New bike boulevard planned for Palo Alto

City officials hope new bike lanes, trails and signs will make city a national bicycling leader

Winding trails, colorful bike lanes, prominent signs and a new bicycle boulevard snaking southward from the middle of the city are all components of the City Council's ambitious quest to make Palo Alto one of the top biking places in the nation.

The council had a chance to discuss the proposed improvements to the city's bicycle infrastructure Monday night, when it considered the pending upgrades to the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, a document the city expects to finish drafting this summer. The plan, which was last upgraded in 2003, will evaluate the city's biking needs and pedestrian amenities and propose improvements.

Fittingly, council members, city staff and dozens of city residents kicked off the Monday meeting with an afternoon bike ride from City Hall to south Palo Alto and back -- a journey that included a dash next to a proposed new trail along Churchill Avenue, a stop at the California Avenue Caltrain station and a trip down Park Boulevard, the city's next bicycle boulevard. The group of riders, which included Mayor Sid Espinosa, City Manager James Keene and Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Skelly and about 40 bike enthusiasts, also had a chance to comment on the plan and hear presentations about the various design proposals from Chief Transportation Officer Jaime Rodriguez and consultants who are helping to put the plan together.

Casey Hildreth, a consultant with the firm Alta Planning + Design, said the revised plan aims to roughly double the number of trails and paths in the city, from the existing nine miles to about 17.5. City officials and consultants also plan to create a new bicycle boulevard, which would extend from Castilleja Avenue near Palo Alto High School and run through Park Boulevard toward Wilkie Way in south Palo Alto. The first block of the new bike route would feature a colored bike lane, part of a broader system of way-finding signs city officials plan to install to direct bikers to prime riding routes.

The goal is to double the rate of bicycling in Palo Alto by 2020, Hildreth said.

The council embraced most of the ideas on the table, though some wondered whether the proposals are going far enough. Councilman Greg Scharff suggested considering more raised and protected bike paths, similar to those in famously bike-friendly cities such as Amsterdam and Boulder, Colo. He also wondered aloud whether the proposed improvements would elevate Palo Alto to the level of Portland, Ore., a city Hildreth cited as a national leader.

"I'd like us to be more bold and aggressive," Scharff said. "I'd like to be a first-class bicycle city where everyone calls us instead of calling Portland."

Rodriguez said the city would integrate many of the bike amenities currently in use at other bike-friendly towns and come up with its own Palo Alto-specific proposals, including the new signage system. The plan, he said, would give city officials the flexibility to gradually build the proposed bike paths and to modify plans as needed, based on the funding.

"We want to do things that are innovative and creative on our own," Rodriguez said.

The $80,000 study is funded through a $55,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and a $25,000 contribution from the city.

Councilman Greg Schmid said he was excited about the plan but made another proposal: considering a network of bike paths and trails that would allow bicyclists to commute from the west side of the city to the Baylands in the east. The route would include a new bike path along Matadero Creek. He noted that every major east-west pathway is "car dominated" and asked consultants to consider creating some for bikers and pedestrians before they come back with the draft plan.

Espinosa asked the consultants to consider extending the green bike lanes beyond the first block of the new bike boulevard. He pointed to the city's and the school district's recent successes in hosting bike-themed events and encouraging bike usage among local students and proclaimed 2011 the "Year of the Bike in Palo Alto."

"I'm particularly interested, when it comes back, in having something that really connects to all members of this community," Espinosa said. "Not just the Spandex bikers, but folks who are parents, who are coming to this town, seniors, etc."

Paul Goldstein, a member of the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee, was one of many local bikers who expressed excitement about the city's latest plans. Palo Alto, he said, already boasts an impressive bike infrastructure, as evidenced by its "gold" level designation from the League of American Bicyclists.

"We're on to something good now," Goldstein said. "Let's just try to make it better."

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Like this comment
Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 12:22 am

Good work Palo Alto. More bicycle commuters = less car traffic and congestion and pollution.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 7:44 am

"Winding trails, colorful bike lanes, bicycle boulevards" all suggest that cycling is a leisurely mode of transport, for people in no particular hurry to get where they are going, or indeed not going anywhere in particular at all. I guess that's a nice idea, but to encourage serious daily commuting, it would help to have routes more like bike freeways or expressways. Alma is the quickest way north/south, and Page Mill/Oregon is effective east/west (especially under the tracks), but motorists get nervous sharing those with cyclists, and the cyclist's half-life is also limited by the number of distracted drivers out there. Things open up in Mountain View where good time can be made on Central Expressway or Middlefield. Foothill Expressway is also a good example. Palo Alto's first attempts at bike routes in the 70's were ludicrous, forcing cyclists on Middlefield up onto the sidewalks with the pedestrians at each intersection. And we had bike enforcement officers chasing us down if we exercised anything more consistent with DMV regulations. The authorities have become more accommodating. But now we're starting to get speed limits where bikes are forced to contend with pedestrians like 10 mph on the Golden Gate. Imagine how much safer everyone would be if cars had to slow to 10 mph at every crosswalk, occupied or not. (I do fully agree with speed limits on shared recreational trails, which are not meant for unfettered commuting, and often have restricted visibility ahead.)

Okay, enough whining. Palo Alto has always tried to be bikeable and I applaud the continued efforts. On the bright side, as we become more and more congested, the bike will become quicker than a car to get anywhere. Bikes should also be exempt from the 2013 mandate (coming soon) for all vehicles to be GPS-tracked and taxed.

Like this comment
Posted by Occasional Cyclist
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 8:06 am

What about those of us East of Caltrain and the proposal to make Ross Road a bike route?

What about the Caltrain crossings (particularly at Churchill) to get more space for bikes to wait for trains to pass?

Like this comment
Posted by Phil
a resident of Downtown North
on May 10, 2011 at 8:46 am

An unprecedented, huge budget deficit. Uncertain financial times. Major issues with the infrastructure of the city. Is this the time to be spending public money on such a project? This is a luxury item, not an essential need.

Like this comment
Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 8:51 am

The article does say that the city needs to look at better east-west bike routes. Most current routes are crippled because of poor crossings of Hwy 101, Alma and the Caltrain tracks, and Hwy 280. If you have specific requests, you should send them to the city (especially the officials that are named in this article).

The price of improved bicycle routes insignificant compared to the cost of new car infrastructure to support a similar number of car commuters.

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 9:34 am

Bicycle boulevards are exactly the kind of "bike expressway" requested by musical. The idea is to remove stop signs and allow bikes to travel freely while discouraging through motor traffic. Bryant works great across most of the city, except when it disappears into the circles. Park is also good, although it has a few more twists and turns. I hope the proposed improvements make it even more efficient as a cross-town route.

Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on May 10, 2011 at 10:10 am

How about actually maintaining the existing bike paths before biting off even more?

Like this comment
Posted by Almost Run Over
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 10, 2011 at 10:29 am

It would be VERY helpful if there was a safe for a biker to cross Charleston at San Antonio. I know lots of bike commuters heading over to Google and other east side South Palo Alto that find this intersection VERY SCARY.

Cars coming off of 101 are too eager to make a right turn onto Charleston and those heading from Los Altos are in a rush to get on 101.

Some thinking should go into this crossing.

Like this comment
Posted by G. H. Brown
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 10, 2011 at 10:41 am

As an eighty-year-old who bike commutes along Park from Greenmeadow to Stanford, I look forward to the improved bike routes. It's tricky now crossing the intersections of East Meadow and of E. Charleston --- the latter is particularly hazardous.

Like this comment
Posted by Cycling commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 10, 2011 at 10:47 am

Channing and Homer should be reconfigured with bike lanes where they don't yet exist (and dropped to one lane of auto traffic where they are one-way and there are two)... And of course at the moment, the surface is dangerous.

Contractors in Palo Alto should actually be required to ride bicycles because all they do now is slap down the signs that say "Bicyclists -- use extreme caution" (whether or not such caution is in any way needed), and frequently pay little attention to how cyclists might navigate construction (fortunately, we can mostly do this as if we were automobiles, as long as the drivers understand that they should treat a bicycle just as they would any other vehicle).

Why is the traffic light at Newell/Channing so wonderfully responsive to cyclists, and those at Middlefield/Channing and Middlefield/Homer not?

Like this comment
Posted by bike commuter
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 10:53 am

For destinations east of 101 there is a tunnel sharing the creek under 101 off west bayshore near fabian way. This is closed in the winter but the rest of the year this makes a safe, relatively fast way across 101 south of the pedestrian bridge at Oregon Expressway. Certainly faster than sharing the road and the lights to cross at San Antonio or any of the Mountian View streets.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on May 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

This is great - I applaud it.

Not that the job is done, there are plenty of other trouble spots: Charleston & San Antiono, Matedero at El Camino (major "safe route to school" and there's nothing safe about it). Middlefield crossing in / out of Menlo Park (Middlefiled has a nice bike lane in MP but forces you into traffic to cross the bridge into PA). Oregon Exp has the frontage roads which are nice but they are outright dangerous when they hit the cross streets (the cars are looking at Oregon Expressway not for bicycle / pedestrian cross traffic 50' before the intersection.

Just my short list - I'm sure there are others - still each one we fix is better for everyone.

Like this comment
Posted by Biker
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 10, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I hope they prioritize a year-round south Palo Alto crossing to the baylands at Adobe Creek. Demand is high...and new regional connections through the baylands to points south will make WONDERFUL bike commutes.

The north and midtown have connections to the baylands. South PA has NO CONNECTION AT ALL half the year except the San Antonio/101 overpass which is a death trap for cyclists (as we saw earlier this year). We need a working year-round connection.

And, please, it doesn't need to be an iconic "gateway". It just needs to WORK. Don't kill the project with an architectural pipe dream.

Like this comment
Posted by The-Asylum-Door-Is-Open
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm

This is nuts!!

But maybe if it catches on, the companies with employees who live out of town will move out, before the Council decides to ban the use of cars.

There is another example of how screwed up this town is.

Like this comment
Posted by Andrew Boone
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Wow, there's a lot of interest in cycling issues in Palo Alto!

Who wants to meet and discuss cycling in Palo Alto with real people in real life? Here's a couple of upcoming meetups where we can:

Bike Away from Work Party, Thursday, May 12 (Bike to Work Day) 6:00 pm, Palo Alto Bicycles, 171 University Ave, Palo Alto. Free food and beer! Must be a member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition to enter. Not a member? Join at the door for a special discount rate of $20.

Bike Happy Hour, May 13, 6:00 pm, Old Pro, 541 Ramona St, Palo Alto. At Bike Happy Hour we meet and talk about cycling. Look for a sign hanging from a table that says "Bike Happy Hour. Talk about cycling here."

Like this comment
Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 10, 2011 at 3:07 pm

You will always get negative remarks from those who think bikes are unnecessary luxury that impede automobile traffic. In their mind, we should build, build, build roads over everything and have an asphalt world void of trees and greenery, because we are an "auto society" and automobiles mean progress, while cyclist are Luddites and haters of capitalism.

Like this comment
Posted by Jan Fisher
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I frequently ride Park Boulevard to Mountain View and ultimately the Baylands on the Stevens Creek Trail.
I must say for a town that prides itself on bicycles Park Boulevard and many other streets are truly teeth rattlers and have been for awhile. Takes the fun out of nice rides.

Like this comment
Posted by another bike commuter
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I really love the bike routes in Palo Alto and use them frequently. My most frustrating intersection is Louis at Embarcadero. The pedestrian button is away from the actual intersection for easy pedestrian use over by the crosswalk. The trip in the road does not respond to bikes. At the time I commute through this way there are rarely cars to trip the light. This is a light that does not change if it's not tripped, so I have to maneuver my bike several feet over to the button and back. If there is to be more investment in bike routes around town, this would be an easy one!

Like this comment
Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Propose improvements to the city's bicycle infrastructure here: Web Link

"The City of Palo Alto welcomes comments and suggestions from concerned bicyclists regarding existing problems or potential low-cost improvements to enhance bicycle safety, improve the City's bicycle facilities, and encourage bicycling (e.g.; pavement maintenance, signing, striping, loop detection and signal timing, bike rack installation, hazard removal, education, enforcement, etc.)."

Like this comment
Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on May 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm

OOOHHHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! PLEASE do NOT send all those bicyclist down PARK BLVD!!!! In the 1960's, Park was considered to be a speedway for cars commuting to H.P....a constant stream of cars early in the morning and again in late afternoon...It became a great ticket magnet for the City ... but a hazard for us who lived on Park to attempt to back out of the driveway..................Horrible flashback! My mother hit the side of the chimney coming in once,driving like a race car driver to get in her own driveway.
Now it will be a big mistake to turn the street back into a raceway full of bikes...The City ended up putting up roadblocks at two different locations by Fry's and at Margarita Streets. Also at the other end of Park by Piers Park. That goes to show that the locals definitely had a big problem and took their grievances to City hall for action back then. PLEASE do not open back up that can of worms!!

What about siding with the CalTrain people and obtain a right of way behind all the houses on Park...fence it all in, plant more greenery. It would be a straight shot from Palo Alto all the way to MV....and MUCH LESS DANGEROUS for all....

This is my suggestion and I hope those of you who are reading this will give this some serious thought and help this become a safe reality for those who deserve a safer bike route in Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by HSS
a resident of Southgate
on May 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Underground CalTrain and HSR and use the CalTrain right of way as a North-South bike route. I proposed this to the CC in 2009 at one of the meeting about HSR. I still think it makes sense.

Like this comment
Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm


Good idea, I fully agree. I've always advocated for separate bicycle infrastructure. Your idea is a 2-fer, as both the trains and the bicycles can't seem to peacefully co-exist with motor vehicles on the roadways.

Like this comment
Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on May 10, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Since car drivers have so much trouble using Alma Street (rampant speeding, frequent car crashes, no one knows how to turn across the train tracks, etc.), why not just convert Alma to a bicycle boulevard?
Speeders can still use El Camino Real, which is just a couple of blocks away.

Residents living on Alma will probably welcome the much lower traffic/noise/pollution of a bicycle boulevard. Not that there are many residents, since the west side of Alma is the train tracks.

Like this comment
Posted by Ann
a resident of Downtown North
on May 10, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Let's improve first the bike lanes and the bike boulevard on Bryant street! Please!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Wohler
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 10, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Agree with HSS regarding tunneling HSR and turning the land into a greenbelt with pedestrian/bike paths.

Not sure how Park would play into my commute (Menlo Park -> Ames).

Bryant can be made much safer by replacing the 2-way stop signs with yield signs. Drivers are conditioned to (awful) 4-way stop signs and just stop and go without looking. I have to evade at least two every day and I hit at least one car each year. The yield signs make it clear that the cross traffic does not stop.

It's gotten so bad I've switched to the longer, but more scenic, Baylands route. But please pave Channing! What a mess.

Officers also need to start citing bicyclists for failing to yield to right of way traffic and warn drivers against waving cyclists through. This encourages cyclists to run stop signs and lights and results in hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries in the Bay Area each year (if I remember that statistic correctly).

Like this comment
Posted by a biking person
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm

best idea i ever heard in 3 years awesome job palo alto city!

Like this comment
Posted by hopeful PAltan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2011 at 9:16 am

Those same people making the negative comments are the ones who don't want to pay taxes to keep up the roads for cars...

Improving bicycling to the level suggested here in Palo Alto is an overdue investment that will pay dividends in many areas, not just transportation (tourism, health, pollution, quality of life, etc). I hope the project doesn't fail from short-sightedness. Whether you jump half as high or three-quarters makes no difference if you don't jump over the hurdle.

I am not a biker -- I hope walkers will be taking into account in the planning.

Like this comment
Posted by Occasional Cyclist
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 12, 2011 at 9:48 am

The suggestion of pictograms rather than words on new signs for bikes around Palo Alto seems like a good idea to me.

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm

“The goal is to double the rate of bicycling in Palo Alto by 2020, Hildreth said.“

Goals are nice. Results are even better. The 1998 traffic plan says, "It is hoped that individuals will reduce their automobile trips by 10 percent by 2010, as alternative transportation methods are implemented."

I have tried—unsuccessfully—to find out if that “hope” was ever realized.

Where’s the accountability? Why doesn’t anyone ever follow up on all these hopes and plans to determine whether they worked?

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 12, 2011 at 9:07 pm

One of the reasons there is no hard data on the success of these plans is that it is quite expensive and difficult to gather the necessary data. Most people prefer to spend the money on improving facilities and conditions rather than paying a small fortune to have people stand around and count cars and bikes all over the city day after day. On the other hand, without hard data how can you measure whether your plans are working or not? The schools do an annual count of bikes in the fall, but I don't think the city has done a bike or ped count in over a decade.

Like this comment
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on May 13, 2011 at 2:00 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The city has a web page on bicycling: Web Link (which includes the aforementioned link to the suggestions submittal page). Hopefully the updated plan sections drafted so far, including the maps of current conditions/needs will be posted to that site in the near future, so everyone can look at what's in the plan.

Many of the suggestions/concerns raised are being addressed in the plan update, hopefully this weekend I'll have time to address some individually. At a minimum I'll share this thread with the plan update consultants.

To the few naysayers, a plan update is required by funding agencies, and we need to put projects in the plan to help them qualify for grants. It's a minor investment which enable us to leverage much larger funds. I don't understand people who complain on the one hand of too much traffic and on the other of efforts to make people feel safe & effective walking or biking instead of driving.

On measurement data, there have been counts done more recently than a decade ago, I don't recall when, but they are overdue. There are efforts underway to enable automatic data gathering. Having bike counts will help quantify effectiveness of existing and future facilities.

Happy Bike to Work day. I know the Cal Ave Energizer saw over 660 cyclists!

Chair, PABAC

Like this comment
Posted by JoAnn
a resident of Ventura
on May 14, 2011 at 12:17 am

A map or photos of the route would have been far more useful than these pictures of Very Important Personages in bike helmets.

Like this comment
Posted by maps
a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2011 at 10:01 am

There is a map of the Park Blvd bike route on the city web site: Web Link

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Palo Alto High School

on Jun 5, 2017 at 11:55 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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