Wave of 'beautification' projects heads downtown
Palo Alto looks to repaint Caltrain underpass, upgrade irrigation system along University Avenue
Palo Alto's busiest downtown thoroughfare will undergo a series of touchups in the coming months, though in some cases the price for beautification will include traffic disruptions and parking restrictions.
The University Avenue projects are neither as dramatic nor as expensive as the city's planned streetscape changes at California Avenue, which include switching from four lanes to two. But at least one of them is expected to impact downtown parking for up to three months early next year.
The most ambitious component of the city's "University Avenue Downtown Beautification Project" involves replacing the 40-year-old irrigation system that supplies water to the 73 planters along University. Starting in January, workers will be going block by block between Alma and Webster streets, removing a section of the curb at most tree wells, changing the connection between the main water line and each well, replacing the spray heads with drip irrigation and reinstalling the curb.
The curb work will require the city to temporarily limit parking on each block. Peter Jensen, the city's landscape architect, said the $150,000 project is scheduled to begin in January and last from nine to 12 weeks.
"It will require closing of basically each segment or block for a week or so to parking," Jensen said at a Tuesday night meeting focused on the various downtown projects.
The outdated irrigation system has been harmed over the years by the very trees to which they are supplying water.
"The trees have gotten a lot bigger and are crowding out everything in the planter, including the irrigation pipe," Jensen said. "There are consistently breaks in the pipe that require maintenance."
The project will also involve installing new, hardy planting along University Avenue. The proposed planting palette includes the resilient silver liriope, the asparagus fern, the red-hued heuchera 'Santa Ana Cardinal' and the pink-leafed nandina 'Fire Power.'
Other downtown projects promise to be less disruptive. Among them is the repainting of the underpass at the downtown Caltrain station and repairing broken light fixtures. This project, which the city is pursuing after requests from downtown businesses, is scheduled to kick off on Nov. 5 and last two weeks.
The project is included in the city's capital budget as the first phase of planned improvements to the Caltrain underpasses. The Caltrain tunnel will be painted a sandy "golden brown" to match the stone archway near the entrance to Stanford University.
"The existing paint is peeling, water is leaking inside the tunnel at the joints, existing lighting fixtures are broken and are in need of repair," the budget states.
University isn't the only downtown street that will see construction in the coming months. The city is scheduled to repave a stretch of Lytton Avenue between Alma and Florence streets in early January, a project that is expected to last two months. And work is proceeding on the recently approved renovation of the long-neglected Cogswell Plaza on Lytton and Ramona Street. That project includes removal of turf, installation of a new seating area and, most critically, the removal of the thick shrubbery that has long shielded the plaza's inhabitants and made the plaza a hot spot for alcohol, drug use and public urination.
Jensen said the goal of the renovation is to "encourage visitors and members of the business community to use that space for dining and broaden the user group of that plaza.
"Just the removal of the shrub has made a big difference on the space and how the space feels," Jensen said.
The renovation of Cogswell Plaza is scheduled to be completed on Nov. 22.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.