Palo Alto Weekly
News - August 31, 2012
Bikes climb to the top of Palo Alto's transportation vision
City's revised Transportation Element emphasizes improvements to city's bike network, Caltrain corridor
by Gennady Sheyner
As parking shortages and traffic congestion continue to rile Palo Alto residents, city planners are steadily shifting their transportation priorities to encourage more biking, walking and transit use.
The city is in the final stage of rewriting its Transportation Element, a major component of its official land-use bible, the Comprehensive Plan. The revised document, which lays out the city's transportation goals, policies and programs, received the blessing of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission Wednesday night. The commission also voted 6-0, with Alex Panelli absent, to extend the planning horizon for the document from 2020 to 2025.
The revised Transportation Element, like the existing one that the city adopted in 1998, stresses the need to look beyond cars. The vision statement of the existing document already commits the city to emphasizing "alternatives to the automobile, including walking, bicycling, public transit, and car and van pooling."
The revised document takes this commitment a step further and adds a host of specific programs, including one that calls for the city to create a "transportation demand management" (TDM) program for city workers to encourage them to forego single-occupancy vehicles in favor of other commuting options. This TDM program would include as its elements transit passes, commuter checks, car sharing, carpooling, bicycling and walking.
The new Transportation Element also contains a vision statement that is both more concise and more specific than the one currently in place. The revised element purports to "maintain and promote a sustainable network of safe, accessible and efficient transportation and parking solutions for all users and modes." But it also specifically commits to promoting "alternatives to single-occupant greenhouse-gas emitting vehicles" and to implementing the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, a broad document that calls for a wide variety of bike-friendly projects. These include bike boulevards, trails and a new bike bridge spanning U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek.
Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez told the commission Wednesday that one of the most ambitious goals of the revised Transportation Element is to reduce the city's greenhouse-gas emissions by 15 percent by the year 2020.
"It's extremely aggressive, but it's definitely a goal that represents the type of innovation Palo Alto is known for," Rodriguez said.
The revised element also formalizes the city's recent trend of encouraging dense development near major transit stations a trend that was exemplified by the council's recent approval of the four-story Lytton Gateway building near the downtown Caltrain station. The transportation document specifically calls for the city to "locate denser development near transit corridors and near multi-modal transit stations."
Other new policies that seek to curb driving include reviewing the Zoning Code to identify ways to encourage facilities supporting alternative-fuel vehicles; providing incentives for public-private transportation partnerships such as car-sharing companies; and supporting the development of "bicycle parking and service infrastructure such as bicycle stations, valet bicycle parking, and bicycle sharing programs."
The revision also includes a host of new policies relating to the Caltrain corridor. Many of these were informed by a recent report from a citizen task force that surveyed and analyzed the corridor and came up with a community "vision" for improving it. In keeping with that report's recommendations, the city's transportation plan calls for making it easier for people to go east and west, across the train tracks, using various forms of transportation. It also formalizes the city's opposition to constructing elevated rail tracks and shrinking the number of lanes on Alma Street.
But while bicycles and Caltrain have a stronger presence in the revised Transportation Element, the document also includes new policies that would impact drivers. These include consideration of changing High Street from a one-way to a two-way street between Lytton and Channing avenues as part of a broader effort to create an "efficient roadway network for all users." Another new policy calls for evaluating converting Lytton and Hamilton avenues to one-way streets.
The revision still has to be approved by the City Council before it becomes official. But while commissioners had several small quibbles (Chair Eduardo Martinez, for example, didn't like the way the chapters were organized), they generally lauded the programs and policies embedded in the finished product, which was crafted over the past year by planning staff, Commissioner Arthur Keller and former Vice Chair Susan Fineberg.
"I really think this element is not only quite good but excellent," Commissioner Samir Tuma said. "There's an awful lot of thought and detail going on here, and it's reflective of some of the more exciting programs out there and the work that we're doing."
Martinez concurred and praised the document's content.
"This is probably the one area of work that's received more scrutiny, more new ideas, more envisioning than anything else we've undertaken," he said.
The commission also supported the staff proposal to extend the document's planning horizon from 2020 to 2025, though several members said they were concerned about the prospect of the document becoming obsolete before the new horizon is reached. Mark Michael, who earlier in the meeting was elected vice chair by his colleagues, noted that many of the ideas that went into the revised document were included with the horizon of 2020 in mind.
The commission ultimately agreed to extend the horizon to 2025 but stipulated that the city should review the document in 2020 to see if everything in it is still relevant.
TALK ABOUT IT
What do you think about the city's emphasis on making Palo Alto more bike friendly?
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Peter Carpenter,
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 31, 2012 at 5:19 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
There are NO impediments in the California vehicle code to dedicated bikeways with theor own traffic contro; devices.
Here is what a truly innovative community has already done:
"Bicycling in Davis is, simply put, great. Streets with minimal traffic, bike lanes and traffic calming. Bike-only light cycles at major intersections. A university campus closed to vehicle traffic. Miles of empty country roads just outside town. Abundant bike parking everywhere. Great transit--Amtrak, Greyhound, the county-wide Yolobus, and the UC Davis-run citywide service Unitrans--that facilitate a car-free lifestyle. A city government that proactively (imagine!) encourages cycling, going so far as to feature an 1890s style high-wheeler (also known as an "ordinary," "penny-farthing" or "scorcher") as the city symbol.
One prominent recent example of Davis' commitment to cycling is the newly dedicated Putah Creek Bike Path, which opened in October 2000. Built over 18 months at a cost of $4.5 million, the 12-foot wide Putah Creek path crosses under Interstate 80, helping cyclists avoid a busy traffic interchange. The project was financed by $750,000 in Proposition 116 funds, $250,000 in development impact fees, and $3.5 million in redevelopment agency funds. Imagine if San Francisco's city government were as serious about enhancing bike and pedestrian safety with the nightmarish Interstate 280-Cesar Chavez intersection.
The Putah Creek Bike Path is the newest section in the city's network of multi-use paths, which extends for more than 50 miles in dedicated right-of-ways with grade separations (bridges and underpasses) to minimize traffic interaction. This extensive path network complements another 50-odd miles of bike lanes on shared roadways. One particularly delightful feature of life in Davis is observing the morning and afternoon "rush hours" on the greenbelt paths, as groups of children travel to and from school on bikes, skateboards and scooters.
According to Tim Bustos, pedestrian and bicycling safety coordinator for the City of Davis, this safe, traffic-free path network was a critical factor in the recent vote by Davis residents to terminate the city's expensive school bus system. "Parents have a great sense of confidence about letting their children ride bikes," says Bustos. "The city's extensive network of greenbelts is critical, because it makes parents comfortable with their children cycling. They don't have to worry about their kids interacting with traffic."
Both Bustos and David Takemoto-Weerts, bicycle program coordinator for UC Davis, attribute the high rate of bicycle use in Davis to visionary city planning 40 years ago. "Because of certain unique features--mild climate, level terrain, a large population of healthy, young and cash-poor university students for whom cycling is a natural choice--Davis would have a high rate of cycling without doing anything," says Takemoto-Weerts. "However, it was Davis' decision in the mid-1960s to proactively encourage and protect cycling that has made it the most bike-friendly community in the country."
Davis has grown from 5,000 residents in 1960 to more than 60,000 today, spreading out over a larger area to accommodate that growth. Its character has changed as well, from a purely "college town" to a partial "bedroom community" for nearby Sacramento and even the Bay Area. According to both Bustos and Takemoto-Weerts, these changes could have easily crowded out cycling if it weren't for the proactive efforts of city residents, government leaders and city agencies to encourage cycling.
"Davis has had the advantage of being able to build cycling infrastructure as it has grown," says Bustos. "This is easier than trying to retrofit an older city like San Francisco. However, there's no excuse not to begin creating more favorable cycling conditions. A lot of communities waste time arguing over whether or not to provide for bicycles. In Davis, that argument is over. Bicyclists aren't asking for anything special. We only want the same consideration given to every other transportation mode."
There are challenges in Davis, to be sure. Car use continues to grow along with the city's population. (This is still a community in a car-centered nation, after all.) However, given the wide community recognition of the benefits of cycling, it seems certain that Davis will continue to provide a model for bike-friendly city planning."
The referenced PA report does not even mention Davis' dedicated bikeways or those in Europe.
Unfortunately the Palo Alto Process precludes learning from others.
Posted by Peter Carpenter,
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 1, 2012 at 7:32 am
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
" Caltrans DOES control what Palo Alto does on city streets....no green stop signs"
What in the world do green stop signs have to do with creating dedicated bikeways with heir own traffic control devices?
Innovation is halted when the answer always is somebody else won't let me - and progress is halted when you turn a blind eye to what others have already done very successfully.
"The provision of separate cycling facilities is the cornerstone of Dutch, Danish,
and German policies to make cycling safe and attractive to everyone. They are designed
to feel safe, comfortable, and convenient for both young and old, for women as well as
men, and for all levels of cycling ability. "
"Perhaps the most important reason for the higher levels of cycling in northern
Europeespecially among women, children, and the elderlyis that cycling is much
safer there than in the USA. Both fatality and injury rates are much higher for cyclists in
the USA compared to Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Averaged over the years
2002 to 2005, the number of American bicyclist fatalities per 100 million km cycled was
5.8, compared to 1.7 in Germany, 1.5 in Denmark, and 1.1 in the Netherlands (see Figure
3). Thus, cycling is over five times as safe in the Netherlands as in the USA, which
probably explains why the Dutch do not perceive cycling as a dangerous way to get
"While bike paths and lanes help protect cyclists
from exposure to traffic dangers between intersections, they can pose safety problems
when crossing intersections. Thus, Dutch, Danish, and German planners have worked
continuously on perfecting the designs of intersections to facilitate safe cyclist crossings.
The extent and specific design of intersection modifications vary, of course, from city to
city, but they generally include most of the following:
Special bike lanes leading up to the intersection, with advance stop lines for
cyclists, far ahead of waiting cars
Advance green traffic signals for cyclists, and extra green signal phases for
cyclists at intersections with heavy cycling volumes
Turn restrictions for cars, while all turns allowed for cyclists
Highly visible, distinctively colored bike lane crossings at intersections
Special cyclist-activated traffic lights
Timing traffic lights to provide a "green wave" for cyclists instead of for cars,
generally assuming 14-22km/hr bike speed
Moving bike pathways a bit further away from their parallel streets when they
approach intersections to help avoid collisions with right-turning cars
Given the very nature of roadway intersections, it is virtually impossible to avoid all
conflicts between motor vehicles and cyclists, but Dutch, Danish, and German planners
have done a superb job of minimizing these dangers. "
Pucher and Buehler Cycling for Everyone
Wikipedia on bikeways:
Yep - " A 2010 study in Montreal, Canada, by Lusk et al., compared the motor vehicle-bicycle crashes and injuries on six Montreal cycle tracks (physically separated bicycle-exclusive paths along roads) with comparable reference roads (a parallel road with approximately the same intersection frequency and cross traffic). The authors found 2.5 times as many cyclists rode on the cycle tracks compared to the reference roads. They also found that the relative risk of injury was lower on a cycle track than on the comparable reference road (the average being 0.72 the relative risk). They concluded that "[c]ycle tracks lessen, or at least do not increase, crash and injury rates compared to bicycling in the street"
The New York City Department of Transportation implemented a bicycle path and traffic calming pilot project for Prospect Park West in Brooklyn in 2010 and published their results in early 2011. It created a two-way bicycle path with a three-foot parking lane buffer and the removal of one lane from motor vehicles. They found that weekday cycling traffic tripled after the implementation; cyclists riding on the sidewalk fell to 3% from 46% (the count included children who are legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk); speeding dropped from 74% to 20% of all vehicles; crashes for all road users were down 16% and injuries to all road users were down 21%.
An unfunded 1997 study by William E. Moritz of North American bicycle commuters calculated a relative danger of different facilities based on the survey results of "[fraction of crashes] divided by the [fraction of miles ridden on that facility]". Moritz calculated a relative danger of 1.26 on a major street with no cycling facilities, 1.04 on a minor street with no cycling facilities, 0.5 for streets with bike lanes, and 0.67 for mixed use/"bike" path. The "other" category which mostly included sidewalks had a relative danger of 5.32. Moritz made it clear that this was "[n]ot a statistical or random sample of BCs [bicycle commuters]."