We are delighted to see the city moving forward with plans for a new pedestrian and bike bridge across Bayshore Freeway, even if the hype over the upcoming design competition is a bit over the top.
We'd certainly rather have a nice-looking bridge over 101 than an ugly one, but it feels oh-so-Palo Alto to describe as our goal an "iconic" and "landmark" bridge that is "inspired by the beauty and innovation in Palo Alto."
We have a tendency to turn something relatively simple into something very complicated, and the "global bridge design competition" approved by the City Council on Monday night does just that.
The concept of a design competition, where more than 20 "international, national and local qualified and reputable architectural/engineering design teams with bridge design and construction experience" will be invited to submit their design ideas, was approved more than a year ago by the council.
This week, the council unanimously approved spending $185,000 to hire the American Institute of Architects California Council to run the contest, which will get underway immediately. From the submitted proposals, three finalists will be chosen and provided with $20,000 stipends for preparing a conceptual design, with a "winning" design to be chosen in a public process by the City Council in December.
The bridge itself, currently estimated to cost $10 million and funded primarily from grants, is targeted to be completed by 2018. It will connect south Palo Alto with the Baylands at Adobe Creek, where there is currently an underpass that is unusable for much of the year due to flooding.
Bicycle and pedestrian connectivity with the Baylands has been an important recreation and transportation priority for many years. The only other overpass, at Oregon Expressway, does not adequately serve south Palo Alto and is not ADA compliant.
We would have preferred a more streamlined and efficient design process that had less risk of pushing costs even higher, which we fully expect will happen as designers woo city officials and the public with elaborate proposals.
As Mayor Nancy Shepherd says in a press release issued by the city Wednesday, "We want a bridge that balances engineering with art, efficiency and beauty, while recognizing the integration with our Baylands. We hope the architects and engineers submitting will be inspired by the beauty and innovation in Palo Alto when creating their designs and we look forward to seeing what they come up with."
That's music to the ears of a designer in a contest, and an invitation to not worry about cost, leaving it to the city to cut back design elements to stay within budget or accept the allure of a unique design.
Given the diverse and critical opinions of Palo Altans on the design of almost every new development in town, it will take a Herculean effort by staff and council to navigate this project through to a successful outcome.