Palo Alto hosts meeting on wheels

Bikers voice hopes, concerns for new bicycle boulevards

More than 50 Palo Alto bikers hit the road Saturday morning on a tour of the city's south streets, stopping at points along the way to give feedback to city officials about the enjoyable, uncomfortable and hazardous features of the routes.

Saturday's bike-along was one of a series of "meetings on wheels" with interested locals the first outreach of its kind in Palo Alto, prompted by the city's aim to implement 23 new bike projects throughout the city.

"We're not designing today," Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Official and bike-along host Jaime Rodriguez told fellow cyclists. "We're just soliciting your input."

The bikers -- some in jeans and T-shirts, others in fluorescent spandex, but all donning helmets -- began at Piazza's Fine Foods on Charleston Road before crossing through Cubberley Community Center and onto Nelson Drive. Though several people enjoyed the tranquil ride through the campus, others had concerns about Cubberley's activity on the not-so-quiet weekdays.

"I know it's legal for children to ride on the sidewalk, but they should know that cars aren't looking for them there," longtime Palo Alto resident Patricia Morris said.

Another woman agreed, citing several times bikers on the Cubberley campus have been hit by car doors as they were being opened by parked motorists who weren't expecting oncoming bikers.

One solution to ″dooring″ is already in the works, officials said. The city's bike plan calls for installations of "sharrows," symbols that designate biking space on roads without bike lanes to prevent "dooring" from parked cars.

The tour proceeded north on Alma Street's sidewalk to avoid sharing the thoroughfare's narrow lanes with passing cars. Some residents felt safe up on the sidewalk, though one man said he didn't think he would feel safe riding on Alma even if a bike lane were put in.

"Alma is just one of a network″ of bike paths, Rodriguez reminded residents, adding that the city's bike plan is geared toward giving choices to cyclists.

In March, the city approved $2.2 million to start the planning of its numerous projects, which include bike boulevards, "sharrows" installations and multi-use trails.

On May 14, Rodriguez updated the city's Planning and Transportation Commission on active bicycle projects, which are part of a master plan the city approved in 2012 with the goal of making Palo Alto one of the nation's top biking destinations. Rodriguez touched on the outreach tours, saying that the bike-alongs have had a diverse turnout with kids, parents and seniors alike.

"It's been a great discussion," he said.

Tours earlier this month and in late April explored proposed bike boulevards on Stanford Avenue and Wilke Way; Homer and Channing avenues' enhanced bikeway projects; and the Barron Park neighborhood bike routes.

Saturday's tour covered southern projects that are being funded by Internet search giant Google. Those include the San Antonio Avenue bike route and the Alma Street enhanced bikeway, among others.

Stopping with the tour near some of Google's newly acquired Palo Alto and Mountain View properties, including the former Mayfield Mall at Central Expressway and San Antonio Road, Palo Alto resident Vijnan Shastri voiced his concern on crossing San Antonio Avenue.

"Going across is great, but coming back is not so great because you're on the wrong side of the road to push the button," he said.

Rodriguez said Google wants to fix this exact problem. The company's partnership with the city will support connections with Google facilities, though one Google source said that the company's projects are not tied to any one piece of its recently growing property portfolio and that the main goal is to increase bicycle connectivity between Palo Alto and Mountain View, benefiting Google employees and residents alike.

Currently, Google is financing the planning phases for six south city projects, Rodriguez said, but he hopes the Mountain View-based firm will also fund the next phases.

Google's projects include: the Alma Street enhanced bikeway from Charleston Road to San Antonio Avenue; the Cubberley Community Center trail from Middlefield Road to Nelson Drive; the Middlefield Road enhanced bikeway from Charleston Road to the city's southern limit; the Montrose Avenue bicycle boulevard from Charleston Road to Middlefield Road; the San Antonio Avenue bicycle route from Byron Street to Alma street; and the San Antonio Road Bicycle route from Bayshore Parkway to Byron Street. Added together, the routes total more than three miles.

Rodriguez said that Google is paying the consulting companies directly for their planning services. A Google source said the sum is less than $200,000 for two of the projects currently underway.

Representatives from Fehr & Peers and Alta Planning & Design, two of four consulting companies the city has enlisted to help with the bicycle projects, joined Saturday's tour. Rodriguez cited wanting a variety of expertise as reason for hiring several companies.

In addition to reaching out to residents via bike tours, the city also hosts a table at the Palo Alto Farmers Market where residents can ask questions and get more information about the city's bike plan. Residents can also visit City of Palo Alto to give their input online, dropping a pin on a bike route map and typing in concerns or suggestions for improvements.

"A lot of work is focused on the planning phase," Rodriguez said of the projects.

The city will likely be in the planning phase for the next year at least until it can move forward with the approval processes, full design and finally construction, he added.

Rodriguez expressed optimism about Palo Alto's future as one of California's most bicycle-friendly cities.

"I always hear the same thing from the community," Rodriguez said. "We have a wonderful plan."

Editorial Intern Lena Pressesky can be emailed at

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 10:32 am

Whereas this seems to have been a good idea with lots of good input and comments from those on the ride, I am not in favor of encouraging bikes on Alma.

Alma is not a suitable road for anything but the most ardent bike rider. If Alma were to be used by students en route to Paly, I feel sure that we would have many accidents. They are much safer on Bryant.

Alma is the continuation of Central Expressway and is a much better way to get to Menlo Park for a lot of traffic rather than using El Camino or Middlefield. It would be even better if there was through traffic to Sand Hill, at present most of that through traffic uses Churchill which is also a school route. Keeping this through traffic to Sand Hill and Menlo Park on Alma makes a lot more sense than Churchill anyway.

Unless separate bike lines (unlikely) can be put either side of Alma, bikes using Alma will always be in peril.

Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on May 22, 2014 at 10:45 am

it won't be long now before locals will be living on their bikes. it's all that is affordable. growing up in palo alto, what in the world? everybody is a millionaire, it seems. how ridiculous. watch fred astaire movies downtown and hope that you'll survive for another day.

Like this comment
Posted by Dutch rider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

Most of Embarcadero is unsafe, also. My solutions for Alma and Embarcadero have been to ride on the sidewalk.

Four years ago , however, I was ticketed for this, and the citation went on my driving record! Sometimes there is simply no alternate route for a certain distance, though.

I guess I would rather pay a pricey ticket than leave my kids motherless.

Like this comment
Posted by jimmae
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2014 at 11:24 am

Alma does not suit bicycles, I agree.
Instead of trying to figure out how to improve Alma st for bicycles....
How about a parallel paved trail completely within the Caltrain right of way, w fencing that is adequate to keep riders-walkers away from the tracks except at designated ped-bike-vehicular crossings(E Meadow,San Antonio,Churchill)?
The bike-ped path from Churchill to the Palo Alto Medical Center bldngs w an under-crossing at Homer is an example to build on.

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 22, 2014 at 11:35 am

I agree Alma is not the most desirable road to cycle on but I do it because the bike path through the adjoining neighborhood isn't convenient. I take the lane if I feel threatened. There is a large buffer zone on the other side of the Caltrain right of way that would also make a bike path feasible. I always wonder how somebody coming north would know how to negotiate around this mess unless they were familiar with the area. Definitely in need of improvement.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. BBQ
a resident of Community Center
on May 22, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Will the bikes be required to follow the rules of the road i.e.stop at stop signs, got the finger a few times assuming the bicyclist was going to stop, as I pulled out from a stop sign.

Like this comment
Posted by Janet Lafleur
a resident of Mountain View
on May 22, 2014 at 1:58 pm

I haven't seen the plans yet, but I'm glad to see so many bike projects serving South Palo Alto planned. I commuted daily through many of these project areas for years and still ride them on weekends to shop in Palo Alto.

This part of town was originally built with car convenience in mind only. These projects will help make it more comfortable and convenient for people riding bikes. I can't wait to see them completed.

Like this comment
Posted by Justin
a resident of Mountain View
on May 22, 2014 at 5:20 pm

I frequently bike on Central to get to southeast Palo Alto. It would be great if there was a path right next to Caltrain. The existing "bike route" through eastern Mountain View to Palo Alto is rather convoluted (and even involves briefly going on Alma if I recall).

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 22, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Nice thing about Alma for cyclists, no stop signs.

Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of JLS Middle School
on May 22, 2014 at 8:54 pm

The proposed route on Alma isn't on Alma. It's a 0.6 mile side path (currently a sidewalk) on the east side from San Antonio Road to Charleston. It's being done due to address the problem caused by the car centric street designs in south Palo Alto. The alternate route to is more than twice as long.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 22, 2014 at 9:33 pm

@Eric -- they can't possibly be thinking of putting both directions of travel on that path. Can they?

Like this comment
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Anybody who rides a bike on Alma must have a death wish. There is simply no room.

No stop signs on Alma!?!?!.....LMAO like any bicyclist would obey them it they're were. Since when did Bicyclists become above the law?

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 22, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Put a stop sign on Alma and see whether any motorist obeys it.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2014 at 10:26 pm

We would like to thank Mr. Rodriguez and the other city officials for working so hard to make our city streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Many parts of town are difficult (or dangerous) to access without a car right now, but I believe they have good ideas for fixing that. Car ownership should not be a requirement for living, working, or shopping in our city.

Like this comment
Posted by bad ticket
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Dutch rider,

Unless you were on the stretch of Alma that is downtown, riding on the sidewalk is legal.
There are safety issues to consider, of course, but if you weren't in downtown, it was a bad ticket.

Like this comment
Posted by Andrew Boone
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 23, 2014 at 5:30 am

Thanks very much for this coverage, Palo Alto Weekly!

So it looks like Palo Alto really IS finally moving ahead with it's long shelved (for the last 30 years?) plans to construct a network of Bicycle Boulevards. GOOD. I thought I would never live to see the day.

My input/concerns: those need to be REAL bicycle boulevards, like Bryant Street. With traffic diverters and well-designed traffic signals so that people riding bikes don't have to wait a long time to cross busy streets. So, not like the "bicycle boulevards" on Maybell or in Mountain View that are just regular streets with "Bike Boulevard" signs. Not that this is what you were going to do, Jaime. It's just a concern I have.

Also, if we are going to talk about improvements to Alma and Middlefield for bicycling, can you please just install sharrows and "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs on those streets already? This should've been done forever ago. Taking the lane on Alma Street especially is already stressful enough as it is with all the traffic but on top of that a few (a tiny percentage, actually) car drivers still don't understand that Bikes May Use Full Lane and sometimes they honk or pass too closely. Signs."Bikes May Use Full Lane." It's a standard thing these days. It's in the MUTCD. It's all legit. I don't see what the big deal is.

Very curious in learning more about the proposed designs of the various bikeways being discussed.

Like this comment
Posted by Ben
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 23, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Using or considering Alma as any part of a bike route is simply stupid. Really stupid. Alma is nearly a highway, anyone who thinks that paint stripes will keep cyclist safe isn't thinking.

A good network of bike routes is a great idea, really, but please choose the route better.

Like this comment
Posted by As of now, yes
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 24, 2014 at 5:42 am

As Alma exists now, it is not safe for bikes. It may look different in the future, providing safe access. If nothing is done to it though, yes, Alma is a good road to get run over on.

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 24, 2014 at 7:42 am

Stop talking about Alma. The plan has lots of bike routes all over the city: Park, Ross, Greer, Stanford Ave, Wilkie Way, Churchill, and more.

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

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