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Design contest set for new Baylands bridge

City Council signs off on rules for competition

Seeking to create a visible and iconic community landmark, Palo Alto officially kicked off on Monday a design contest for a new bike bridge that would span U.S. Highway 101 and offer residents a new entryway to the Baylands.

After a lengthy discussion and extensive debate, the council voted 8-0 with Gail Price absent to launch a design competition for the new bridge at Adobe Creek, a $10 million structure that is one of the most significant projects in the city's bicycle master plan.

The contest would be overseen by the American Institute of Architects California Council under a $184,790 contract the council approved Monday. The nonprofit will solicit designs from at least 20 firms and then narrow down the field to three finalists. Each of the three would then receive a $20,000 stipend to further develop the concept.

The public, along with a five-member jury selected by the nonprofit and the city's Architectural Review Board, will all have a chance to consider these alternatives publicly and offer their preferences before the council picks a winner. The city hopes to have the new bridge in place at Adobe Creek by 2018. It would replace an existing underpass that is closed for much of the year because of flooding.

The council agreed Monday to slightly change the process that was proposed by staff and recently vetted by the Architectural Review Board. Changes included reducing the number of finalists from four to three, which is more typical in competitions of this sort, and having the jury deliberate publicly rather than privately. Councilmen Marc Berman and Greg Scharff had some reservations about the latter change and wondered if this would make it harder to recruit willing jurors.

"A lot of people simply won't participate in something like that, and I think we'd get a worse design from that, which is unfortunate," Scharff said.

But Council members Karen Holman, Larry Klein and Pat Burt all supported public deliberations, given the highly visible nature of the project.

"It would be very helpful for the council and the public to understand the thought process for how (the jury) got to the decisions," Klein said.

The council also debated the role of the city's commission in the process. Holman stressed the need for the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and its Parks and Recreation Commission involvement in reviewing the selections before the council considers them. Klein disagreed and said this would "muddy the waters" and create too extensive of a review process on the front end.

"What we're looking for is innovative and interesting designs," Klein said. "And the more people you get involved in this, the more you get design by committee."

The council ultimately agreed that the commissions should be involved in the review. Members also added to the design criteria for the new bridge an emphasis that the structure be sensitive to the Baylands habitats. This addition to the design guidelines was made at the urging of Shani Kleinhaus, an environmental advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.

"I don't want see the city to embark on something that's aesthetically beautiful but is incompatible with the Baylands and the life in it," Kleinhaus told the council.

The city plans to start reviewing submitted designs in December and approve a design contract early next year.

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Like this comment
Posted by LetsGetItBuilt
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:40 am

I am *very* much in favor of a bicycle bridge. And, I would certainly like for it to be a nice one. But as far as its being a "gateway to Palo Alto", what does that mean and who cares? Certainly not anyone driving on 101; it will be just another bridge. Let's not get too swell-headed here, Palo Alto. We need a functional bridge built sooner rather than later.

And as far as spending $10 million, for comparison purposes I would like to know the costs of the following bridges over 101: (a) the "Google bridge" along Permanente Creek just south/east of Ringsdorff, (b) the replacement pedestrian bridge across 101 at Ringwood Avenue in Menlo Park just north/west of Willow Road (without any demolition costs of the old bridge), and (c) the long bridge immediately north of the Ralston/Marine Parkway interchange at 101 that leads to the Belmont sports complex.

But for heaven's sake, lets not prolong this further. The underpass will close soon and we will only be left with San Antonio, a road waiting for an accident to happen.

Like this comment
Posted by bike rider
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:59 am

I look forward to a bike bridge here. However, I would hope that it is functional for riding a bike over the freeway. The City already has a terrible and non-functional bike access under the railroad near PAMF. The walkers and the bike riders cross paths twice in the short trip under the tracks. May look nice, but it is not a functional design.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:43 pm

One of the council members is or has been associated with the American Institute of Architects, which is the recipient of this contract... Were there other vendors considered?

Was any design constraint put in that the design needs to cost less than $10 million dollars to build in today's dollars? Given allowance for cost overruns, and inflation, the design constraint should be more like $8 million.

2 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I'm glad that this project is finally getting started. The Adobe Creek trail is closed 6 months every year and crossing Highway 101 at San Antonio Road is tremendously dangerous for both pedestrians and bicyclists. The city has been talking about a safe year-round crossing for more than 10 years. Please get the bridge built as soon as possible.

Like this comment
Posted by Doug
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm

It'll be great to have the bridge which is long overdue. But "by 2018" probably means late 2018 if we're lucky, so 4 years. No doubt everyone wants to avoid a Middlefield library type fiasco, but it's hard to understand how it really needs to take that long.

For comparison, the entire 8 mile long Bay Bridge (not the new eastern span) took only 5.5 years to design and build. It would be interesting to see the Gantt chart for our little bike bridge.

Like this comment
Posted by Stan
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 9, 2014 at 9:06 pm

A new bike bridge? Yes.

Another over priced, delayed, botched, screwed up city managed construction project? No way.

There is no justifiable reason over spend and needless delay the construction of this ego stroking bike bridge as currently proposed by our out of touch, and based on previous construction project, terribly incompetent city government. Make it practical, functional, on-time and perhaps even under budget, please.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Is there any way this fiasco of a design competition can be delayed until after the election when hopefully the new CC with some competent people will just get this done without the fanfare, the expense and the huge dollar cost.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:02 pm

This seems like a waste of money. The Mary Avenue Bridge is gorgeous but it's hardly even visible from the freeway. By the time this bike bridge is built, will anyone really care about a "gateway to Palo Alto?"

Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 9, 2014 at 10:58 pm

Getting a bridge is great, the cost and time not so much. Too much time, money, and ego involved.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Ess
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 13, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I hope the bike bridge will have low level lighting at the pavement level for cyclists who commute late in the day in winter when itis dark. this project is long needed. Please dont delay it.

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

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