Jaime Rodriguez, Palo Alto's chief transportation officer and the architect of the city's aggressive plan to build a wide network of bike boulevards has resigned after nearly five years at City Hall.
Rodriguez, well known for a fast-talking, hard-charging style, a penchant for obtaining grant funds and a willingness to experiment with at-times controversial road configurations and transportation technologies, will step down on Feb. 6, he told the Weekly. He began serving in his current position in July 2010, after five years in Milpitas.
As chief transportation officer, Rodriguez has been the driving force behind the recent effort by the city to significantly expand its network of bike boulevards and make safety improvements near local schools. He spearheaded in 2012 the creation of Palo Alto's bicycle and pedestrian master plan, an effort that has spurred 24 different bicycle projects.
Last week, the council approved the conceptual plan for the first two of these projects, a bike boulevard around Maybell Avenue and bike improvements on Churchill Avenue, near Palo Alto High School.
Rodriguez was also instrumental in implementing crosswalk improvements on El Camino Real and Stanford Avenue; obtaining grant funds for the ongoing reconstruction of California Avenue; and getting $9.5 million in grant funding for a new bike bridge over Highway 101, which is now subject to a design competition. His local innovations included bike corals and "sharrow" markings on local streets.
While Rodriguez' high ambitions and willingness to experiment have attracted deep praise from the City Council, the qualities have also made him a regular target for public criticism, particularly when it came to controversial projects such as the reduction of lanes at Charleston/Arastradero and on California Avenue. His recent proposals to add sharrows to a portion of Bryant Street in Old Palo Alto and to build an off-road trail cutting through Midtown along Matadero Creek also met a cool reception from area residents, prompting him to back off and revise the plans. With his bike projects advancing, Rodriguez has been forced to defend himself against charges that these improvements are coming at the expense of drivers.
At last week's council meeting, Rodriguez acknowledged that in coming up with the concepts for the new bike boulevards the city doesn't always get it right the first time. He praised the city's process for engaging the public, which allows the city to "throw stuff on the wall" and see what sticks and what needs to be refined.
"At least we give the community an opportunity to consider these options," Rodriguez said.
He also stressed the need to improve signs and create a true network of bike routes stretching to all parts of the city.
"Each one of these projects is a great project, but it's all the projects together that really create a game change for the community," he said. "The fact that we're creating this option for those who know it's out there that's a big benefit."
City Manager James Keene called Rodriguez "the most creative, innovative traffic engineer I've ever seen." He said the city will try to keep Rodriguez on board on a consulting basis while it's completing its traffic-signalization update. He attributed Rodriguez' departure to a desire to explore other opportunities and praised him for the many projects he had undertaken while at the city.
Rodriguez said that while he doesn't know yet where he will go next, he is considering several options. In addition to his years in the public sector, he is also a partner in a traffic-consulting company, Traffic Patterns, which he founded shortly before coming to Palo Alto.