Palo Alto is flanked by pristine landscapes, from the sprawling Baylands in the east to the rolling foothills in the west, but connecting these popular destinations with trails has been a challenge for the densely developed city split by a major highway, two busy traffic arteries and a set of railroad tracks.
Now, the city is looking to create two new trails to provide nature lovers from throughout the region easy access between the various open-space reserves. On Tuesday night, the Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed a staff proposal to plan for one path that would take travelers along the Charleston Road, Arastradero Road and Fabian Way and another one that would follow Matadero Creek.
The city already has a Bay-to-Ridge trail, but it is largely conceptual, steering nature lovers along California Avenue through the center of Palo Alto without the benefit of directional signs. Greg Betts, the city's director of community services, wrote in a new report that the "urban trail" is "only depicted on web site and printed trail maps."
This route was, however, bolstered by Stanford University's recent completion of a trail route near Deer Creek and Page Mill roads that leads to the Interstate 280 underpass at Arastradero.
The two new paths would complement another major project that the city is pursuing to improve east-west connectivity in south Palo Alto -- the construction of a bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek. Officials hope that by integrating the 101 project into the broader Bay-to-Ridge effort, the city would have a better chance to acquire grant funding for the new bridge.
Betts said Tuesday that the purpose of Bay-to-Ridge trails is to connect as many parks and open spaces as possible and to make it easier for residents of Palo Alto and surrounding cities, particularly Los Altos and Mountain View, to walk or bicycle from one nature preserve to another. He called the urban trail a "regional concept" that seeks to attract as many users as possible to local nature preserves.
"If you're hiking the 13-mile track up the hill, you'll have a place to stop in parks to refresh yourself at restrooms or drinking fountains," Betts told the commission.
A southern 13-mile trail would seek the "most central and direct route" between the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Center at the edge of the San Francisco Bay and the Daniels Nature Center on Skyline Boulevard, Betts said.
"Along the way the trail route would pass as many urban parks as possible, would pass by the Arastradero Gateway Educational Center and Foothills Park Interpretive Center, and would provide safe routes away from busy streets and intersections, whenever possible," Betts wrote in his report.
The commission agreed with staff that creating a new urban trail in south Palo Alto is a great idea, though members had some reservations about the details of the proposed Fabian/Charleston/Arastradero Road route. Though Betts wrote in his report that this trail would take advantage of "existing safe on-street and off-street bike and pedestrian routes," Commissioners Deirdre Crommie and Jennifer Hetterly both argued that the Charleson-Fabian Way portion of the route is not attractive to recreational users. Crommie said this portion of the route is "too busy" for bicyclists and is more suited to work commuters than to nature lovers. Hetterley called Fabian Way "an unpleasant place to ride."
They both proposed an alternative route that would use Wilkie Way instead of Fabian Way to get to Palo Alto from Mountain View and Meadow Drive instead of Charleston Road for the east-west connection. The commission voted 6-0 to support the two proposed south Palo Alto urban trails, though it included in its approval Crommie's and Hetterly's suggestion to use Meadow Drive.
The creekside trail along Matadero is even more tentative than the one pegged for Charleston. Betts noted that the Matadero trail "would take considerable planning and negotiation with the Santa Clara Valley Water District to construct." Major challenges include finding ways to cross Alma Street, the Caltrain tracks and El Camino Real, he wrote in his report.
"For the time being, and until grant funding for the 101 Overcrossing can be secured, this trail route would serve as a guide for long-range trail planning and construction," Betts wrote.