A proposal by Stanford University and the City of Palo Alto to install new recreational trails along the major thoroughfares near the university's campus and to shift the parking alignment near the Dish will be reviewed Thursday morning by Santa Clara County's Architecture and Site Approval Committee.
The proposal calls for a 3.4-mile trail network along the major streets surrounding Stanford, including new recreational trails for bikers, joggers and pedestrians along Junipero Serra Boulevard, Stanford Avenue and El Camino Real. The project is part of a broader package of improvements that Stanford and Palo Alto agreed to work on in 2012, when they submitted a joint application for county funds.
The application resulted in Palo Alto and Stanford getting about $4 million in funding for a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101; $1.5 to enhance the Matadero Creek Trail and $4.5 million for construction of a slew of new trails (collectively known as a "perimeter trail") around the Stanford campus.
In some areas, the project includes placing new trails parallel to the street. In others, it would merely enhance existing trails. On the west side of Stanford Avenue, for example, a trail already stretches next to the road between El Camino Real and Raimundo Way. The new proposal would extend the Stanford Avenue trail from Raimundo Way to Junipero Serra Boulevard, creating a direct off-road connection between El Camino Real and the Dish.
A report from county staff notes that the new trail has been designed to be a "high-quality facility, detached from streets, providing separation from vehicular traffic for walkers, joggers and bicyclists."
The plan also calls for "supplemental features" such as on-street bike lanes (on Stanford Avenue), bike parking near the entrance to the Dish and improved landscaping. County planners are recommending that the committee approve the project.
Not everyone, however, is thrilled about the proposal. The most controversial aspect of the plan is a reduction of parking spaces on Stanford Avenue, which serves as the most prominent conduit for the thousands of hikers who regularly use the Stanford Dish.
The Stanford project would alter the existing parking alignment in which roughly 60 cars are parked parallel to the path to create 45 formal diagonal spots, requiring vehicles to back into the spaces. Stanford will also provide 33 parking spots in an area off Coyote Hill Road, a short stroll from the Dish. Coyote Hill would also see its number of lanes reduced from four to two.
In February, a large group of Dish users attended a Palo Alto City Council meeting in February to complain about Stanford's proposal to reduce parking on Stanford Avenue.
Marcia Kemp Sterling, chair of the citizens group Committee for Dish Access, argued in a letter to the county that the loss of parking spaces on Stanford Avenue would make it harder for walkers and runners to access the Dish.
"Though the Dish trails are on Stanford property and the university is not obligated to open its private land to public use, we believe Stanford is committed to the health and welfare of the community," Kemp wrote. "And, while we commend the efforts of Stanford and the City of Palo Alto to implement the vision of the Countywide Trails Master Plan, we feel that these particular multi-use trails are poorly conceived and will get far less use, and contribute less to the public good, than the currently available parking spaces."
Others argue that the trails plan is exactly what the area needs. Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders, a group that represents faculty and Stanford staff who live on the campus, unanimously voted to support the trails proposals, which they lauded as an important component in a broader trail system between the Baylands and the foothills.
James Sweeney, president of the group's board of directors, wrote in a letter to the county that the trail would be "used extensively by adults and children for walking, jogging and biking."
"The Palo Alto trail enhancements, the Stanford Perimeter Trail, and the bicycle bridge, combined with the Matadero Creek trail, would make great strides toward completing a well-planned, integrated set of recreational facilities that would allow walking, jogging, and bicycling connections from the Bay to the Arastradero Preserve," Sweeney wrote.
He also took issue with the argument from critics that the new parking plan would keep people away from the Dish. He noted eliminating 15 spots on Stanford and creating 33 on Coyote Hill Road, the plan creates 18 new spots. He also rejected Sterling's characterization of the Coyote Hill Road as one that does "not provide safe or convenient access to the Dish."
"There is nothing inconvenient about Coyote Hill Road parking," Sweeney wrote. "From Coyote Hill Road to the Dish gate would be a pleasant walk along a modern trail. The additional walking time from Coyote Hill Road to the Dish gate rather than from the parking Ms. Sterling requests on Raimundo Way is but a tiny fraction of the time to the Dish trail summit."
The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition also supports the perimeter-trails plan, including Stanford's proposed parking alignment.
Corinne Winter, the executive director of the nonprofit, wrote that the existing parallel-parking alignment is "in direct conflict with bicyclists riding on the road." The trail improvements, she wrote, will "ease access to the trail and other destinations on Junipero Serra Boulevard for people who currently bike and walk as well as those who would like to do so but currently feel unsafe."
"The creation of these new facilities will encourage more people to bike and walk to the Trail, easing congestion and the need for parking," Winter wrote. "In addition, both the bike lanes and the trail are valuable for different types of user groups. While experienced bicyclists are more comfortable riding in bike lanes on the street, less experienced bike riders and those with children feel safer on off-road trails. This plan accounts for both these users."
A commissioned analysis by the consulting firm Fehr & Peers also concluded that the reduction of Stanford Avenue parking spots would not significantly affect nearby streets. The report noted that while "there will be an initial period of adjustment due to the parking changes, the increase in available parking on Coyote Hill Road will offset the loss of parking on Stanford Avenue between Junipero Serra Boulevard and Raimundo Way and there will not be a long-term increase in spillover parking."
The consultant also determined that because of the enhanced pedestrian and bicycle amenities, "there should be an improvement in the safety conditions for all modes of travel in the section of Stanford Avenue between Junipero Serra Boulevard and Raimundo Way."