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.