Planned bike route on Matadero wins key vote

After earlier misgivings, Planning and Transportation Commission votes to support bike boulevard

Palo Alto's ambitious quest to become the nation's top biking city received a boost Wednesday night when the city's planning commission green-lighted the creation of a new bike boulevard on Matadero Avenue.

The new bike route, which will east-to-west along Matadero and Margarita avenues, would be part of a greater network of existing and planned bike routes, including ones on Park Bouleverd and Maybell Avenue. The Planning and Transportation voted 5-0, with Eduardo Martinez absent, to recommend the creation of the new boulevard, which is listed as a priority project in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan the city adopted in 2012.

If the City Council goes along with the recommendation, construction of the new bike boulevard would begin this summer and will include five new speed humps along Matadero, between Laguna Avenue and Whitsell Avenue; a new speed table at the intersection of Matadero and Tippawingo Street and will also function as a raised crosswalk table for pedestrians; and berms on Josina Avenue that will create walking space for pedestrians.

"The consistent message of every bicycle project we've worked on is that bicycle projects are not just about bicycles, they're equally important toward pedestrians," Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez told the commission. "We made a strong effort with Matadero-Margarita to provide equal weight to pedestrian opportunities."

Future improvements include "bike boulevard" signage at every intersection, roadway markings and crosswalk improvements at the Bol Park path and the Tippawingo Street-Josina Avenue intersections, according to a report from Rodriguez.

The Wednesday hearing was the planning commission's second discussion of the proposed bike boulevard. In November, commissioners split 3-3 on the project, with several members criticizing staff for a lack of data to support the project. At that time, Commissioner Alex Panelli (who has since resigned from the commission) characterized staff's failure to come up with bike-ridership numbers and criticized the staff proposal as "effectively guesswork." His colleague, Mark Michael, agreed and warned that creating a bike boulevard on Matadero could "create an illusion of safety that is probably unwarranted."

Since then, staff has been gathering data to satisfy these concerns. In December, officials set up video cameras at four locations along Matadero and Margarita and determined that bicycle and pedestrian use is as high as 10 percent of vehicle volumes. Videos also showed cars moving at speeds greater than 30 mph near the west end of Matadero, a problem that members of the community have complained about.

Rodriguez said the research also showed about 800 bicyclists and pedestrians using the Bol Park path, confirming the city's impressions of the path's popularity.

"We're trying to give people opportunities to take advantage of these dedicated off-road facilitites, but you have to get to them," Rodriguez said. "That's what we're trying to do with this project."

During its discussion, several commissioners recognized that under current conditions, Matadero isn't very safe. The absence of sidewalks forces pedestrians to share the road with cars and the large number of children biking on the road creates uncomfortable conditions for drivers and bicyclists alike.

Chair Michael, who has been conducting his own research in the area, called staff's new project "essentially a good proposal, but not perfect." Making the street a bike boulevard, he said, would invite more sharing between bikes and cars on the narrow street, which is not necessarily a good thing.

"It's in many ways important and this can be constructive, but I don't think it's going to result in a safe roadway without some additional follow-up," Michael said.

Commissioner Michael Alcheck was more sanguine about the new bike route and made a case for proceeding with incremental improvements on this well-used road.

"Sometimes perfect is the enemy of good," Alcheck said. "Kids are already on this road. Let's make it safer."

That was also the sense of most of the speakers who address the commission before the vote. Doug Moran, who lives in Barron Park, said the neighborhood has been waiting for traffic-calming for more than 20 years. Though the plan didn't integrate many of the features he and his neighbors had hoped to see, Moran asked the commission to support it.

"Half a loaf or even crumbs is better than the nothing we've had to endure all this time," Moran said.

Emma Shlaes of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition also spoke in favor of the new Matadero Avenue bike boulevard. About 100 bicyclists use the boulevard are already using this route every day, she said, and it is "essential to make it safer for them by reducing traffic speeds."

"These improvements will only increase the number of users," Shlaes said. "It's important to create these low-stress routes to encourage people to choose bikes over vehicles for transportation."

View a Planning and Transportation Commission staff report for maps of the city's existing and proposed bike routes.

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2014 at 10:22 am

Just wondering, but was any mention made of whether this would make traffic turn to other streets rather than have to use speed bumps and speed tables? If so, which are the other streets likely to have increased vehicle traffic?

Traffic going slower is a good thing, but when something occurs that causes traffic to move somewhere else then we have to question it. I know that I avoid certain streets now when driving because all the speed bumps even at 10 mph is just plain annoying.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 13, 2014 at 10:44 am

Glad to see that the city is finally taking bicycle safety seriously in the western parts of town. The Caltrain tracks and El Camino Real are huge barriers to bicycling east-west across town, but hopefully this bicycle boulevard can improve on that.

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 13, 2014 at 10:47 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"The consistent message of every bicycle project we've worked on is that bicycle projects are not just about bicycles, they're equally important toward pedestrians," Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez told the commission. "We made a strong effort with Matadero-Margarita to provide equal weight to pedestrian opportunities."

This is false, false, false.
For pedestrians, there were two top priorities: reducing speeding and not having vehicles pass so close. This was raised forcefully by multiple people at multiple meetings (out-reach, PTC).
Rodriguez so totally ignored the second that not only was it was not in the plan, but when asked about it by a Commissioner, he was totally befuddled.

I worked on this for two decades, guided Rodriguez through at least two walk-thrus of the route, plus raised this at the meetings.

Like this comment
Posted by Rah, rah, rah, go palo alto go
a resident of University South
on Feb 13, 2014 at 11:02 am

Instead of parroting the company line, perhaps gennady should explain how this will make palo alto the top biking city. This took 20 years to get done!!!!! Shouldn't the goal to make sure that all forms of transportation in the city ( cars, bikes, pedestrians) be able to work well? Instead we have this ego trip, which gennady seems to mention in every article about biking. I guess when the transportation director is a tool of a certain lobby in the cty we get the arastedero road fiasco. Seems from reading these articles, Jaime chooses to ignore input from residents on all issues. Perhaps, gennady could do an article on that issue.

Like this comment
Posted by resident of Barron Park
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 13, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Sure hope they designate the bike & pedestrian path with a green surface, as has been done on a portion of Park Blvd. Add signs telling pedestrians to walk facing the traffic, and bicyclists obey 'Stop' signs. Matadero is a very narrow street, not sure where they are going to find space on especially the first block off El Camino for a separate bike lane. When I drive down Bryant Avenue, between Oregon and Tennyson, the bikers disregard stop sign at CA Avenue, and ride down the center of right lane.
When I exit Matadero at 8 a.m. on Monday mornings there is a large group of runners, that run two abreast that face traffic. Single file please!!!

I highly recommend the police be on site to monitor and reprimand bikers and pedestrians on Matadero the first two months the bike lane is in operation to educate bikers & pedestrians that they are not the only ones using this main thorough fare for exiting Barron Park at one of two lights for access to El Camino Real.

I am glad they are going to upgrade Matadero, but very, very concerned bikers and pedestrians are privileged residents who feel they don't have to follow the rules of the road.

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2014 at 6:37 pm

I don't think the plan is for bike lanes, because there is not enough width. Bryant is a bike boulevard, but it doesn't have bike lanes. Instead I think that the Margarita plan is to use shared lane markings to tell everyone that bicyclists should use the middle of the lane to avoid getting squeezed. The markings may have a green background.

Like this comment
Posted by Native Dancer
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 13, 2014 at 7:01 pm

It's about time. Now, how long before this actually happens? Hopefully not ten years from now.

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Posted by Robert
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2014 at 10:02 pm

You should be able to follow the link to the city presentation.

It is a shared lane, like Bryant, and other bike route streets that are too narrow for bike lanes. The speed humps and speed tables are meant to bring max speeds down to 25 mph. Currently 85th percentile speeds are 30 mph, which means there are some drivers going 35 and maybe even 40. Street markings will include shared lane markings (Sharrows), with green highlights. Once auto traffic is slowed down it will be easier to share Matadero between pedestrians and folks in autos or on bikes.

On Margarita the street is narrower, so typical traffic speeds are slower, and speed bumps are not needed to slow autos.

Like this comment
Posted by Helene
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 13, 2014 at 10:21 pm

Bicycle safety is the important element when combining bicycles and cars. Has anyone ever notice that the Bryant St Bike Boulevard has no signs indicating that it is such? Share The Road signs do not exist, no bike lanes, traffic traveling in both directions, and parking allowed on the side of the roads. In some parts of the Blvd the road is very narrow. This is an accident waiting to happen any day now.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 13, 2014 at 11:27 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The bicycle lobby refuses to understand that traffic on Matadero is NOTHING like that on Bryant (I biked to work on Bryant both before and after it became a bike boulevard).

Today, in addition to its usual heavy trucks related to construction, it had a 10-wheeler dump truck about every 15-20 minutes. Other days, it will be a stream of concrete trucks, or the 18-wheeler dirt haulers. These are trucks that all-but fill the lane from the gutter to the center line. And many of the pickups driven by construction workers are not much narrower.

Combine a narrow street (2 ten-foot wide lanes), a blind S-curve, visibility problems at both ends of the street, heavy trucks (long stopping distances, 8-9 feet wide), cut-thru traffic that shows no respect for bikes (or pedestrians) and then encourage bicyclists to believe that everyone is going to yield to them. This is the arrogance of the bicycle lobby that is going to get bicyclists killed.

It is the bike lobby's holier-than-thou attitude -- that everyone must defer to them -- that caused this proposal to eschew multiple opportunities to make the street safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.

But the bike lobby will have their status symbol -- roughly a dozen street name signs will be replaced by those with a "custom color" -- so that they can crow about implementing "branding" and "wayfinding". The sad thing is that they didn't need to choose vanity over safety.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2014 at 8:25 am

Very little makes any sense in Palo Alto.There is no consistency, no logic,

Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 10:22 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

A previous post mentioned multiple opportunities that were missed in this proposal because of "the bike lobby's holier-than-thou attitude." What were they, and should the project be scrapped if they are not included?

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Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 10:50 am

Can't wait for this project to be completed. Our city badly needs safer east-west bike routes. The proposed route through a quieter part of town is perfect. Not everyone lives near the Bryant Street bicycle boulevard.

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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 11:32 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@Jerry Underdal:
I don't want to the project to be totally scrapped: The first phase is speed humps, which are 20 years overdue.

On pavement markings are questionable. Unlike many streets in Barron Park, Matadero has a highly visible center line. This provides "visual narrowing" and was in lieu of speed humps or similar. However, it has the predicted negative: Drivers are less likely to move to the center of the street to give bikes and pedestrians room. Thus retaining the center line may not just substantially negate benefits of the on-pavement markings, but has the potential big negative of desensitizing bicyclists to the situation.

The center line concern provided one of the easiest example of the arrogance of the bike lobby. Me and others were trying to use good design to encourage people to do the right thing. The bike lobby rejected our 11 years of experience, saying "Drivers shouldn't do that".

My comments to the PTC (this meeting and previous) can be found at Web Link .

Another example of the proposal's contempt for pedestrians was a failure to make any attempt to reduce the problem where west-bound pedestrians in the blind S-curve suddenly find themselves forced to step in the traffic lane at a point where visibility is probably only two car lengths.

Like this comment
Posted by Susie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2014 at 2:03 pm

How can it be that no map accompanies this story?

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Susie, The maps can be found in the Staff Report (Web Link , a 3.5MB PDF) starting at page 29.

Like this comment
Posted by j francisco
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 18, 2014 at 7:34 pm

i am reading all this an laughing to my self. there is noway your city will make #1.maybe for its size. but you have to beat out all the small cityes around portland oregon. they are already 10 or more years ahead of you. you go to portland an in the morn. or after noon. its almost like being in holland. check out the new brlge just for bikes ,street car san people. on maln sts. bike lanes are5 or 6 ft. wide. with parking on the sides. most of your streets are to nato. these streets they paint arrow an bike signs for one way traffic. an god help you if you hit a biker or drive in a bike lane.they haves usrd green paint at main interseckshions for 10yrs that i know of.some bike lanes run for 10 miles or more from city to city.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2014 at 7:51 pm

It's not about being number one. Does the article really say that? What it is about is creating safe routes for commuting to school, to work, and to local businesses.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 11:59 am

As a Barron Park resident, I'm a bit mystified that anyone has actually looked at matedero? It has no sidewalks in most places, and telephone poles that sit very near the street. It's one of two main access roads into barron park where I get tailgatted and honk at for driving the speed limit (25 MPH). To this we will add even more bike traffic? I have difficulty believing this is anything but insane....

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