The council has been flirting with a bridge project for several years, and got a boost when the Planning and Transportation Commission endorsed the idea to create what we hope will be a year-round route for cyclists and pedestrians to reach the Baylands trails east of 101, as well as the numerous workplaces at Google, Microsoft and NASA-Ames south of the city. The Parks and Recreation Commission also backed the plan, which would have particular appeal in south Palo Alto neighborhoods and could link to a proposed Adobe Creek pathway.
The route selection process advanced last year at a meeting hosted by the city and Alta Planning + Design, the consultant on the project, when about 50 residents were asked to choose from five options: the Adobe Creek over-and undercrossing, renovation of a Matadero Creek undercrossing, a West Bayshore overcrossing, and an overcrossing at Loma Verde Avenue. The most popular choice was improving the current undercrossing at Adobe Creek, although the runner-up was the Adobe Creek overcrossing, which ultimately was chosen. The project manager said a bridge elevated 20 feet over 101 would provide spectacular views and could become a landmark for Palo Alto.
Council members were effusive in their praise of a new crossing, with Karen Holman gushing, "A bridge going over 101 to the Baylands — that structure is going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto. ...It's going to be how people identify Palo Alto." The council endorsed her suggestion to study the idea of sponsoring a design contest to make the new bridge "a really stellar design."
The council agreed, indicating it favors an "enhanced overpass with 14-foot-wide lanes, lighting fixtures and a deck overlooking the spectacular Baylands scenery. Members apparently see nothing but upside for a new bridge, and approved moving forward with an environmental assessment.
But a giant hurdle remains — finding the estimated $5 million to $9 million needed to build it. In approving the project, the Planning Commission wisely took a more conservative approach, urging the staff to consider less expensive designs. The council agreed with Holman, who said if the money is not available for the "stellar" design, the city should opt for a "good utilitarian design" rather than go with an "underfunded artistic endeavor."
Unfortunately, all of the council's support may be a moot point unless city officials can round up a lot of money from federal and state grants or the local Valley Transportation Authority's Bicycle Expenditure Program. Qualifying for a VTA or any other grant may require the city to complete engineering work to demonstrate that the project is "shovel ready." Luckily, funds for the environmental report are in hand, so some work can proceed.
In neighboring Mountain View, a $9.6 million pedestrian-bike bridge will be completed next year that includes an undercrossing of Middlefield Way and an overcrossing of Hwy. 101. Rather than searching for grants, Mountain View is building the project with funds from the Shoreline improvement district, which funnels property taxes from the neighborhood's many high-tech firms, including Google, into a fund that has been used for years to make improvements at Shoreline Park and other areas north of the freeway.
A Palo Alto bridge will support the city's commitment to cycling in the Comprehensive Plan and its new Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, a major focus of Mayor Sid Espinosa this year. Both plans call for a year-round crossing of 101, so pedestrians and cyclists do not have to rely on the Adobe Creek underpass, which is prone to flooding and typically closed during winter months.
There are plenty of reasons for the city to move ahead with the overcrossing. A new bridge would serve nearly a quarter million cyclists who cross Hwy. 101 every year, with more than 150,000 using the Adobe Creek trail. Given the increasing interest in bike-commuting and the growing number of jobs east of the freeway it is likely that even more Palo Alto residents will be able to leave their vehicles at home and commute by bicycle.
'That structure is going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto.'
-- Palo Alto City Councilwoman Karen Holman
The project manager said a bridge elevated 20 feet over 101 would provide spectacular views and could become a landmark for Palo Alto.