Palo Alto's ambitious effort to overtake Portland, Ore., and become the nation's top bicycling destination includes expanded bike lanes, improved trails and at least three new bicycle boulevards under a plan the city unveiled Tuesday night.
The Bicycle + Pedestrian Transportation Plan, which took about a year to create, details a series of projects and programs the city could undertake to transform from a merely great bicycling city to one of the best in the nation. The firm Alta Planning + Design released the draft of the strategic plan Tuesday and displayed it to about 30 residents at a public hearing Tuesday night.
Though the plan is unlikely to be implemented in its entirety any time soon, many of the components contained in the document are scheduled to take effect in the coming months. This includes the city's newest "bicycle boulevard," which is scheduled to be completed on Park Boulevard, Castilleja Street and Wilkie Way as early as this fall, according to Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez. The new plan also recommends new bike boulevards at Montrose Avenue, Greer Road and Ross Road.
Bike boulevards typically include a series of traffic-calming measures as well as designated bicycle lanes and way-finding signs directing bicyclists to notable local destinations. The plan urges the city to proceed more aggressively with creating a "network" of boulevards.
"Palo Alto has made very little progress outside of the Bryant Street corridor and should focus on implementing additional bicycle boulevard corridors," the plan states. "Although plans to improve the Castilleja-Park-Wilkie corridor are actively moving forward concurrent with this Plan, it will take time to develop the full network.
"This is problematic since bicycle boulevard work best as a system, while many proposed boulevard corridors function reasonably well today but are not yet 'implemented' and available for promotion (to bike-boulevard status)."
The plan recommends branding the proposed network by installing way-finding signs and other low-cost improvements in the short term and proceeding with more significant improvements on a spot basis, as funding becomes available.
Funding, in fact, remains the largest obstacle in the city's path toward overtaking Portland, Ore. The city's previous strategic bike plan, which the council adopted in 2003, also outlined a series of bike improvements but its recommendations were never implemented.
City officials are confident that the new plan will get greater traction. The city is already proceeding with a redesign of the busy El Camino Real and Stanford Avenue intersection, a project that aims to make the intersection safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. The City Council also approved this week funds for design work on the California Avenue streetscape project, which includes reducing driving lanes and improving bicycling amenities.
The city's goal with the plan is to double the rate of bicycling for both local and work commutes by 2020 (to 15 percent and 5 percent, respectively), according to Alta consultant Casey Hildreth. Palo Alto officials also want to see the city's status raised from the respectable "gold" level to the elite "platinum" level under designations by the League of American Bicyclists.
"The aspirations are to be at the higher echelon of communities really committed to bicycle and pedestrian planning," Hildreth said. "The goal is to provide planning and preparation to be a 'platinum' community in the near future."
The plan particularly focuses on the 60 percent of residents who are classified as "interested but concerned" -- a group that like bikes but prefers to do so in safer settings such as trails and dedicated lanes. And while Palo Alto officials would like to see more commuters switch from cars to public transit and bikes, the main target of the plan is local residents who rely on cars for "discretionary trips." These trips, Hidreth said, are responsible for about three quarters of the city's transportation-related greenhouse-gas emissions.
For this reason, the plan pays particular attention to bicycle and pedestrian connections around popular destinations such as schools and shopping areas, Hildreth said.
Residents will have two months to comment on the draft plan. They can submit their comments on a website dedicated to the project.
The Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to review the draft plan in September. The City Council plans to discuss it in September.