Palo Alto, once a pioneer in bicycle programs and bike-friendly infrastructure, has fallen slightly behind cities such as Portland and Seattle, according to a transportation planner who is charged with helping Palo Alto retake the lead.
The city officially kicked off on Thursday its update of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, an effort funded by a $55,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. To mark the occasion, the city hosted a presentation by Ian Moore, a bike-infrastructure expert with the firm Alta Planning + Design, which will help the city develop the new plan.
The city's goal is to get 10 percent of the people traveling around Palo Alto to use bicycles by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020. The city's current bicycle mode share is about 6 percent, according to a memo signed by former Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto, Mayor Pat Burt, Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa and Councilman Yiaway Yeh.
The memo, issued in December 2009, urged staff and community stakeholders to "actively engage in the Plan update and implementation in a creative and aggressive manner."
"While Palo Alto is often recognized as an attractive place for bicycling, there remain many obstacles to encouraging additional ridership," the council members wrote. "Other cities in the U.S. and internationally are making extensive commitments towards better balancing the use of bicycles with other modes, particularly relative to automobiles."
Moore said Palo Alto had emerged as one of the nation's leaders in bicycle infrastructure in the early 1970s, when it put together its first bicycle master plan. The city further cemented its reputation for bike friendliness with a bike-parking ordinance (1978), a system of bike boulevards (in the 1980s), and its Safe Route to School program, which promotes bike-friendly routes near local schools (1994).
In the past decade, however, cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and New York City have burst past Palo Alto by introducing a host of new biking amenities, including colored bike lanes, detailed signs at intersections and traffic signals that assist bicyclists.
"What we can do with this Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan is to get Palo Alto back to the forefront," Moore told an audience of dozens of bicyclists and urban planners Thursday.
Palo Alto's new plan is being created in conjunction with its ongoing update to its Comprehensive Plan, a broad, detailed document that establishes the city's official land-use vision for the next 10 years. The new Comprehensive Plan is expected to feature new goals and policies that promote walking, biking and dense development near transit centers. The goal is to reduce local traffic congestion, parking needs and greenhouse-gas emissions.
The city is also seeking to overhaul the existing land-use policies at two local neighborhoods, on California Avenue near Fry's electronics and around East Meadow Circle. The intent of both "concept plans" is, among other things, to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections. The City Council is scheduled to discuss these plans Monday night.
Moore, whose firm is consulting the city on the new bicycle plan, lauded the fact that the city is creating its bicycle plan in conjunction with the other, broader land-use documents. Communities that settle for "stand-alone plans" often find these plans relegated to the sideline, he said.
"It's great that we're thinking about pedestrian and bicycle accessibility in broader context," Moore said.
The new bicycle plan, according to the council's 2009 memo, should consider (among many other things) bike-sharing programs, increased signage and vehicle-parking strategies, such as parking meters, to reduce demand for cars and encourage bicycle use.
Palo Alto's grant included $40,000 for bicycle signage and a $50,000 for bike racks.