A proposal to greatly expand Palo Alto's network of bike boulevards would bring new traffic circles, "sharrow" road markings, speed bumps and raised crosswalks to stretches of Amarillo Avenue, Moreno Avenue, Louis Road, Montrose Avenue, Ross Road and Bryant Street.
It would also, however, eliminate 266 parking spots along the routes, according to an analysis that city planning staff and consultants presented to the Planning and Transportation Commission on Wednesday.
Most of the parking would be corner spots whose removal would improve sight lines for bicyclists at intersections, said Joshuah Mello, the city's chief transportation official. In some cases, they would be replaced with extensions of the curb. Altogether, the 266 spaces represent about 14 percent of the total 1,865 spaces on the three new corridors and Bryant Street, which is already a designated bike boulevard, according to the analysis by staff and its consulting firm, Alta Planning + Design. In most cases, between 20 and 40 percent of the spaces on these blocks are used on a typical weekday, the analysis showed.
The three new bike boulevards under consideration are Amarillo Avenue-Moreno Avenue; Louis Road-Montrose Avenue; and Ross Road from Garland Drive to Louis Road.
The Amarillo bike boulevard (which runs parallel to and just south of Oregon Expressway) would include a new crosswalk at Middlefield Road, a slotted speed hump to slow cars, and signs pointing bicyclists to Moreno, where the boulevard continues. There would also be a traffic circle on Greer Road and a new raised crosswalk near Ohlone Elementary School.
On Ross Road, a new crosswalk and a bike-boulevard sign at Garland Drive would direct bicyclists toward the new boulevard. There would be a new traffic circle with landscaping at Moreno, new speed humps with planters on Clara Drive, Stern Avenue and Allen Court. In addition, there would be landscaped curb extension near Stern and Allen, a design element that slows cars while keeping a level path for bicyclists and fire trucks. The plan also calls for highly visibile crosswalk markings, additional street lighting and speed humps with landscaped planters between Richardson Court and Talisman Drive.
Near its southernmost section, the Ross Road boulevard would connect with the Louis Road-Montrose Road boulevard, which includes highly visible crosswalk markings at Middlefield and Montrose; bike lanes along Louis and signage all along the boulevard, which veers onto East Meadow Circle (where there will be a new traffic circle) and ultimately to Fabian Way.
In addition, the plan calls for enhancing and extending the city's first and best-known bike boulevard along Bryant by installing new wayfinding signs; raised intersections at Homer Avenue and at Channing Avenue to increase the safety of pedestrians; a traffic circle at Kingsley Avenue; and new signs from Embarcadero Road to Oregon Expressway.
The plans have been subject to numerous recent community meetings, with nearly 200 participants. After hearing from the community, staff agreed to keep the bike signs white and without a green background. Hugh Louch, of Alta, said most of the comments were positive, with many people praising the landscape improvements and a few expressing concerns about the loss of parking spaces.
Mello noted that when it comes to installing traffic circles and, in some cases, removing stop signs, the goal is to create a continuous, and safer, flow of traffic.
"Stop signs encourage stopping and accelerating and stopping and accelerating," Mello said.
Traffic circles also greatly minimize potential "conflict points" at intersections and, because everyone is going in the same direction, the conflicts that do occur tend to be side-swipes, rather than the more dangerous head-on or T-bone collisions.
On Wednesday, the commission limited its discussion to the three new bike boulevards (not the enhancements on Bryant) because two commissioners -- Asher Waldfogel and Eric Rosenblum -- live near Bryant and have potential conflicts of interest. Because two other commissioners -- Chair Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka -- were absent, this left the commission without a quorum for discussion of the Bryant improvements.
Waldfogel ultimately declined to participate in the discussion for the other three boulevards, arguing that the four should be considered as a single network. The City Attorney's Office had earlier this week requested an opinion from the Fair Political Practice Commission (FPPC) about whether living near a bike boulevard constitutes a conflict of interest. Waldfogel said the city should delay its discussion until after it receives the FPPC opinion.
His colleagues, however, were eager to offer their comments on the bike boulevards, noting that the City Council is scheduled to approve the concepts at its Monday, April 18, meeting. The commission was largely supportive of the plan, though Vice Chair Przemek Gardias questioned the need for so many traffic circles and Rosenblum stressed the need for staff and consultants to be as transparent as possible when discussing the loss of parking.
A report from planning staff emphasizes that, overall, there are enough spaces remaining to meet the parking needs, and that "the vast majority of residents and visitors will not recognize a parking impact." A few blocks, however, may get parked up.
According to the analysis, the loss of parking spaces would be acutely felt along three sections of Bryant: near Everett Avenue, between Poe Street and Hawthorne Avenue, and between Channing and Addison avenues.
Other parking pinch-points might result on the west side of Ross between Stern and Allen; the north side of East Meadow, from Fabian Way to Paloma Street; on the south side of Amarillo, from Louis to the Ohlone Elementary driveway; and north side of Amarillo from West Bayshore Road to North Tanland Drive.
The commission generally agreed that the trade-off is worth it. Commissioner Michael Alcheck rejected an argument that he received in a recent email that compared bike signs to "blight" and said he hopes the council will reject that characterization as well.
"A more perfect Palo Alto would have a bike boulevard on every street," Alcheck said.
The plan also won the endorsement of the Palo Alto Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission and of Penny Ellson, a long-time advocate for bike improvements and a leading proponent of the city's Safe Routes to School program.
"We've been waiting for a long time for these bike boulevards to get moving," Ellson said.