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."