Palo Alto's vision of a curvy, elegant bike bridge spanning U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek remains up in the air, with coveted grant funding far from guaranteed.
But questions over funding haven't stopped the city from proceeding with design work on the popular project, which is one of the most ambitious and expensive proposals in the newly approved Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. The voluminous plan aims to make the city one of the nation's top-tier biking destinations, and the new bike bridge is seen as a central component of the proposed bicycle network, one that easily whisks south Palo Alto residents and employees into the Baylands.
Though the price tag for the new bridge is estimated at between $5 million and $9 million (depending on the design), the project has already won the support of the city's Parks and Recreation Commission, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the City Council, which unanimously and enthusiastically backed the proposed bridge in November and directed staff to proceed with the necessary environmental analyses.
If built, the new bike bridge would both expand the city's bicycle infrastructure and fulfill its long-held dream of providing residents year-round access across Adobe Creek. The existing underpass at the creek is typically only open for six months a year, which forces residents to rely on busier and more dangerous east-west connectors such as Oregon Expressway and San Antonio Avenue.
A feasibility study conducted by the city estimated that about 74,000 people would use the new bridge annually. Planning officials hope to bolster the number further by making various bike-friendly road improvements in south part of the city, including around Fabian Way and on San Antonio Avenue.
On Tuesday, the Parks and Recreation Commission considered four alignments for the bridge, three of which (known as Alignments A, C and D) would place approach ramps at East Bayshore and West Bayshore roads. The other option, known as Alignment B, would also connect at West Bayshore Road, but it would also have a ramp about 500 feet east of East Bayshore, on a levee pathway next to Adobe Creek.
Casey Hildreth, whose firm Alta Planning + Design worked on the city's bicycle master plan and is now assisting with the bridge project, said the goal is to create "wonderful views of the Baylands" and integrate the bridge with the surrounding nature.
"If we do our job right, it shouldn't be considered an intrusion of the Baylands; it should be considered an extension of the Baylands over the highway," Hildreth said.
Commissioners generally agreed that the city should choose one of the designs in which the eastern ramp is on East Bayshore. Having bicyclists and pedestrians get off the bridge at East Bayshore gives them the options of going north or south. By contrast, Alignment B would force travelers who wish to go south to head north and then backtrack.
Commissioner Deirdre Crommie was among those who advocated for ending the bridge at East Bayshore. She praised the project and its potential for serving as a major component of the city's new trail network.
"I'm really excited," Crommie said, referring to the proposed network. "It's really amazing to see it coming alive in this way."
The commission also voted Tuesday night to submit a letter to Santa Clara County in support of the city's request for a $4 million grant that would help fund the bridge. The grant allocation, which was first proposed by Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss in May, would rely on a pool of funds that Stanford University had promised about a decade ago, when it was seeking a permit to increase campus development. The General Use Permit approved by the county specifies that these funds can only be used for recreational opportunities that mitigate the campus development.
Kniss and members of the Palo Alto council have argued that the proposed bridge meets this definition by providing campus users -- as well as Palo Alto residents and employees of nearby companies -- new recreational opportunities. But the project met some resistance from Stanford's campus residents, who have their own ideas for how the recreation funds should be spent. Among the projects they have proposed is extending a trail that currently runs along Stanford Avenue and terminates near the Stanford Dish. Opposition from Stanford residents prompted the county Board of Supervisors to delay a decision on where to allocate the money while they consider the various projects.
Palo Alto is required to submit its grant application by Sept. 6. The Board of Supervisors is set to hold a public hearing on Oct. 9 to consider which projects to fund.
The letter that the Parks and Recreation Commission approved Tuesday night by a 5-1 vote -- with Paul Losch absent and Stacey Ashlund dissenting -- stresses the regional nature of the project and its connection to other biking improvements the city is making, including the Matadero Creek Trail, the Park Boulevard bicycle route, and upgrades to the Arastradero Trail. In addition to the $4 million the city is seeking for the bridge, Palo Alto is also asking the county for about $2 million for the other three projects.
Ashlund argued the city's letter to the county should focus on the bridge rather than include the other trail improvements. The commission briefly considered changing the letter but the majority ultimately agreed that the one proposed by staff is adequate, particularly given the tight deadline for grant applications.
"The city's proposed projects help to provide access to existing recreation facilities such as the Bay Trail," the letter states. "The projects also help to expand local and regional investments in trail networks that help to support the use of alternative transportation modes between regional employment centers such as the Stanford Research Park and Google in the City of Mountain View."
The council is scheduled to discuss the city's grant application on Sept. 4.