Obstacles hamper plans for Matadero Creek bikeway

As Palo Alto residents voice complaints, city prepares for a 'pop up' event to solicit feedback

A divisive proposal to create a bike-friendly "greenway" along Palo Alto's Matadero Creek hit a series of speed bumps last year, when city officials learned that the project would be hampered by seasonal flood-control measures, existing barriers and neighborhood opposition.

There are the flood gates and ramps that the Santa Clara County Water District installs during high-flood events; the access ramps that would need to be installed for the district's maintenance vehicles (creating a bumpy ride for bikers); and concerns about noise, lights and safety from residents whose backyards are near to the new bike route.

Though these engineering and political obstacles remain in place today, city planners hope to navigate around them by modifying the east-west route, possibly using stretches of streets. In recent months, the project has been discussed by a specially formed Citizen Advisory Committee, which includes residents and bike advocates.

On Saturday, April 23, the city will host a "pop up" event at the site of the proposed trail -- a 1-5 p.m. event along the creek between Waverley and Cowper streets. The idea, City Manager James Keene said Monday, is to allow the community to get "a better feel for the proposed trail on just a portion of the corridor."

The city is now launching a feasibility study with the goal of selecting a preferred alignment based on community preferences, designing a more precise plan for the preferred concept and then constructing the trail. Among the alternatives addressed, according to the project's web page, is an "alignment along the Matadero Creek channel service roads and/or parallel streets." This could presumably include sections of Loma Verde and Colorado avenues, the two streets that run parallel to Matadero Creek on either side.

But what city officials and consultants see as a great opportunity to create an east-west route through Midtown and connect Alma Street and U.S. Highway 101, some area residents see as a colossal waste of time and money. Julie Nolan, who lives on Waverley, near the creek, cited constraints and challenges that the city would have to overcome to create a new trail, including an existing house that stands in the way of the future trail and three existing cleanout ramps for removing sediment (ramps that would block the bikeway). There is also the broader concern about the risk of creek flooding, she said.

And while the city is talking about creating a "greenway" on Matadero Creek, Nolan noted that the water district routinely sprays herbicides and removes vegetation along its maintenance roads, which greatly complicates landscaping plans.

Midtown resident Sheri Furman, who serves on the Citizen Advisory Committee that evaluated this plan, also raised concerns about the impact on residents of warning lights at crossings along the trail, according to minutes from the group's March 10 meeting.

In an interview this week, both Furman and Nolan said they believe the city's plans for the Midtown channel fail to grasp the challenges of constructing the project. There is also the danger of someone falling into the dry creek, or the prospect of more teenagers vandalizing the channel with graffiti, they said.

The project has been discussed since at least 2012, when Santa Clara County supervisors allocated a $1.5 million grant to make it happen. So far, however, all the planning has taken place at the conceptual level. Planner Sara Syed acknowledged at a meeting last November that the challenges posed by the water district's barriers introduce "significant challenges to the design and greater cost."

Even so, the council asked staff to stay on course with the project and to evaluate "hybrid" options that make use of both the channel and area streets. Pat Burt requested that in addition to considering this option, staff also evaluate a second east-west alternative in the Midtown area.

"If we're going to have a really strong bike system, we need more 'ands' and fewer 'ors,'" Burt said at the meeting. "We need not just a single route for folks to go across town south of Oregon. We need more than one."

He also said that as a built-out community, Palo Alto has few options for off-road paths.

"We shouldn't too readily give up on taking advantage of those opportunities to the degree that they're feasible," Burt said. "That's why I want to continue to look at options in using the Matadero Creek right of way."

But Furman and Nolan believe this effort is unlikely to get anywhere. The channel simply has too many obstacles and the "hybrid" approach, "with its many intersections and short segments would do nothing to create an east-west corridor," Nolan wrote in a letter to the council. Furman concurred.

"Our objection is that the creek never was a good option, and it's frustrating to see us still spending money on it," Furman told the Weekly.


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34 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 9:28 am

We badly need an East-West bicycle boulevard through Midtown. There are bike lanes on Colorado Ave from Hwy 101 to Middlefield. Why not continue the bike route along Colorado all the way to the Caltrain station? This route would get a tremendous amount of use from children and adults and also pedestrians trying to get to the train station. Increasing car congestion along Oregon Expressway makes crossing that very undesirable for both bicyclists and pedestrians. A bike tunnel or bridge across the train tracks from Colorado Ave to the Caltrain station would be tremendously more inviting.

9 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:23 am

I'm all for building an unlighted bike route between a creek and a fence/concrete wall. And having them cross Middlefield and other streets without any traffic stopping. What could possibly go wrong. :^)

Better yet, why don't we just cap the creek and make a "high line" type green path. Oh, yea you still have to cross streets. So lets put another traffic light on Middlefield and the other streets, it won't slow down traffic significantly.

A solution, solving a couple of problems all at once would be to use eminent domain and sieze property to make a east/west path. Just tear down homes, evict the residents We can put a light at Middlefield and cut off all the other streets such as Ross, Cowper, Louis, Waverley, etc so that they don't go through. We can then fence it all in so that it is also a off leash dog area.

So this provides a needed bike path, off leash dog area, and keeps traffic off all the side streets. It's a win for all. All except the people whose homes need to be siezed to make it happen. But that is a small price to pay. And with the added benefit of a tiny reduction in people living in Palo Alto. Since many of the posters here all claim that the city is too crowded, here is a way for them to reduce the population.


34 people like this
Posted by another parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:56 am

My kids would use this daily and my property backs on the creek, so I'm biased. We really could use this - tying it up in $2m of feasibility studies for years for a project that can be built in a couple of months for less than that is tragic. Let's just build it and talk about things that really matter!

13 people like this
Posted by Annie's Biped
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:56 am

I am finding it difficult to believe that after four years of meetings and a select citizen's advisory committee suggesting other alternatives, Councilman Burt wants to continue to waste staff time and money trying to develop a bike/pedestrian trail on a flood control channel. If the area for the proposed trail was all on one side, making the path a continuous path, it might merit further study. If there were long sections that did not involve crossing streets, it might merit further study. But neither of those conditions exist. The proposed trail would zig zag from one side of the channel to the other, and would end abruptly at a cross street in the middle of the block. Unfortunately, unlike bike lanes on city streets, these abrupt stops would force the cyclists/pedestrians to cross a city street, near, but not next to, an established intersection with a four way stop. The most egregious of these crossings would be on Middlefield Road, midway between the stop lights at Colorado and Loma Verde avenues. This is simply unsafe. Palo Alto's own accident data shows this area already one of the worst for bicycle and pedestrian accidents.
Yes we do need more bike lanes, but this one isn't worthy of more consideration. It's time to move on to other possibilities. If there's money to spend, use it to enforce the no parking signs on Colorado Avenue. That would help the cyclists on a daily basis.

37 people like this
Posted by Just do it
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:12 am

Just do it. The advantages heavily outweigh the disadvantages. Bicyclists need this connection to get across Alma. Currently riding all the way to East Meadow is too time consuming. Midtown families need a way to connect to Ventura and Barron Park families. We would use a bike connection every week if it was put in. For a bike friendly city to NOT put this in is ridiculous.

36 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:59 am

We would use this path to walk to California Ave every day if it was available. The current convoluted routes that involve walking across Oregon Expressway are just too time consuming or dangerous for our family. Driving is safer and once we're driving, we may as well drive to Mountain View or Los Altos where there is a wider variety of family-friendly businesses. I know driving creates air pollution, but the city isn't doing enough to create safe walking and biking routes to California Street. We think a bike and pedestrian friendly route from Midtown to the California Street business district could give a big boost to businesses in that area.

6 people like this
Posted by Annie's Biped
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 12:37 pm

A major problem with this proposed bike/pedestrian path is that it DOES NOT connect to anything. It begins below Waverley because there is private property blocking access closer to Bryant. At most, this path would go from Waverley to Greer or Frontage Road. It can't connect to the cross town Bryant bike path. At the public meetings the City staff have said there is no contemplation of crossing Alma or the train tracks. What would make a great deal more sense would be to have a bike path along Loma Verde. Perhaps the City staff could figure out a way to have an under crossing at Alma and the train tracks the way they did at Homer and Alma. That would be a good use of funds.

69 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Annie - I don't know why the map was not included in this article, but the map on the city website says the city is studying a trail that crosses the train tracks. Link to city web site: Web Link

We agree that a trail that doesn't even connect to the Bryant Bicycle Boulevard is undesirable, especially since Colorado Ave is already a very good bike route from the Middlefield Shopping Center to Greer Park. West of Middlefield, Colorado Ave needs some improvement to be a really family-safe bicycle route.

We also agree that a safe bicycle route over or under the train tracks from Midtown is extremely important. The tunnel on the north side of Oregon Expressway is too difficult to get to from Midtown, in addition to being too steep and narrow for wheelchairs and bicycle trailers so many people can't use it anyway.

27 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2016 at 1:34 pm

We desperately need good east/west route to get across town - particularly for school kids on bikes. Loma Verde at Middlefield is an accident waiting to happen. The rush for kids on bikes to cross Alma at Churchill, is another accident waiting to happen. We need to be able to get kids across Middlefield and Alma/Caltrain safely. If we could get more kids safely to the Cal Ave tunnel, that would make Churchill a lot safer. If we could get kids to somehow stop using the Charleston and Meadow crossings it would make them a lot safer too.

All this talk about north/south bike boulevards is all well and good, but we have no safe east/west bike route at all.

5 people like this
Posted by Annie's Biped
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Hmm Yes the map on the flyer advertising the pop up event shows "Study Area for Future Bike/Pedestrian Crossing" at Alma and at 101. It also shows a straight grey line indicating the trail running from Alma all the way to 101. What it doesn't show is that there is private property blocking access between Waverley and Bryant. So the bottom line is that unless the City buys the property, there is no continuous access possible. And there's still the problem that the path would go for one block between Cowper and Middlefield on one side of the canal, cross Middlefield and go to the other side of the canal(between Middlefield & Ross), cross Ross, then change to the other side of the canal from Ross to Louis. At Louis, one would stay on the same side of the canal, but would have to cross Louis. These crossings are not protected by stop signs. Wouldn't it make sense to stay on either Loma Verde or Colorado where there is at least some protection offered by stop signs? Is it realistic to expect cyclists to walk from the canal on the sidewalk against traffic to the stop light at Colorado - a distance of about 50 yards? Or to walk on the sidewalk/ride on Middlefield with traffic to Loma Verde where there is a stop light?
If one considers school children crossing Middlefield at Loma Verde to be unsafe, how about crossing Middlefield between Loma Verde and Colorado without the benefit of a stop light? That seems incredibly unsafe.

29 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2016 at 2:35 pm

I think a pedestrian/bike push button light (similar to those on Fabian with embedded lights in the road for Nasa) on Middlefield by the Creek would be a lot safer for bikes and pedestrians in school commute time than either Loma Verde or Colorado which is very dangerous due to all the turning cars. Loma Verde in particular often has illegally parked vehicles included PAFD because of Philz. This makes cars have to weave lanes and bikes overtake parked vehicles out of the bike lanes. This is a horrendously bad crossing for bikes and pedestrians. A designated midblock light would be a great deal safer.

57 people like this
Posted by live next to Matadero Creek
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 3:08 pm

I live right next to Matadero Creek and I would LOVE this. It would be wonderful to be able to bike, walk, along the creek. The roads are actually not that safe, including Greer, because of all of the motorists that run the stop signs and speed.

I only wish this plan would extend all the way to the Baylands. My understanding is that it will stop at Greer, which is a tragedy.

BTW, people constantly walk and bike the creek anyways, having this trail would just make it available to law-abiding residents and those who don't have the stamina to jump the fences. I often say hello to these intrepid urban outdoors people and I welcome having them pass by.

8 people like this
Posted by $20M boondoggle
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 21, 2016 at 3:21 pm

All segments of the bike blvd/route across town needs a lot more study and development. The bike routes have been poorly designed. Alta Planning, the company PA hired to draw up the plans, has no grasp of traffic flow and cyclist flow in PA. They don't understand what PA cyclists want or need. They think one size fits all. Alta's plans are flawed. The $20 million dollar price tag doesn't even cover all the costs for the project.

1 person likes this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 21, 2016 at 4:44 pm

More bike paths just give the burglars an easy way in and out of Palo Alto neighborhoods. In Barron Park we have had dozens of packages stolen by teenagers on bicycles that just go up to the townhouse door and take the package and put it in their backpack and bicycle out. In broad daylight in the afternoon.
We need to have more police patrols. The crime in Palo Alto has exploded and is more important than bicycle lanes, bus routes, utility increases, etc.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bikes All The Way
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 5:48 pm

While riding my bike on the congested E/S El Camino in Palo Alto, I discovered a no-longer in use East / West pedestrian underpass that crosses El Camino near the BofA and Wells Fargo Banks . Does anyone know anything about this pedestrian bypass and why it was shuttered?

4 people like this
Posted by old timer
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 21, 2016 at 10:57 pm

@Bikes all the way: The old undercrossing you discovered was put in to allow students from east of El Camino to cross the state highway to access Mayfield School was near the corner of El Camino and Page Mill from the 1920's on. The undercrossing was added to make it safer for students from east of ECR to cross the state highway, probably in the 1950s. However, it was narrow, dark and involved stairs -- this was decades before ADA but it was a scary place.

The elementary school closed in 1966 but the building housed various alternative programs for older students for a time before being razed. Then when the undercrossing became a notorious drug dealer hangout, it was closed. Many people have asked your question before, but there is no right of way available to allow the ramps needed for pedestrians under today's standards. Plus it's not a good connector for pedestrians and bicyclists like the Loma Verde RR undercrossing would be.

19 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2016 at 11:33 pm

I'm glad to see this in the paper. I hope a lot of people will try it out on Saturday, and let their elected officials know what they think about it.

Like this comment
Posted by vivi
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm

In a local newspaper I recently read that the County Water District won't allow the city to install a fence along the top of the 100-year "floodwall." So how can this proposed trail be safe? People will fall in, or else might get pushed . . .

8 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2016 at 3:21 pm

The Stevens Creek Trail in Mountain View doesn't have any fences for most of its length and miles of the trail are on top of a steep levy. I've never heard of anyone getting pushed off. Is Palo Alto that much more dangerous than Mountain View?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2016 at 3:42 pm

The bike lobbyists consist of millenials that live in their parents basements. Or, they are renters living in Mt View. They will soon be whining for rent control, too.

36 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2016 at 4:02 pm

Most "bike lobbyists" are parents who want their kids to get to and from school safely. Better east-west bike routes through Midtown will really help kids get to Gunn and Paly safely and without putting more cars on the road.

8 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2016 at 12:47 am

Are there also plans for a tunnel from El Carmelo or Loma Verde to get so Park Blvd? This would be immensely helpful in getting around town by bicycle.

6 people like this
Posted by Midtown cyclist
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2016 at 1:04 pm

I think an east-west bike route in South Palo Alto would be wonderful for residents and students. Please pick a route that would accommodate the flow to the middle and high schools. The Matadero Creek location is along a segment of the high school boundary making it unlikely to be used.

And there still is no solution proposed to a bike trail that would cross multiple streets (Waverley, Cowper, Middlefield, Ross, Louis, Greer) mid-block with no protected crossing. Painted crosswalks would only provide the illusion of safety (a term told to me by a Palo Alto traffic engineer) if the motorists don't see cyclists appearing suddenly from a blind creekside path.

Also pick a route that leads to an existing way to get across Alma and the railroad tracks. There is no way that a bike tunnel or overpass will be built at Loma Verde or Matadero Creek as there is no significant 'destination' on either side to justify the expense. So why build a trail to take you to a dead end at Alma?

18 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2016 at 2:37 pm

This will provide a desperately needed way to cross Alma and the train tracks, with a good connection to the Bol Park bike path. Many cyclists and pedestrians would use this daily. Totally separated from cars too, could not be better. This is a great opportunity for the city, which is at last getting serious about making bikes a priority.

16 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2016 at 4:31 pm

We went to the pop-up event today. I have to imagine that the length of trail they are proposing with all the street crossings is not going to get enough traffic to make it worthwhile until the trail can be extended across the train tracks. Then all kinds of people will want to use the trail because crossing the train tracks is huge bottleneck for both adult and school children bicycle commuters. I really hope that the city realizes this and can put more effort into quickly building a bicycle/pedestrian friendly track crossing from Midtown.

10 people like this
Posted by E in Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2016 at 5:26 pm

I just returned from the pop-up event. The proposed route does not include either an Alma/railroad crossing or a safe way to cross Middlefield at Matadero Creek (Hoover Park).

Without either of these, I don't understand who this bikeway would benefit. What destinations does it serve without an additional railroad crossing?

Best to all,
E in Midtown

32 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2016 at 6:57 pm

Hopefully, if the trail is built without a crossing to the Caltrain station, the city quickly realizes that this is necessary and adds it soon. We are not opposed to this trail. We just feel that crossing Alma is essential and should be added in the 2nd phase if not the first phase.

26 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2016 at 10:27 pm

We went to the pop-up meeting today at Waverly & Matadero Creek. I was mistaken in my comment before - and what others are saying is correct - the plan _doesn't_ include a track crossing. The city is considering / studying a track (and Alma) crossing, but it's not part of the initial plans. Such a crossing would be a huge boon for biking in Palo Alto & would really connect the west side of El Camino with midtown by bicycle, without attracting more cars.

There were a number of neighbors at the pop-up meeting earnestly expressing NIMBY ("not in my backyard") concerns, because they live near the route. I understand their initial trepidation, but I would say that their worries may be short-sighted. There are big benefits to living near the Bol Park bike path as we do (in Barron Park). We walk and bike on the path all the time - several times per week we are out there if not daily. It is great for a stroll without having to worry about cars. The creek bike path could similarly be a big benefit to mid town as well. I can see that the neighborhood has become accustomed to turning their back on the ugly, concrete-encased Matadero Creek running through mid town, but the creek does not have to be like that. The creek could potentially be beautified and incorporated into their neighborhoods with a great walking/biking path.

In summary I would suggest: add a track crossing; and beautify the creek!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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