Palo Alto seeks to reclaim bike-friendly reputation

As city embarks on update to its bicycle plan, officials look to Seattle, Portland, New York City for help

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.

View Alta Planning and Design's presentation here.

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Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2010 at 7:04 am

Sadly, this issue goes very deep. There has long been a decline in civility shown by drivers towards bicyclists and pedestrians. There is almost no traffic enforcement in neighborhoods. Drivers constrantly make right turns without stopping when there are pedestrians and bicyclists present, speed constantly, drive fast near schools where children are present, and on and on. New bike racks are needed in some locations, but, the number one thing that Palo Alto can do to encourage bicycling is better traffic enforcement.

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2010 at 7:12 am

Sadly, traffic enforcement is the most expensive solution, one that Palo Alto has not been able to afford for years. A single traffic cop costs upwards $150,000 per year and spends a lot of time in training, and doing office work. For that price you can buy 5 speed bumps that will be in place 24/7 for years.

Like this comment
Posted by Amy
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 2, 2010 at 8:57 am

A Quote: "Increased signage and vehicle-parking strategies, such as parking meters, to reduce demand for cars and encourage bicycle use."

Increase signage means more sign polution. PA has too many signs we're on overload so nobody bothers to read them. Get rid of some signs before putting up new ones.

Palo Alto had parking meters Downtown many years ago, they were removed because they were considered too ugly. As a Palo Alto resident I'd rather have trees than ugly parking meters - no, no, no.

Like this comment
Posted by safety first
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 2, 2010 at 9:43 am

Unfortunately, with car drivers distracted by their cell phones, bigger and brighter signs are necessary to improve road safety. If car drivers would slow down and pay attention, these changes would not be necessary.

On the plus side, bicycles are much less ugly that SUVs. And the reduction in air pollution won't hurt, either.

Like this comment
Posted by Occasional Cyclist
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 2, 2010 at 9:45 am

I don't get it. How do parking meters help cyclists? Are we meant to lock our bikes to them?

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2010 at 9:47 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Reclassify bikes as pedestrians. In the Model T days there was not the difference between bike and car there is today.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Vilain
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

The streets from home to Palo Alto downtown are terrible. Cracked, patched, or just plain full of pot holes. You don't notice it much in a car but I feel like my fillings are going to be jarred loose when I ride in the street. The sidewalks are much better mostly because people tripping over bad sidewalks are lawsuits waiting to happen. But it's dangerous to pedestrians and I'd rather be in the street. Fix the f*ing streets.

I yell at drivers all the time who roll through stop signs without turning and looking to see who's coming in the opposite direction. I've come to expect that they won't see me. And people who pop out between cars to get into their cars as I'm going by on my bike get all bent out of shape when I almost hit them, expecting me to use the main part of the road.

Palo Alto is not a safe place to bike almost anywhere. It's lucky more people aren't hurt.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It's hell to have to share the world.

Like this comment
Posted by P'ville
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 2, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Michael Vilain wrote:
"The sidewalks are much better mostly because people tripping over bad sidewalks are lawsuits waiting to happen."

I don't know what part of Palo Alto you are referring to, but in many places the sidewalks are much worse than the streets. Adding to the problem are those residents who allow their shrubbery to partially block the sidewalk.

Once again cyclists are pointing fingers at motorists, but the truth is that the cyclists are just as bad. They seem to thing that it is ok for them to run stop signs and red lights, and that pedestrians don't have the right of way. They are copying the motorists in that regard. Shame on them both!

Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I really like the wide bike/pedestrian ways like the one going from Gunn to Page Mill. The last stretch to Page Mill is along an industrial way, and is basically a very, very wide sidewalk. It works great.

We should have more of those. It would not require huge infrastructure changes. And it separates the bike traffic from the cars in a way that is not the same as riding on an ordinary sidewalk. Plus, it makes the sidewalk nice for pedestrians, and makes it easier for bikes and pedestrians to share.

The trouble for bikes in our town is that they are a traffic afterthought, they aren't treated as equal road citizens by the infrastructure, the traffic lights, or the rules. Making more bike boulevards like the one above could make bikes more "equal".

Like this comment
Posted by Who's a "user"?
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 3, 2010 at 1:30 am

What is meant by getting "10 percent of the people traveling around Palo Alto to use bicycles"? Does that mean that on average during the day, the number of people riding a bicycle is 1/9 the number of people in a motor vehicle on the road? Or is it counting the total number of bicycle trips taken compared to the number of motor vehicle trips taken? Are people in buses and shuttles counted as non-bicycling people? Does it take into account the length of the trip? I use my bike sometimes, but only for short trips where I know a safe and relatively convenient route.

How is the "percentage" measured? Do they do a survey of a sample group of people? I'm skeptical that the "percentage" can be determined accurately enough to distinguish 6 percent from 10 percent.

Like this comment
Posted by jj
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2010 at 9:19 am

Sadly Loma Verde is supposed to be a designated bike route but anyone who
had biked along Loma Verde would quickly realize that they often see
speeding cars with reckless drivers who don't care to yield for the
bikers and pedestrians. The road side is also riddle with parked vehicles
which create blind spots and obstacles that undermine bikers' safety.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 4, 2010 at 11:16 am

I agree that bicyclists are often as bad as the cars. I don't know how many times I have been stuck behind a bicyclist (an adult one) in my neighborhood who is going my way but staying out in the middle of the street, zipping alonf at 5mph, refusing to move to the side of the road to allow the car to pass. We all need to show more respect and courtesy to each other, and that goes for everyone.

A little while ago I was riding bicycles with my daughter, with her on the sidewalk and me on the road. She was complaining of something rubbing on her bicycle, and we were going slowly and I was trying to study her bicycle. A man came jogging by going the other way, and complained that I should watch where I was going and he cursed me with genuine profanity, in front of my daughter. He was never in jepordy, I saw him and he started cursing before he got to me. It was just plain rude bahavior and not excusable, though my reply was "Excuse you?"

Last week at the Egdewood Eats I was trying to make out what line was for what, of even which gaggle of people were even forming a line VS just milling about, and I asked someone where the lines were. He replied in a very rude and condescending manner and I felt very offended.

Cars, bicycles, joggers, pedestrians, everyone, why do we feel the need to be so rude to each other and inconsiderate and intolerant of each other. I fear Palo Alto is becoming the rudest city in the bay area.

Like this comment
Posted by Biking Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2010 at 11:33 am

I bike a lot around town--taking kids to school, grocery shopping, library runs, visits with friends. I find our streets pretty friendly to bikes compared to other nearby communities, but there is room for improvement. I do my best to consistently observe vehicle code and be considerate to other road users, and I find that MOST drivers and bike riders do, too. However, there is that minority who take a "me first" attitude about the law. Those red light runners seem to be the same crowd who insist on illegally using cell phones and texting while they drive. They are a danger to themselves and others. I'd like the police to start aggressively ticketing those people. (Their road behavior looks like that of a drunk. Statistics bear that out, by the way. Don't use your cell while you drive or bike. It is NOT worth the risk.)

At the meeting the other night, I thought they did a good job outlining some thoughtful improvements for bikes. I appreciated the presentation, and I hope the city moves forward with this plan.

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Man
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Especially in Old Palo Alto, the cracks in the road are big enough
to grab and hold the tire of a hybrid (not skinny tire) bike, and the potholes are larger than a cantaloupe! You take such a pounding on the city streets that your neck aches for a day afterward.

Old Palo Alto is where big new houses pay enormous taxes. Apparently
they don't have enough clout to persuade the city to maintain the
street surface.

I don't understand why the risk managers in City Hall think it's cost effective to roll the dice on bicyclists by betting they won't have accidents and won't sue the city for negligence if they do. Bicycle City indeed!

Like this comment
Posted by Occasional Cyclist
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 4, 2010 at 10:43 pm

I have just arrived home by car and nearly hit an idiot on a bike. He did not stop at a stop sign, was wearing dark clothes and had no lights. I was stopped waiting for a car to cross and had slowly started on my way when out of the shadows came said idiot. I had to brake to prevent hitting him and he just went on his way without realising just how stupid he was.

Lights are not just for helping the cyclist see, but more importantly help them to be seen. Reflectors are no good when crossing in front of a car, or approaching from behind as when a car is about to start off from being parked in a wide bike lane.

Have some sense and get all bikes in Palo Alto to use lights in the dark.

Like this comment
Posted by Light victim
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 6, 2010 at 11:18 pm

I agree that bicyclists should use a bike light when it gets dark. However, I've had more than one bike light stolen off my bike in the past, so I make a point to remove my bike light, which makes it easy to forget the light the next time I use my bike. I don't like biking at night, but with the days getting shorter, it can be difficult to avoid. A person without a bike light isn't necessarily an idiot. S/he could be a recent victim of a bicycle light thief or someone who ended up bicycling home later than expected.

Like this comment
Posted by Occasional Cyclist
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 7, 2010 at 8:00 am

Light Victim

I agree that lights are vulnerable to theft and forgetfulness, although this was well into the evening.

However, I did not call this cyclist an idiot for not having lights. I called him an idiot for his actions.

He was an idiot for being almost invisible to me by wearing dark clothes and no lights and then not stopping at a stop sign. He could see me because I am big with lights. He was invisible and then he did something idiotic.

Bikes need lights to be seen. Reflectors don't do it. Wearing an orange reflective vest is also a good idea in the dark because a vest is bigger than the small reflectors at the front and rear or a bike or the tiny reflectors on pedals. A reflective vest is larger, can be seen from all angles and is at a better height to attract the attention of the drivers when lights hit it.

If on occasion a biker doesn't have lights then they have to be even more vigilant to be safe. Not stopping in the dark is much more dangerous than in the daytime.

Like this comment
Posted by Sigh
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 9, 2010 at 6:15 am

Web Link

Ray Hood, Democrat, and in the Feds, looking at Fed law to ban ALL cell phone use in the glad Democrats know how to save us from ourselves!!

What next? No passengers? Bet ya' passengers are toooooo distracting. No radios? No coffee? How about, no cars????

"All or none" tyrants

Like this comment
Posted by Sigh
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 9, 2010 at 6:17 am

BTW, the post above was in response to my reading that someone said "distracted by cell phones" as the excuse for this thread. Nothing to do, I am sure, with increased bicycle use, and ever more of them rolling through stop signs, riding side by side and leaving the bike lanes, or not using the bike lanes on Arastradero by Purissima, for example.

Like this comment
Posted by Occasional cyclist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2010 at 9:51 am

I have been watching for distracted cell phone users lately and I see as many on bikes as I do behind the wheel.

Like this comment
Posted by Eric Nordman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

I think Palo Alto would do better building on it's existing infrastructure. I can quickly this of a few suggestions such as:

1. The Ellen Fletcher Bike Boulevard goes from Menlo Park to East Meadow. Ideally there should be a clean path to Mountain View. South of East Meadow there the situation deteriorates. There are some unnecessary stop signs on Redwood Circle and then things get even worse south of East Charleston.
2. The Bike Boulevard has three 4-way stop signs in a row just south of City Hall. Perhaps two of these could be changed to make the bike boulevard efficient.
3. The barrier on the bike path from Gunn near Matadero Ct are poorly designed for easy bike flow. These should be removed or dramatically simplified.
4. The bike/pedestrian overpass at Oregon Expressway has two very sharp right turns at the bottom. These sharp turns are so sharp that they didn't feel the bike bridge was safe for bicycles. There are walk you bike signs. Have you ever seen a car overpass where people were expected to walk their car? After the sharp right turns are changed to a simple angled turn the barriers on the overpass intended to impede people should be removed. On the west end there is a sharp blind turn where a head on crash is likely. A mirror would be helpful if the sharp angle can't be addressed. A similar situation exists where the path meets the frontage road.
5. The barriers for the Adobe underpass should also be removed. Bike paths shouldn't have excessively sharp turns.
6. The Adobe underpass should be changed so it is closed only when high water is expected. If the storm has passed it can be reopened (perhaps after washing off slippery mud).
7. The bike path on Lewis should continue to Middlefield and from their to Mt View.
8. Homer Ave should be made into a two way street for easier use of the Homer underpass.
9. Middlefield Road is a major bike route through Menlo Park and Mountain View but is not listed as a bike route in north Palo Alto. Car lanes or parking should be removed to allow bike lanes or shoulders from Menlo Park until Loma Verde.

I'm sure there are many similar improvements. I think addressing many smaller issues is more sensible than fancy improvements.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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