News


Palo Alto seeks to reboot bike-bridge project

City set to award contract for 'standard' design for U.S. Highway 101 overpass

After their first bid to create a "landmark" bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 took an unfortunate turn, Palo Alto officials are now preparing to scale down their expectations and start over with a new design for the $13 million project.

The bridge, which would go up at Adobe Creek, is the most costly and significant project in the bike and pedestrian master plan that the city adopted in 2012. Once in place, it will provide year-round access for pedestrians and bicyclists trying to get from south Palo Alto to the Baylands.

To underscore its importance, the council in 2014 launched a design competition that attracted dozens of entries, which were ultimately narrowed down to three finalists. Last spring, the council favored a slender, low-key design proposed by a team led by the firm Moffatt & Nichol over a more ostentatious arched bridge that was chosen by the jury in the design competition.

Since then, however, the project has faced a series of obstacles. With the estimated price tag rising and the city unable to reach an agreement with Moffatt & Nichol, the City Council agreed in December to scuttle its negotiations with the firm, effectively rebooting the process.

Now, three new project bids are in, and the city is preparing to award a contract to one of them. If the council approves on Monday the recommendation from Public Works staff, the award will go to Biggs Cardosa Associates. Under the $1.5 million contract, the firm would provide design services for what would be a "standard" 14-foot-wide bridge, according to a new report from Public Works. This includes a 12-foot walkway, with a 10-foot center path and 1-foot-wide shoulders.

The new bridge will include 5 percent slopes, an 8-foot-tall fence with 1-inch square openings. The project also includes landscaping for the area around the ramp near the Baylands.

"The standard bridge will be an attractive, bird-friendly, environmentally suitable design with a strict level of structural and seismic performance," the Public Works report states.

As part of the contract, Biggs Cardosa would also be charged with proposing enhancements to the bridge, improvements that would presumably make it more similar to the low-profile, ribbon-like structure that enamored the council last year.

The project's funding could be problematic. The budget has risen from about $9 million to $13 million, which includes $10 million in construction costs. So far, the city has committed about $4.7 million. It also was banking on two major grants: $4 million from Santa Clara County's Recreational Trails Program (which collects money from Stanford University as part of a 2000 agreement) and $4.35 million in state funding through the One Bay Area Grant program, which is locally administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).

Earlier this year, however, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission decided to cut the bike bridge project as one of 10 whose savings would help make up for a $1.5 billion state funding shortfall.

Anticipating the loss of funding, the city and Google, which owns property near Adobe Creek, both made an appeal to the state and the county earlier this month to preserve the financial backing for the bike bridge, calling it a "model for effective state, local and private partnerships." The project, the letter notes, "has already absorbed substantial cost increases, due to delays in preparing environmental studies and an extensive public involvement process."

"We cannot afford to postpone this project any longer," City Manager James Keene and John Igoe, Google's director of real estate and workplace services, wrote in a March 22 letter to Bob Aldorado, chair of the California Transportation Commission, which identified the $1.5 billion gap and ordered the cuts of some projects funded by the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).

The goal of this project, the letter noted, is "to provide year-round bicycle and pedestrian access between Palo Alto, Stanford University, the San Francisco Bay Trail, Baylands recreational areas, and large job centers east of U.S. 101."

"An existing bicycle and pedestrian overcrossing at Oregon Expressway is approximately 1.4 miles north and is inconvenient for active transportation users who live in south Palo Alto and commuters to the Google and Facebook campuses," the letter states.

Despite the potential loss of state money, Palo Alto's Public Works staff remains optimistic that the funding will ultimately be replaced by the VTA in subsequent funding rounds. Last month, the VTA notified the city that its board "has committed to program One Bay Area Grant funds to replace the STIP funding if the MTC deprograms the project or delays it beyond the 2016 STIP period."

Palo Alto is also considering other funding options. The county's Recreational Trails Program, for instance, also included a $4.5 million grant for Stanford University to construct a "perimeter trail" around its campus. Stanford subsequently relinquished this grant and opted to fund the project out of its own pockets, creating an opportunity for additional county funds to be used for the bike bridge.

Google also has offered to help out. Last year, the high-tech giant proposed contributing $1 million to the project, though it stipulated that the company should "receive credit as traffic mitigation for any future development application."

The council made it clear during its December discussion that it isn't willing to make any kind of land-use concessions in exchange for the contribution.

Earlier this month, however, Google once again offered to contribute $1 million, this time with no strings attached. A May 6 letter from Igoe states that the company's concern "stems from Google's interest in offering transportation alternatives to our employees and other area stakeholders."

"Google and other bicycle users will greatly benefit from the construction of this bridge by providing meaningful vehicle trip generation," Igoe wrote.

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Comments

47 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 20, 2016 at 8:42 am

We agree that this is a vital city transportation project that needs to be completed as soon as possible. Don't let the mistake of that design contest boondoggle distract from the important transportation purpose of this bridge. We would much rather see the city fund this bridge than some new parking garage downtown. Southern Palo Alto gets far too little attention from our city government.


36 people like this
Posted by Keep it simple
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 20, 2016 at 11:04 am

My advice -- if you want to get this project done minimize Karen holmans involvement in it. Her pushing for a landmark bridge helped turn this into another palo,alto fiasco. Let's just get a simple, cheap bridge built.


12 people like this
Posted by Oh Palo Alto, You're cute
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2016 at 1:06 pm

See you in another 5 years with nothing to show for it.
Taaaaalk talk talk talk instead of "Do".


14 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2016 at 9:03 pm

95% of the time you don't need a bridge, you can just ride under the freeway. That is if our incompetent counsel could work out a way to get the flood district to unlock the gate. This just seems too complicated for them to work out.


4 people like this
Posted by Wait for it...
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2016 at 9:09 pm

How about doing something with laminated wood?


6 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2016 at 10:59 pm

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: just copy a bridge that's already been built. There's great ones all around the Bay Area. How about the awesome one in mountain view just south of Costco?


13 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2016 at 10:17 am

Whatever they do, they should not let the ARB pick the design. The ARB will pick the ugliest one; they have zero taste.


17 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 21, 2016 at 11:26 am

This continues to serve as an illustration of misguided priorities. The bike bridge is not a critical infrastructure need in my opinion. Should the city proceed with the project, then it should keep the plan as basic and simple as possible, at the lowest costs. No frills, nothing dramatic, and no need for "landmark" distinction..

In the meantime we already have a bridge access for bicycles and pedestrians to cross over 101 that is centrally located at the east end of Oregon Expressway. It's already there, it's functional, and it doesn't cost tax payers a dime. Even if cyclists had to walk their bike the short distance to span the bridge isn't too much to ask considering the cost savings. The majority of the time the Adoble Tunnel under 101 is also accessible.

If it were up to me the whole bridge plan would be scrapped based on these factors. Another example of our elected officials crumbling to the wishes of a vocal minority seeking a vanity project.


8 people like this
Posted by Over the Top
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 21, 2016 at 11:56 am

Why not improve the San Antonio overpass?


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2016 at 12:08 pm

I agree with Marrol. This is part of a bigger problem with City Council being too bloated and having nothing to do.
So they have fetishized bicycles as if its the #1 priority. Dreaming up all sorts of bike routes where the demand for them doesn't even exist.


24 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 21, 2016 at 5:39 pm

The Embarcadero Road pedestrian bridge is unacceptable to families living in southern Palo Alto because it is so far out of the way and it involves the dangerous crossing of Oregon Expressway. In addition, the bridge is too steep and narrow for many users, including wheelchair users and parents with child trailers.

Until a family-friendly bicycle bridge over Hwy 101 is built somewhere south of Oregon Expressway, we propose adding protected bicycle lanes on San Antonio Road over Hwy 101. If there is not enough room for bicycle lanes and 2 car lanes, then close one of the car lanes and use that space. Protected bicycle lanes means there is a physical wall between the bicycle lane and other lanes so that scofflaw car drivers cannot nail you (intentionally or accidentally). Rengstorff Road is just a minute by car from San Antonio Road, so closing San Antonio Road over Hwy 101 to cars (in one or both directions) is not an inconvenience.


5 people like this
Posted by Over The Bridge
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2016 at 8:24 pm

Did someone say close a lane on San Antonio? Can't be done.... only 2 lanes one going east and the other going west. Use Google Earth before you speak.


3 people like this
Posted by Former Resident
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2016 at 9:54 am

Compared to the Moffat-Nichol bridge the "standard" design is butt-ugly. We'll probably never know for sure if there were real cost problems with the Moffat-Nichol proposal or if there was a personality/relationship problem with PA staff. I suspect the latter.


6 people like this
Posted by Zack
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2016 at 8:33 pm

A simple, accessible, and relatively reasonably priced bike pedestrian bridge could have been built and in use now. But no. Zeppelin sized egos with a splash of vanity, and what appears city govt efforts to needlessly complicate, delay, and otherwise prevent and escalate the cost of this ****ed City of Palo sponsored bridge boondoggle have prevailed.


Like this comment
Posted by Former Resident
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2016 at 7:14 am

Sorry, Zack, but bridges don't get built without having the funding to build. Palo Alto has one of the best City Councils in California but they could have done a better job of overseeing the tensions between staff and the bridge designer.


4 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 23, 2016 at 10:25 am

As I said the first time around, keep it simple!

This is basic commuter infrastructure. It needs to be safe, accessible, low maintenance, ride-on / ride-off, and built yesterday. It will help with traffic, it will help with intermodal (Caltrain + Bike is far more useful than Caltrain alone), and it'll get some use on the weekend too (e.g. bird watchers heading to the baylands).


2 people like this
Posted by JM
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 23, 2016 at 11:14 am

Whenever someone asked me the life in Palo Alto, this bridge, and the incompetent city council, always come to mind.

They should get the job done, simple and straight, already. I for one would use it almost daily if it's built.

Instead they are trying to build a monument over a busy highway, and drifted down stream with all the problems that dream would lead to.

Is Karen holmans the one insisted on the fancy designs?


2 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2016 at 11:38 am

So the standard style bridge now costs more than the "iconic" bridg. From 9 million to 13 million. Who wants to bet that by the time this boondoggle gets off the ground, the costs will be upwards of 20 million? It's the Palo Alto Way.


2 people like this
Posted by MyTwoCents
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 23, 2016 at 12:47 pm

"Ostentatious"???
For crap sake, please keep to the facts and put your opinions in a signed op-ed piece. Many of us thought it was a beautiful and elegant design. In fact, I thought that of both bridge designs.

But I do agree that we went for more than the bulk of the Palo Alto community felt was needed. As a result we lost more time without a bridge, lost money to build it with, and the Council (as an institution) lost more credibility with its citizens.

NOTE TO MANY - there are both engineering and right-of-way problems at the site that make a simple, "just do it" bridge not so easy to do. Having said that, a more straightforward approach would have been better.

My personal concerns: make it wide enough for four-abreast (two-abreast in each direction). Take the blue-beam Stevens Creek Trail bridge over Central and the railroad tracks in Mountain View as an example. Keep the lighting on and focused down at the bridge deck.


11 people like this
Posted by Please, please, please just get it built.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2016 at 4:45 pm

Please, please, please just get it built. is a registered user.

Just BUILD it, please. We NEED it. We have needed it for decades. We still need it. We have been discussing this for so long, I wonder if it will EVER get built.

I have been advocating for this for at least ten years. The project was on the table before then for...well, I don't know how long.

Please, please, please just get it built.


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 24, 2016 at 5:47 pm

This bridge is taking too long!! I hope all those involved in the management of this project step aside, as not having clear direction and judgement, and that new leaders are found who know how to execute.
I can only hope the voters remember who those elected people are, and of course, the hired staff must feel the same pressures and consequences that the rest of us do when we exhibit poor judgement and fail to execute. There is no excuse: our city pays well, has retirement plans the rest can only dream about, and has every other Friday off.
During the last campaign, I attended a candidate forum, and was told the bike bridge would take 4 years. Most of us were aghast at this (remember, us humans only live so long...). But the candidate was wrong....maybe it is now >6 years.


6 people like this
Posted by not really
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Marrol,

"In the meantime we already have a bridge access for bicycles and pedestrians to cross over 101 that is centrally located at the east end of Oregon Expressway. It's already there, it's functional, and it doesn't cost tax payers a dime. Even if cyclists had to walk their bike the short distance to span the bridge isn't too much to ask considering the cost savings. The majority of the time the Adoble Tunnel under 101 is also accessible. "

I would point out that if you have to walk your bike, it is not a bike bridge, its a pedestrian bridge. It would be nice to have an actual bike bridge that will accommodate bike trailers.


11 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 24, 2016 at 6:27 pm

The city government is all talk and no action when it comes to non-car transportation in this city. They say they want to help solve our traffic and parking problems by encouraging more people to bicycle and walk and catch busses. What happens? They made a big show out of this bridge that is vital for bicycle safety, but now the project is delayed for years, if not decades. They also made a big show out of a cross-town bicycle route along Matadero Creek, but is anyone taking bets on when that will happen, if ever?

Same goes for public transit. VTA is cutting back. The city shuttle is too limited and doesn't reach many parts of town or any of our neighbors. Caltrain electrification is not directly under the city's control, but deteriorating service on their outdated equipment really discourages usage by people who are not going all the way to San Francisco.

Pedestrian safety is also taking a back seat as traffic signals around town are being reprogrammed to force pedestrians to wait longer for green lights and then you get a shorter amount of time to cross safely.

The city says one thing, but their actions really encourage more people to drive, even for short distances.


Like this comment
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2016 at 6:41 pm

@midtown wrote:

"95% of the time you don't need a bridge, you can just ride under the freeway. That is if our incompetent counsel could work out a way to get the flood district to unlock the gate. This just seems too complicated for them to work out."

That sounds like a very good idea. Have they ever given a reason why this was not done?


Like this comment
Posted by Marroll
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 28, 2016 at 9:34 am

Dear "Not Really",

I think we're in agreement there. The current access bridge may require cyclists with a trailer for example to make the walk. The relatively short walk. You say it would be "nice" to have a fully accessible bike bridge. Yeah, "nice". But I don't think it's wise to spend millions of tax payer dollars for something that would be "nice".

Again, if we keep the tunnel open a majority time of the year, and simply ask the few cyclists to walk their bikes across the short span of the existing bridge, we don't have to spend a nickel. Zero dollars. I also don't buy that the existing bridge isn't in a good location. It's located at the end of Oregon Expressway. Oregon Expressway is as centrally located as it gets in Palo Alto, evenly dividing the north and south sides of town for all intent and purpose.

Nope, I don't buy the need for a new bike bridge. Not to serve a niche group seeking to make this into a vanity project. And please, if it must proceed, let's keep it as basic and simple as it can be. No frills, no drama, no architectural statements.


Like this comment
Posted by Not Really
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2016 at 2:40 pm

Marroll,

While I disagree with "The relatively short walk", if you are using this on a daily basis to ride to work that adds a good deal of time to your journey, how would you feel about parking your car at the midtown Walgreens to shop at Safeway. Although its a relatively short walk I doubt you would want to do this. I've been in that tunnel under the bridge, 1st Palo Alto has no control over when it is open, second when I was they the path was covered in dirt and sand and the ceiling is low, its not a good location to ride a bike with narrow tires. Where we do agree is that the bridge should be functional not a statement. Its not going to be cheap it has to span a freeway and be earthquake proof. As for serving a niche group, there are are more riders than you think, and they deserve safe infrastructure too.


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

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