Art commissioners favor arch design for new bike bridge

City Council set to decide on new Highway 101 overpass in late February

The Public Art Commission became the latest Palo Alto board on Thursday to weigh in on a proposed bike bridge over Highway 101, with most members favoring the design with a prominent arch.

Elizabeth Ames, Palo Alto's senior project manager for public works, visited last night's meeting of the commission to give a presentation and ask for comments on the three final designs of the proposed bike and pedestrian bridge over Highway 101 at Adobe Creek.

The five commissioners present at the meeting were each given a chance to provide informal comments on the pros and cons of each design. Before making their remarks, the commission viewed three five-minute videos about the designs and listened to statements by Judith Wasserman, the jury chair from the bike bridge design competition, and the design team of Submission A -- which the competition jury selected as the winner. No representatives from the other design teams were present at the meeting.

While the quality of each proposal was recognized, most commissioners gravitated towards Submission A as the preferred option, citing both aesthetic and practical reasons.

"I do see Submission A as really a functional work of art," said Kathleen Kavanaugh, chair of the commission. "I mean I think the whole thing is truly a coherent piece."

The Submission A design, otherwise known as "Confluence," is distinguished by a system of steel beams which forms an arch over the bridge span. Beneath the arch on either side of the bridge would be a network of crisscrossing cables, with steel discs designed by artist Ned Kahn to be suspended at each intersection point.

Apart from providing an ecological function in preventing birds from resting on or colliding with cables, the steel discs were integrated to provide a striking visual effect for both pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists, according to Marcel Wilson, who represented the team of HNTB Engineering, 64North, Bionic Landscape Architecture and Ned Kahn.

"They create a shimmering, extraordinary kind of phenomena that's the creation and the convergence of man-made and natural forces," Wilson said.

Ben Miyaji, vice chair of the commission, complimented the proposal as satisfying the stated criteria of being "iconic" and said that "the design in itself is the art." Commissioner Amanda Ross likewise stated her appreciation for the deliberate integration of artistic elements from the beginning.

"So often everything's pretty much put to bed, and then the public art is the afterthought and it's very clear to the overall design," Ross said.

Commissioner Nia Taylor also noted her appreciation for the arched bridge, likening it to the work of sculptor Richard Serra. However, she did raise concerns about the reflections from the steel discs potentially resulting in collisions on Highway 101. Miyaji also suggested that the design team think about how the discs might affect pilots landing or taking off at the nearby Palo Alto Airport.

The Public Art Commission had less positive things to say about the other two proposed designs, though each had significant artistic components.

Submission C, which was described as a linear and looping design, includes a plaza on the Baylands side of Highway 101, where there are designs inspired by local plant life pressed into the concrete. The design, considered the subtlest of the three, was submitted by Moffatt and Nichol, Steven Grover and Associates, Lutsko Associates, JIRI Strasky and Mark Thomas and Co.

Taylor and commissioner Dara Silverstein said they liked these artistic touches, but Kavanaugh disagreed, calling them "pedantic and expected."

Submission B, or "Portage," also raised questions for commissioners, but more for practical concerns than aesthetic ones. Inspired by the form of a kayak, the bridge design includes wood as a primary material and was intended to have minimal impact in terms of energy and carbon footprints. In addition, "Portage" also collects rainwater and directs it into a basin, also designed by Ned Kahn, before it runs it into Adobe Creek. The kayak design was submitted by Endrestudio, OLIN, SBP and Biohabitats.

Kavanaugh applauded the creativity, integration of art and attention to sustainability given by the proposal, but she ultimately drew attention to the likely wear and tear on the wood construction -- an issue which Miyaji also raised.

"Municipal projects don't get replaced really when they probably should," she said.

After hearing the various comments, the project manager Ames thanked the commission and indicated that she would add them to a matrix capturing the thoughts given by the various city commissions, the competition jury and the public. She also asked the commissioners to attend the Feb. 23 meeting of the City Council, where the council is tentatively expected to make a final choice between the proposals.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of the Public Art Commission's vice chair. His name is Ben Miyaji. Palo Alto Online regrets the error.

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7 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:27 am

Why waste $10M when we all ready have an underpass at that location for bikes to get to the swamp?

7 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:30 am

In case you haven't checked recently, the underpass is closed. Bicyclists and pedestrians are forced to use dangerous San Antonio Road instead.

And what bozo posted the "no bicycles" signs on the Embarcadero Road pedestrian bridge?

Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2015 at 10:44 am

Hulkamania is a registered user.

Excellent decision. Palo Alto will become the second city in the nation, after St. Louis, to have its own handle.

As for Midtown's question about using the existing underpass, at this time of year it is a swamp.

11 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2015 at 2:26 pm

This design seems so...massive a structure to me. I got it, the City Council want an excuse to raise the height limit in Palo Alto. Should be a major distraction to drivers on 101, too...

8 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 3:08 pm

Not a disastrous decision, just another bad one.

The simple one would have to be less expenisve, easier to maintain and more in line with everything else in Palo Alto and on 101.

I wish they would re-think this, it's pompous ... maybe give the design to Stanford for a path over 280 or something?

14 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 24, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Seems way overblown and obtrusive to me.

9 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2015 at 5:34 pm

A $10M big bird trap.

3 people like this
Posted by a real statement
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 7:41 am

Let's drive up to Palo Alto and see where the new bike bridge is going.I heard it is going to be quite beautiful - a real statement. Palo Alto is quite an amazing place. We can go to Shady Lane and buy some hand-made jewelry and maybe have lunch at Zibbibo around the corner. Exiting at Embarcadero we first see the Shell station- massive signs, zero design control in a residential area. Wow- quite surprising. Lot of traffic here- then all these signs just past St. Francis just for openers that Mayor Holman and Councilman Bert talked about. Shady Lane we discover is moving
to Sharon Heights in March- forced out by another four-story mixed use
office building- and Zibbibo is gone too- converted to office space.
Next time we'll just take 280 to Shady Lane at Sharon Heights. Looks like
a great new site for the store and the Shell station at the entrance to the Shopping Center? It's very nice with strict design control in place.

2 people like this
Posted by Pollution backdrop
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2015 at 11:32 am

I don't particularly like this purse handle design, and would prefer something simpler.

When and if it gets built, it would be interesting to see how often the air is clear in this picture - without a white haze that is increasingly common over Palo Alto. Air traffic has been unusually high, with lower flying planes shedding exhaust.

The photograph in this article appears to have been taken on a rainy day?The clouds in this picture may be weather related. Unfortunately, every time I drive to the East Bay or North and South on 101, the sky is bluer even just a couple of miles away, but approaching Palo Alto there is a white screen effect.

Could just be my impression, but why not use the bridge to observe the haze.

5 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2015 at 3:13 pm

When (and why) did they close the underpass? I can understand it being closed during heavy rains, but there is no reason to close it. I've used it for a couple of years to get to the San Francisco Bay Trail.

Are they closing this to justify building the overpass/bridge?

4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2015 at 3:57 pm

They've closed the underpass 6 months out of every year for as long as I can remember (more than 20 years). Apparently, tides are higher during the winter, which causes the underpass to flood and get covered with a food of mud even when there is no rain. Keeping the route safe during the winter is too much work for the city.

4 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Thanks for the info. I guess that I have been riding the trail mostly during warmer weather, so I was unaware of its closing.

Wouldn't it be less expensive to simply monitor or keep this crossing open?

The cost of constructing a new bridge is expensive and it just doesn't seem to be necessary. I guess that it would be nice, but I think that money would best be spent elsewhere.

15 people like this
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Way too tall, way too pretentious.

An interesting article about the Bay Bridge debacle. Some things sound familiar:
Web Link

The design panel chose the configuration, the report said, because of “aesthetics” and “without a full appreciation” of its challenges. All but one of the bridge experts on the selection panel opposed the final design, but they were outvoted by those with no bridge knowledge or experience.

6 people like this
Posted by Patty
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:54 am

Why are wasting our money, we cut expenses not spend more.
We not not need this.

14 people like this
Posted by jm
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:46 am

Pretentious and grandiose. Reflects all the self-important city groups that appear to have input on what gets built.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:48 am

Anyone mention how many people use current over/under passes? Why exactly we are going to build this bridge?

4 people like this
Posted by PA: The Pretentious City
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:13 pm

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Marianne Mueller
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:56 pm

If we look at the earlier string of comments on this topic (recent) -- the overwhelming preference of people who expressed an opinion is the lower profile, curvy "Baylands entrance" bridge. Will this be taken into account? Only time will tell! See you at the Feb 23 City Council meeting. I hope a lot of people show up to express their preferences. i don't think the Council reads these comment threads.

5 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:59 pm

@ pat: Thanks for the link. I think that students will be studying the Eastern Span for decades because of how it turned into a "Big Dig" type of boondoggle.

Web Link

@ resident: I use the underpass in warm weather. I have seen plenty of other people use it. I don't think that an overpass is necessary at all -- especially if the underpass can be improved upon at a fraction of the cost.

6 people like this
Posted by same bat channel
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:52 pm

This is not an original design. It copies the bridge in Berkeley on I-80 - same color and all. There's an opportunity here to choose something more innovative and original --if not a signature (one of the other designs or something entirely different). Can't we do better than this?

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Everyone is an expert
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:52 pm

The only way to improve the underpass is to either raise the 8 lanes of 101 (Not cheaper) or create some sort of tidal control mechanism to keep tides out (Not cheaper)

1 person likes this
Posted by Dick Evans
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 26, 2015 at 3:02 pm

Did they get input from any actual bicyclists about the tightness of the curves, etc.? Aesthetics is find but not at the cost of reduced functionality.

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Another possibility is to build a tunnel or tube on the existing underpass surface. I'm pretty sure this isn't feasible either, since it would obstruct a portion of the stream channel and reduce its capacity. This would increase the flood potential.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Enhancing the underpass has been studied in depth, years ago. Engineers concluded that a wall or tunnel would reduce the capacity of the channel, thus causing upstream flooding during a big storm or high tide.

5 people like this
Posted by jonathon
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 3:43 pm

I use the underpass all the time, till it floods in the winter. The option of keeping the underpass and
making it 'flood proof' was eliminated very early on in this process. That's what we were told in one
of the neighborhood meetings a year or two ago.

The arch design is so overblown that it makes me a little ill. It reeks of "we are Palo Alto, we are special,
we have money to blow on an structure whose function is simple, but is instead an eyesore".

Will it be a distraction to drivers? Maybe.

I thought the second choice, the understated really curvy one, was the right choice. Simple and eye pleasing.

Do we really need a 'work of art' spanning 8 lanes of highway traffic?. I don't think so.

5 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:23 pm

The Palo Alto Art Commission strikes again. An unfortunate legacy continues Web Link

7 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 8:06 pm

The $10 million would be better used to help buy the Buena Vista mobile home park.

5 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:25 pm

I've expressed it before, and jonathon above said it well.

This is a kind of immodest or overbearing design ... this is not the SF Bay, or even 280.

The termination is in the Bay Lands I don't feel our Baylands will get the importance they deserves since it smells bad and is so noisy. It's clear we are not proud and are not working on making the Palo Alto waterfront a better more natural place.

I hate to say it, but this bridge would fit better in Mountain View, who have really developed their Bay front property at Shoreline with park ... but the Mountain View "bridge" across 101 is underground, and appropriate to the wonderful Steven's Creek Trail they have set up that they did not just blow their wad on one showoff move.

Mountain View has real pride and a great asset for their City in the Steven's Creek trail, while Palo Alto has muddy, dirty, noisy, and stinky trail out by our Baylands - with insufficient facilities. It makes me feel bad for Palo Alto. We build a park directly under the flight path of the airport where at times of the day there are planes taking off or landing almost every minute.

On the other side we have a golf course we are investing in and improving, while planes are flying over it just as much. Is it really fun to play golf when you cannot hear the people you are playing with?

I am out at the Baylands very often, and I listen to music or audiobooks and I cannot even hear through my headphones when planes are going overhead. Then at times there are smells emanating from our sewage treatment plant and turn one's stomach. I still do not know how to find out what we are really breathing from that place either?

There is something almost schizophrenic, certainly incongruous about this bridge design, putting up an ostentatious image that in a way makes Palo Alto look unbalanced and flaky.

The simple curvy design has got to be overall cheaper and easier to maintain, and run less chances of mistakes and cost overruns. It is simpler and more in line with what else in on 101 and it gives us a chance to improve our Baylands without making a huge show of something we are not going to live up to.

If we care about going to the other side of 101, then let's do something to make that area more pleasant to go to.

With this kind of attitude I just feel like next we are going to get suggestions of a space needle or a giant skyscraper ... because I don't think this is what Palo Altan's want as our public face to 101 ... that is, if you bothered to ask us.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:21 pm

I'm not sure whether I buy the argument that the existing trail underpass couldn't be improved. Is this segment of the channel under 101 really the bottleneck for water flowing out? The creek looks narrower further downstream.

@resident-south-of-midtown, do you have any pointers to the engineering study you alluded to? As for tidal heights I'm wondering about our relative difference in elevation to the Stevens Creek Trail underpass. Is 101 in Mountain View a few feet higher above sea level than 101 in Palo Alto?

Like this comment
Posted by Everyone isn't an expert
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:06 am

"I'm not sure whether I buy the argument that the existing trail underpass couldn't be improved."

This was studied and reviewed several years ago. I wouldn't say it is a "Argument", more like the results.

"The creek looks narrower further downstream."
Yes, but flood plain area exists downstream. If you're familiar with the way the big rivers up north utilize overflow areas and flood plains, the same principal works on our small streams as well.
The work done to open up the flood plain area of the mayfield slough several years ago was for this very reason.

2 people like this
Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2015 at 1:58 pm

It looks nice. When will the construction begin?

Like this comment
Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2015 at 5:22 pm

All the proposals have bridge designers on their teams:

Big Arch Design: Web Link

Kayak Design: Web Link Web Link

Low Slung Design: Web Link
Bay Bridge East Span Replacement
As part of a joint venture, Moffatt & Nichol provided engineering design and project management services for the replacement of the 2.2-mile-long, dual segment, parallel-deck eastern portion of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, which connects Yerba Buena Island and Oakland.

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