Palo Alto's ambitious bike plans ready to roll

City Council eyes new bike boulevards, trails as part of effort to make city top biking destination

Palo Alto's drive to make local streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians will get a boost tonight (Monday), when the City Council is scheduled to discuss and adopt an ambitious proposal to expand bike lanes, create new bike boulevards and improve crosswalks throughout the city.

The City Council is scheduled to upgrade the city's official land-use bible, the Comprehensive Plan, to incorporate the Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, the draft of which was released to great fanfare in July. The plan includes a slew of pedestrian and bicycle projects and initiatives, including an overcrossing at Highway 101, new bicycle boulevards, a network of trails that could be shared by pedestrians and bicyclists, and colored bike lanes. It also seeks to improve the connections between Palo Alto and bikeways beyond city limits.

According to Jaime Rodriguez, the city's chief transportation official, the cost of building and improving the city's system of bike lanes, trails and roads would cost about $7 million, while building new crossings would cost between $17 million and $27 million over the next five to 10 years. He wrote in a report that staff expects up to 75 percent of the cost to come from outside sources, including grants from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Another $4 million could be taken from Stanford University Medical Center Sustainability Fund, which the university set up as a condition for its massive expansion of hospital facilities.

Staff is also suggesting a public-private partnership, including a formation of a "Friends of Palo Alto Bicycles," a group that would help identify funding sources for bicycle projects.

The new bicycle plan is the city's first major upgrade of its transportation vision since 2003. Unlike the previous plan, it also includes a pedestrian section, Rodriguez wrote in a report.

"Everyone, whether a motorist or a bicyclist, is a pedestrian at the end of their trip, and the Plan aims to improve pedestrian facilities with new enhanced crosswalk standards, improved warning and advisory signage, technology enhancements, and an aggressive expansion of shared use pathways."

The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

Related story:

Palo Alto eyes slew of bicycle improvements

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Like this comment
Posted by JM
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 7, 2011 at 10:47 am

I don't think it's an "ambitious" plan. It's minor improvement.

Even with dedicated, colored bike lane and some improvement in intersection layout, I still cannot let my 9-year-old to bike to school regularly. Just too dangerous during morning rush hours to allow her to bike side-by-side closely with cars. Fatal accident is just one mistake away.

And I myself cannot safely bike over 101 half of the year every year. The overpass is badly needed, but it's 5-10 years away.

An "ambitious" plan is something like Mountain View's Stevens Creek trail, a closed biking free way to get you close to your destination. BTW Mountain View is building another 101 overpass along Permenante Creek trail right now.

An "ambitious" Palo Alto bike plan? Please.

Like this comment
Posted by safety first
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 7, 2011 at 10:51 am

Reckless driving (speeding, distracted, intoxicated) is rampant in Palo Alto. This new bicycle and pedestrian plan is a cheap way to improve safety for our children.

Like this comment
Posted by Dying to Know
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:01 am

What is wrong with Palo Alto? It seems like every other town north and south of Palo Alto has new bike bridges going up over 101 - Sunnyvale and San Carlos are done, it looks like there is one going up in Menlo Park/Atherton, and there is one down in Mountain View. Meanwhile the old bridge Palo Alto has is such a steep grade that I don't think you could get a wheelchair up and over it. Plus there are those rediculous baffles. And it really only serves North Palo Alto. Palo Alto touts a Plan while all the other smaller towns adjacent show real progress. Can someone, maybe even this newspaper, cover this practical piece of the puzzle and explain? What is going on with all the bridges, where does the money come from and why isn't Palo Alto getting a bridge?

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Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:07 am

JM, yes depending on the route it can be unnerving to send you kids off to school by themselves. I'm not sure how dangerous it actually is since all of these routes do have kids bicycling on them and we do not hear of accident often - still just one is took many.

I encourage Parents to cycle with their children - or to get one parent in your neighborhood to cycle with many children (the Parents can take turns), I did this and rode with my children until middle school.

One big advantage was the constant "guidance" I was able to give has made them much better cyclists ("stop at the stop sign", "signal", "look for cars before you turn both in front and behind", ...)

Now I'm very confident of their cycling abilities (they are in High School and College now).

As far as "speeding, distracted, intoxicated" driving in Palo Alto? I have not seen that much really - true enough just one can ruin your day but I found most (all?) drivers were very alert and cautious around the kids biking to school; as they should be; Yet I still insisted my children followed the rules of the road as they should do.

Like this comment
Posted by Just-How-Crazy-Is-Palo-Alto?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:15 am

What a massive waste of money!

Like this comment
Posted by Gregory
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

The current bike boulevards needs to be improved before we create more bike boulevards. A two car crash a couple of weeks ago at one of the intersection of Bryant Street, for example, could have been fatal if was with a bicyclist. From my porch I see cars almost hitting bicyclists at Bryant Street almost every single day. We hear screams every day. The 2 way lanes do not work. Lots of cars do not stop and it is very dangerous. We need more signalization on the streets itself, and we need to block more areas so cars cannot continue driving in high speed at the bike boulevards.

Like this comment
Posted by gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:50 am

I live in midtown and I deal with reckless driving by cyclists every day. Apparently stop signs are for other people and side walks are for cyclists. I rarely have any issues with school children as the street monitors do an excellent job. Its older people who should know much better.
This is not to deny that car drivers are also reckless, but in my daily drives around town its cyclists who cause me the most concern.

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Posted by JM
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:53 am


Yes I bike with my daughter to school every single time she bikes. I gave constant instructions as you did.

Here is precisely what my fear is: she is biking inside bike lane. I'm trailing right behind her. Constant flow of cars diving pass us 3 feet away. All a sudden she turned left for whatever reason: biked over a pine corn? An uneven crack? She thought someone is getting in front of her? Saw her friends? In a split of a second she would be in car traffic. There is nothing I can do, other than pray no car would hit her.

It's amazing this has not happened to her, and seldom to anyone, yet. But it's a scary and likely possibility.

Now you can say, life is about taking risk. I agree. Only that, let's not call what the city is doing with bike plan "ambitious". It's not enough.

Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 7, 2011 at 11:53 am

These are the same bright lights that wanted to make Middlefield a 24-hour bike lane, eliminating the turn lanes near Embarcadero and causing even more traffic backups, esp when the parents clog Middlefield and all the nearby streets near the school.

Is a busy street like Middlefield "safe" for bike lanes? No way!

A massive waste of money indeed!

Like this comment
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Maybe this comes as a surprise to "how crazy is palo alto", but I actually use my bike as the main way to get around Palo Alto. Generally, things aren't too bad. Drivers are pretty understanding of cyclists. I'm not honked at when, for example, biking down Hamilton and occasionally blocking the cars behind me because there isn't enough room for me to stick to the side of the road.

However, things could be much better. I use the Bryant bike boulevard often (which is fantastic) and the separated bike path next to Caltrain, and I'd love to see more of those.

With typically quiet streets and flat roads, Palo Alto is such a great place to bike. It would be so great to make it even easier and encourage more biking.

I'd love to see this article actually break out the plans and give specifics on what's coming, and where. With Palo Alto's roads in a good grid pattern, surely, we don't need to take over Middlefield to make biking easy. We can use parallel roads for the benefit of all.

@gethin: I'm sorry you've had those experiences with cyclists. Like drivers, there are a small portion of cyclists that don't bike safely. However, most certainly do, and pose much less of a safety threat than cars. No one in Palo Alto has been killed by a cyclists, while I girl at Duveneck was killed by a car while I was in elementary school. That being said, when you're on a bike, many states allow you to treat a stop sign like a yield sign, which makes sense as you're going at low speeds and stopping/starting takes a lot of energy.

Like this comment
Posted by KF
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Re: reckless. Bikes are guilty of disregarding stop signs some times, so are cars. Which situation is more dangerous to a pedestrian? Bike riding is legal on the sidewalks, except in a few downtown areas such as Univ. Avenue, and Cal. Avenue.

Re: kids biking to school. There is some danger, but there is much more perceived danger than actual danger. It is scary to send your kids out, as a parents job and advocation is to protect our kids. But the reality is that teaching your kids to bike has more benefits that risks. Biking can teach fitness, independence, autonomy, and the rules of the road. my teenager is a careful auto driver, but of course by the time she got her license she had been using the roads for 10 years. I bike for errands, and so far it is helping me stave off the middle aged spread.

There is no reason that Palo Alto cannot increase it's bike commute trips from the sad 7% to at least 15%. The weather is good, it is fairly flat, we have made several infrastructure improvements already. We have a population that is concerned with both fitness and the environment. We have both residential and employment centers.

Increased utility bicycling has stupendous benefits. It takes the pressure off of roadways, bicycles have less impact on the infrastructure than cars, being both smaller and lighter. It decreases GHG output of an urban area, improving air quality and reducing global warming. It saves individual commuters a tremendous amount in money spent on gas. It is also a practical form of transportation that is dependent on domestically produced foot, local food! It increases health of the population, saving health costs (most recent statistic- 61% of Californians are either overweight or obese!!!).

I applaud this new plan.

Like this comment
Posted by I bike. I drive. I walk.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Complete streets that serve all road users--including those who are too young to have a drivers license, who are unable to drive, or who just prefer foot-powered transportation over carbon-fueled commutes are good for community.

There is a lot to like in this plan. I have a few questions...but overall, we are going in the right direction.

Like this comment
Posted by Just-How-Crazy-Is-Palo-Alto?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

> Is a busy street like Middlefield "safe" for bike lanes? No Way!

So how many bicycle/vehicle accidents have occurred on Bryant in the last five years?

If you don't know--maybe claiming that Bryant is "unsafe" is more than a little "over the top".

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Posted by emily
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I would love to see a convenient bike route to get from downtown Palo Alto to downtown Mountain View. There's not a very safe direct route and cyclists often have to wait at very long lights and cross very busy intersections. I'd love to see a bike path run along the Caltrain line.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Why are we wasting all this money to create bike paths when almost no one uses them along Middlefield Road towards East Meadow Drive? Instead the bikers race along the sidewalk and little children walking to school, senior citizens walking and mothers with strollers or carriages going to the park or a person walking a dog have to rush and move over or get hit by a biker. This is dangerous for us on the sidewalk and in the evening or at night walking home as bikers are racing along in both directions. No one cares! Neither the parents of the bikers nor the schools or the police. The families ride their bikes on the sidewalks teaching their children not to use the bike lanes and they crowd the sidewalk.

Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I was talking about Middlefield which is very heavily traveled road, not Bryant although I've seen very silly traffic patterns there.

I resent preaching about who should ride bikes and when. Yes, it's healthy.

But no, it's not convenient for trips to the weekly trips to the grocery store when we try to bunch shopping and errands to save gas, thus being just as green as the bicyclists.

The number of cyclists on the sidewalk is dramatic. I've come close the being hit several times while walking from the house to the car parked on the street. Who thinks to look both ways for bikes (which are silent).

Maybe we need a high-priced consultant to evaluate whether pedestrians need helmets, what color they should be and whether we need blinking lights on our heads! Can't wait to see the Powerpoint and $360,000 study.

Keep the bikes on side streets like our parents taught us!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I am rather wary of commenting on these "improvements".

As the above comments prove, there is a lot of general empathy concerning the bike paths, boulevards, and rules we already have.

I would like to see a much better awareness by cyclists of obeying the rules and using the facilities we have, although having said that I saw one cyclist over the weekend struggling to use the bike lane on Middlefield near the library outside Challenger School where the construction workers had left lots of debris and again today when the road was half coned off.

If the cyclists obeyed the rules, particularly about riding on the right side of the road and using lights I would be much more in favor of some of these issues. But if they continue to insist on using Alma instead of Bryant, expecting me to wait for them to cross an intersection instead of stopping and worst of all, crossing guards waving them across instead of making them dismount if they want to act as pedestrians, then I ask why bother?

I hope the new traffic guards from the new company make the cyclists act like traffic and not like pedestrians. That would be a great start.

Like this comment
Posted by oh please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm

lets eliminate all the car infrastructure until all the car drivers start obeying the rules. Thats just silly. Car drivers seldom obey the rules.

Also where are all these bicyclists on Alma? Other than downtown, I never see them.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Don't get me wrong, I am all for bike safety. I ride my bike often. My kids ride bikes to school and to get where they need to go.

But, the general rule in Palo Alto from those who ride bikes seem to think that they have a God given gift to do as they like. They think that it is lawful to ride on Bryant, therefore they can, even if there is a sensible alternative. They think that because bike lanes are there, they can ride 3 abreast chatting to each other and not paying attention. They think they can blow through stop signs and expect drivers to understand that they don't want to lose speed. They think that they can behave like pedestrians with crossing guards and red lights. They rarely use lights at night and wear dark clothes and expect to be seen by even those who approach them from the side where lights don't show their reflectors. Should I go on?

Improving bicycle safety should be a priority, I agree. But I do not feel too happy about improvements that cost time and effort and not getting a change in attitude from at least the most vocal and blatant scoffers about their "rights".

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Posted by oh please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Well I am tired of all these traffic slowing speed humps showing up because my fellow car drivers speeds can not be controlled by them just obeying the rules.

Drive any street in Palo Alto and all the cars are speeding. So before you take a holier than though attitude, look at the form of transportation you use. Are you folks just blind?

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Money spent on bike infrastructure is not a waste at all. Bike projects cost less than auto projects both in up-front costs and in maintenance. They can also pay for themselves by reducing healthcare costs related to air pollution and obesity. Here is an excerpt from the most recent League of American Bicyclists newsletter:

"University of Wisconsin researchers found that bicycling could answer many of their environmental and health problems. According to the report published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, if Mid-westerners replaced half of their short trips with bicycle trips during the warmest six months of the year, they would save about $3.8 billion per year from avoided mortality and reduced health care costs for conditions like obesity and heart disease. The report calculated that these measures would save an estimated $7 billion, including 1,100 lives each year from improved air quality and increased physical fitness.The length of trips in the study were 2.5 miles one way and less than 25-minutes by bike."

Like this comment
Posted by george
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Just-How-Crazy-Is-Palo-Alto. Bryant bicycle accidents.

The CHP's records have records showing bicycle accidents in Palo Alto for both the past 15 and 5 years for 307 intersections. About 100 more intersections have had no accidents during those periods.

In the past 15 years there have been 446 accidents - about 30 total per year or 0.1% per intersection. In the past 5 years there have been 155 accidents - about 30 total per year or 0.1% per intersection. Of course some intersections have zero accidents while others have 1 or more.

The 25 bike boulevard intersections on Bryant St. have had a total of 42 accidents in the 15 year period (2.8/year) and 14 accidents in the 5 year period (2.8/year)

Notice that the number of accidents is about the same for both periods although there are probably significantly more riders now. This speaks well for riders and drivers paying more attention to others on the road.

As an aside I notice that almost no children use the bike lanes on E. Charleston. They choose to ride on the sidewalks instead. When you consider the amount of traffic and the number of cars making right hand turns at the busy intersections, I can't blame them.

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Posted by jb
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 8, 2011 at 5:45 pm

George, where did you get your data? The CHP does not patrol in Palo Alto; they just eat lunch here.

I would like some oversight and ticketing of cyclists. I waited patiently for a turn at the Waverly/California Ave. intersection and was nearly run down by a cycling club (perhaps 10 riders) who charged down California and ran into the intersection just as I was making my turn. I beeped and got a collective finger as the rode around my car. No attempt to slow or stop even though I was already in the intersection. They are just hooligan mobs terrorising the streets because they can

As a driver I am not interested in cyclists maintaining their speed and their cardio rate. They can't possibly be serious about health if they find it too hard to stop and restart at a stop sign. Are these the same people who will fight for the parking space closest to the front door at the 24-hour Nautilus because, fitness be damned, they won't walk in from the edge of the parking lot?

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Posted by Sean
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm

I'm surprised that this "ambitious plan" makes no allowance for those of us who ride small electric bikes, scooters, mopeds, or Segways as well as our bikes. I spent time in time in Amsterdam, Denmark last summer. They allow any scooter-like vehicles the same right-of-way as bicycles on bike paths, bridges, and bike thoroughfares as long as vehicle has a maximum speed of less than 25 MPH. It is sensible to encourage people to use electric transportation, yet it is discouraging when these riders are limited to the same roadways as cars, trucks and larger vehicles. In my opinion, a forward-thinking and ambitious plan would encourage all alternate methods that would get people out of their cars for shorter trips around town. Open the bike thoroughfares for us too!

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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Sean, the issues you raise are covered by the California Vehicle Code and Palo Alto does not have the authority to do anything different. The law recognizes only a few classes of vehicles and there are quite a few that don't fit into those classifications very well, but there is nothing that Palo Alto can do about it. Overall it is a good thing to have a uniform state law that prohibits cities from making their own rules or we would find a crazy patchwork of laws that nobody could comprehend or obey. The downside is that the law lags technology and may be hard on innovators.

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Posted by Sean
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Thanks Donald.

I wrote into Joe Simitian's "There Ought to be a Law" campaign, so I guess we'll see if the idea gets him interested enough to introduce legislation. Other than that, I'll ride my bike and walk the electric moped/proceed with caution when I get to the bridges.

Like this comment
Posted by marilyn
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 8, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I've lived near the intersection of Bryant and Hawthorne for over 20 years. I walk the the downtown north area almost everyday. In all that time, I have seen only three (count 'em) - three (3!) bicyclists come to a full and complete stop, repeat - complete stop, at the either stop sign, look both ways, and then proceed.

At Palo Alto Avenue, I have seen only two (2) bicyclists actually stop at the stop sign (in 20+ years mind you!). The rest have routinely zipped around the turn onto Bryant and have not even not even stopped or slowed down. And then there are the ones who regularly bike on Bryant who believe it's OK to bike hands free (hands meet handlebars somewhere near Lytton).

So before commenters (yes Gregory, that's you) start blind eyed rhetoric, it would be worth their while to take a close and unbiased look at behaviors of all users of the roadway - including pedestrians (who apparently feel they no longer have to stop and look at a crosswalk, especially when listening to mp3 players or talking on their phones) and cars who blithely don't even slow down at stop signs.

There's a lot of blame to go round here, but the noisiest group is also the group most likely to cause their own accidents - the bicyclists.

And by the way, downtown north, despite all its "traffic flaws", still has one of the lowest accident rates and slowest overall vehicular speeds in the city - most of these facts where presented 6-7 years ago when the council removed the roadblocks.

Instead of noise or mere opinion accompanied by noise, it would be helpful if the noisemakers first contacted the city traffic engineer or the PAPD for accurate information. You can also find a lot of information in Weekly's archive. None of this is hard to do. How about trying it?

Like this comment
Posted by parent of grownup cyclists
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 8, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Actually, if you are worried about your child suddenly swerving out of the bike lane into traffic, there IS something that you can do! Starting as soon as they can ride in a straight line, practice a few key skills on a school blacktop or in an empty parking lot on a weekend.

Here's a great resource that can help you teach your children the basic street savvy for safe riding:
Bicycle Safety: What Every Parent Should Know
Web Link

Specifically, make sure your child knows how to avoid the three main types of bike-car crashes for bicyclists under driving age (p. 3), and has practiced them in a safe location before you ride together on the street.

With about 10 minutes of practice, an 8 year old can learn how to check over his/her left shoulder without swerving or stopping. Next, practice until it's second nature for him/her to always check for traffic coming from the rear to be sure it's safe before moving left on a street(whether or not there is a bike lane). See pages 3 and 4 of the link for more details on how to do this.

Assuming you're a good role model (wearing a helmet, following the rules of the road), the more you can ride with your child before he/she reaches middle school age, the more confident you can be that your child will ride predictably and be visible to drivers when they are riding independently.

If you are not a confident cyclist yourself, there's a great parent/child class for children 11-14 offered through the Enjoy catalogue (spring, summer and fall). Good riding!

Like this comment
Posted by Alex
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm

". . .the group most likely to cause their own accidents - the bicyclists."

Do you have evidence to support that assertion?

Like this comment
Posted by oh please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2011 at 12:27 am


you took that post seriously?

Someone that claims the have seen 3 and exactly 3 observations, not 2 not 4 in 20 years. Sort of lacks any credibility.

Anyway fault in bike accidents vs cars are about 50/50 its well documented and very available on the web.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The European mode is bikes and pedestrians share.

Like this comment
Posted by Oh please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Sure European model where gas is $9 a gallon ;-)

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

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