as a whole. Chopped up bike lanes make it difficult to plan a safe commute. I see the new bridges going in over 101, but if the bike lanes only go so far on the each side I don't see bike commuting taking off.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2011 at 10:44 am

A connected bike network and bridges over barriers are not either/or - we need them both, the bike plan calls for both. The big ticket items like the bridge take a long time, so it makes sense to get them moving while you work on other things. If you wait to do everything else first you will never get the bridge. As for the Cal. Ave underpass, a replacement for that is in the plan, but that will be even more expensive. Since there is something there now that is open all year and functional, although with problems, it is less of a priority than the 101 crossing.


Posted by Occasional Cyclist, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2011 at 10:59 am

Speaking of bike lanes connectivity, the bike lane on W Bayshore which meets this tunnel needs some thought.

The bike lane is reduced dramatically at Loma Verde since the soundwall was built and it is now very scary to use.

Since the Girls Middle School moved to this street, there is quite often a school bus parked outside for periods of time on a daily basis, blocking the bike lane and making it hard for vehicle traffic to pass, and even more dangerous for bikes.


Posted by Occasional biker, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 6, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I use the underpass when it's open. While a bridge would be great and I would use it if it was there, I would hope the feasibility study takes other options like perhaps improving the safety and accessibility of access to the baylands via the San Antonino overpass. +1 to the idea of giving today's underpass a video camera, a twitter feed, and a couple of signs nearby that tell bikers if they should use the underpass or the San Antonio overpass.

I'm no bridge expert, but 9 million feels like a lot for a bridge across 101. How much did the Los Altos? suspension bridge across 280 cost? How much is being spent on the new pedestrian bridge across 101 between Rengesdorf and the 85 split? It sounds like the council wants to erect a landmark that is also a bridge. The ideal senario would be a bridge design that didn't cost a lot, but was asthetically pleasing. I agree, few drivers will associate the bridge with Palo Alto unless we give it gold plating and diamonds.


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