Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 14, 2014

New bike boulevards planned throughout Palo Alto

City Council to consider $2.2 million in design contracts for 17 bike projects

by Gennady Sheyner

More than three decades after Palo Alto turned Bryant Street into the nation's first "bicycle boulevard," the city is preparing to dramatically accelerate its bicycling-improvement program and create similar bike-friendly corridors on Greer Road, Wilkie Way, Park Boulevard and Stanford Avenue.

These four proposed "bike boulevards" are among the 17 bike-related projects for which staff is requesting design services. If the City Council approves the request from city planners on Monday night, five contracts worth $2.2 million will be awarded to four different consultants for design work on these projects, which also include new bike boulevards on sections of Ross Road, Moreno Avenue and also Bryant Street, where an existing bike boulevard would be extended north to Palo Alto Avenue and south to East Meadow Circle.

Consultants will also consider new bike routes in the Barron Park neighborhood and biking enhancements on Homer and Channing avenues.

The ambitious list of biking proposals comes at a time of both high enthusiasm on the council for improving the city for bicyclists and a healthy revenue landscape, which makes it possible for city officials to turn their bike dreams into reality. In July 2012, the council unanimously approved a new Bike + Pedestrian Master Plan and members vowed at the time not to let this document languish on a shelf and collect dust as its predecessor had been doing since 2003.

The new plan proposes to create a citywide network of bike trails and boulevards as well as new connections across existing barriers such as El Camino Real, Alma Street and U.S. Highway 101. The plan states that Palo Alto can build upon its bike-friendly history and its demand for better bike and pedestrian access "to solidify its status as one of the most bicycle friendly communities in California, if not the country."

The proposed projects would be the biggest step taken by the city to address the vision of the bike plan since the council committed more than $1.3 million for a new bike bridge over Highway 101, a $10 million project that will be funded largely by grants. The council is also considering including bike improvements on its list of infrastructure projects that could potentially be funded by a 2 percent increase in the hotel tax, which voters could approve in November.

Though the projects range in size and ambition, most of those about to be designed seek to turn major segments of existing streets into bike boulevards — streets with low traffic volumes, traffic-calming features such as speed humps, traffic circles and barriers and markings that aim to make it easy for cars and bikes to share the road. Bike boulevards also typically facilitate free-flow travel for bicycles by placing stop signs on streets crossing the boulevard, rather than the boulevard itself.

The Homer and Channing avenues project, which would stretch between Alma and Boyce Avenue, would turn each one-way street into an "enhanced bikeway," a less intense version of a bike boulevard that relies on lane markings and signage to encourage cars and cyclists to share the road.

In the staff proposal, the 10 projects would be divvied up between two consultants: Fehr & Peers and Alta Planning + Design. In addition to these, staff is proposing a $275,000 contract with Sandis Engineers to design bike enhancements on Churchill Avenue, between El Camino Real and Castilleja Avenue; and a $737,767 contract with Mark Thomas & Associates for a bike corridor on Charleston-Arastradero Road, between Fabian Way and Miranda Avenue. The lattermost project includes new landscaped median islands, intersection bulb-outs, enhanced bike lanes, new street trees and new streetlights, according to a staff report. The city has already received $450,000 in state funding and $1 million in a grant from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority for these improvements.

A fifth contract would also go to Alta for creation of a bike route along the Matadero Creek trail.

It's not just the state and the county that are offering to help Palo Alto with its many bike improvements. The city has also received a proposal from the Mountain View-based tech giant Google, which is planning to occupy 200 San Antonio Road, a site that once housed Hewlett-Packard Co. and that sits on the border between the two cities. According to the staff report, Google has proposed to make various improvements in south Palo Alto, including a bike route on San Antonio near U.S. Highway 101; another one on San Antonio between Bryant and Alma; a third one on Alma between San Antonio and East Charleston Road; and a fourth one near Cubberley Community Center on Middlefield.

"Staff sees synergy opportunities in expanding this project to include these bicycle linkages," a report from the city's planning department states, noting that Google has agreed to fund "all consultant expenses for these projects directly."

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

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