The proposed Matadero Creek Trail is so disliked by Midtown Palo Alto residents that they have told the city to change the project's name.
A group of 70 residents, calling themselves the Concerned Midtown Residents, said they want the project renamed the "Midtown East-West Bicycle/Pedestrian Route" to get away from the plan for a creekside trail. They would like to see alternatives considered that they say would be safer.
The current project name artificially limits the project, for which the city provides no alternatives, they stated in a document submitted to the city this week.
The 1.3-mile trail would run along Matadero Creek levees and access roads, stretching from West Bayshore Road to Alma Street. The majority of the route would follow an existing Santa Clara Valley Water District maintenance road along the north side of the creek, except from Middlefield to Ross roads, where it would run south of the creek, according to city documents.
A decomposed granite surface would replace an existing gravel maintenance road, with decorative railings in places for safety. The project would add new signage and improved crosswalks at intersections.
The route is part of the Stanford and Palo Alto Trails Program, a plan to expand and create more than 8 miles of recreational corridors in and around the Stanford University campus and Palo Alto. A $1.5 million grant from Santa Clara County and $500,000 in city matching funds will pay for the trail. The program would eventually link San Francisco Bay trails to Stanford University and Pearson-Arastradero Preserve.
The trail is also a key element of the city's 2012 Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan and would connect with future bike boulevards along Ross, Greer and Louis roads, city officials said.
But residents said the trail comes too close to homes, in part running directly behind backyards. Residents are concerned about noise, debris and trespassing at night when the trail would be closed because it is unlit.
Safety is a major issue, they said.
"The concrete walls on Matadero Creek can drop more than 10 feet into the creek, and the creek swells with rushing water during winter rains. What measures need to be taken to prevent teenagers and kids who might be tempted to climb the railings and accidentally fall in?" residents asked in their summary of concerns to the city.
To communicate their concerns, residents rewrote the city's request for proposals for the trail's feasibility study. The residents would like the consultants to consider barriers, crime, safety, privacy, noise, litter, traffic congestion, property devaluation and liability between the county water district and city for injuries and fatalities along the route or in the creek. An environmental-impact report would also be required instead of being an option, they wrote.
Of main concern: six pedestrian crossings designed for the middle of blocks along the route. Mid-block crossings account for more than 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
The residents asked that six safer alternatives be explored by the consultants. One alternative would link from the Bryant Street Bike Boulevard and El Carmelo Elementary School along El Dorado Avenue, Cowper Street, Hoover Park Path, Sutter Avenue to Clara Drive. At Louis Road, pedestrians and cyclists could go in any of three directions: south on Louis to Seale Park and Palo Verde Elementary School; north on Louis Road to Ohlone Elementary School and continuing to Oregon Avenue to the Oregon/101 overpass; or east on Colorado Avenue to Greer Park and the potential Matadero Canal/101 Underpass, and further south to the potential Stering Canal Trail, Adobe Creek Underpass and future Adobe Creek/101 Overpass.
There is little traffic on these streets; they are already bike friendly; and the path would run in front of rather than behind homes, they noted. The alternative does not involve mid-block crossings but would require safe crossing at Middlefield Road, they said.
A second alternative would travel from the California Avenue Underpass to North California Avenue along Louis Road to Oregon Avenue to the Oregon/101 Overpass.
But city Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said alternatives were considered during public meetings for the 2012 Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation.
Midtown resident Sheri Furman, who lives next to the creek on Greer Road said the discussions didn't include Midtown residents. Although the city held public meetings to discuss the bike master plan, none were held in Midtown where the trail would affect neighbors. Instead, they were across town at Terman Middle School. The trail was a late add-on and wasn't in the draft plan, she said.
"None of the neighbors were notified," she added.
Furman has already seen the dangers posed by traffic and trespassing -- without the trail, she said.
"Mid-block crossings are just insanity -- especially if kids use these routes during school hours. I watch how many people don't stop at a stop sign," including bicyclists who almost never stop, she said.
The city proposes a nighttime curfew for using the trail. But Furman said she thinks people would violate restrictions.
"I watched a parent encouraging a kid to climb the fence to get into the creek last night. So there's always trespassing," she said on Wednesday.
Furman is also concerned about drownings during the rainy season.
"This creek fills up very quickly. There's a romantic notion of this being a wooded path, but it's not. It's a cement culvert -- it's a flood channel," she said.
Rodriguez said a feasibility study will show if the creek route is possible. Asked if a design that does not include the creek would jeopardize the county funding, he said the city received the money for a project on the creek, but there might be areas where the trail could jog away. The community will have to make a decision if it wants a segmented trail, he said.