Palo Alto's ambitious plan to making biking easier and safer on local streets received a burst of momentum this week when the City Council enthusiastically endorsed the creation of three new bike corridors, along with an enhancement of the city's pioneering bike boulevard on Bryant Street.
By an 8-0 vote, with Tom DuBois recusing, the council approved on Monday night a slew of traffic-calming measure -- including new signs, roundabouts, speed humps and curb extensions -- at three corridors in Midtown and south Palo Alto. One would be a north-south bike route along Ross Road, from just south of Oregon Expressway to Louis Road. It would connect with two other east-west corridors, one along Amarillo Avenue and Moreno Avenue and another along Louis Road and Montrose Avenue.
In addition, the Bryant Street boulevard would see new improvements, including wayfinding signs, raised intersections and a traffic circle. A prior proposal to include green "sharrow" (markings that indicate the area of roadway to be shared by bikes and vehicles) on the road was scrapped by staff and consultants after community criticism.
All of these projects were included in the city's 2012 master plan for biking and pedestrian improvements, a plan that the city is now aggressively trying to turn into reality. Before the Monday action, the city had 7.9 miles of bike-boulevard corridors in the planning phase, said Joshuah Mello, the city's Chief transportation official. This week's vote the number to 11.1 miles.
"These are bike projects but they really are traffic-calming projects at heart and soul," Mello told the council Monday. "One of the primary goals, if not the overarching goal, is to reduce motor-vehicle speeds on these streets and get motor vehicles operating at moderate speeds, closer to speeds at which bicycles travel along the corridor."
The new projects have won overwhelming support in the city's bicycling community, with dozens of people attending Monday's meeting and almost all speaking in favor of the proposed improvements.
Resident Zoe Hoster said the ability to bike and walk in Palo Alto is "one of the great advantages of living in the city." However, occasional hazardous traffic conditions often make it difficult for people to bike around.
"With these improvements, they will be able to enjoy the benefits of walking and biking around the city and all of us will enjoy the benefits of reduced traffic congestion and improved safety," Hoster said.
The projects will also require the city to remove 266 parking spaces from the areas where the new corridors would be constructed, or about 1/7 of the total number of spaces. In making the recommendation, Mello said, staff was "very conscious of parking impacts to residents and adjacent property owners as we consider infrastructure recommendations."
He said most of the "large-scale parking modifications" are along south Palo Alto corridors, in areas where staff is proposing to add street trees. But while downtown areas won't see major parking impacts from the new Bryant Street improvements, there are some areas where staff felt it would make sense to remove parking spots despite the heavy parking demand.
Much like the majority of the speakers, the council agreed that it's time to get moving with the new bike projects.
Councilwoman Liz Kniss lauded the large number of bicyclists, particularly students, who already use the Bryant Street boulevard and called the new proposal "an idea whose time has come."
Mayor Pat Burt concurred and called the new effort to build new bike corridors the city's "first significant reinvestment in our bike plan since the 1970s."
"I think staff and consultants have developed a better and continually improved and refined plan in response to feedback from the community," he said.