New bikeways eyed for Embarcadero Road

Plan calls for separating bicyclists from cars between El Camino Real and Emerson Street in Palo Alto

New bikeways would roll out alongside one of the busiest stretches of Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto as part of a road-improvement project that the city's Planning and Transportation Commission heartily endorsed Wednesday night.

The two raised bikeways, one on the north side of Embarcadero and one on the south, would stretch from the central intersection of Embarcadero and El Camino Real, past Town & Country Village and Palo Alto High School and toward Emerson Street, bringing riders to within close proximity of the Bryant Street Bike Boulevard.

In addition to the raised bikeways, the plan calls for modifying the El Camino crossing to create a "Dutch-style" intersection, which offers bicyclists a dedicated and protected lane.

The goal of the project, according to city officials, is to improve safety and create a smoother flow for a well-used stretch that has long been plagued by traffic lights crammed close together and, at times, working out of sync. This includes the traffic signals at El Camino, near Paly and at the Trader Joe's driveway -- signals that for years have flummoxed drivers and caused traffic backups. (Read "Palo Alto seeks to make 'waves' with traffic lights")

City planners have been working in recent months to address these discrepancies, recently installing a signal box that will make the traffic signals at Town & Country and Paly work in sync, said Josh Mello, the city's chief transportation official. That signal box, however, has yet to be connected to the city's central system, which also is being upgraded to create a coordinated timing program between U.S. Highway 101 and Bryant Street.

Concurrently, staff has been working with the consulting company BKF Engineers to design road improvements that would make conditions safer and less confusing for bicyclists and pedestrians. On Wednesday, the commission was presented with two different design alternatives: one that would create two bikeways, one on either side of Embarcadero, and another that would have one two-way bikeway on the south side of the street.

Jason Mansfield, project manager with BKF Engineers, told the commission that the goal of the project was to "improve bicycle comfort and safety."

"Right now, there is zero bicycle infrastructure through this corridor, so we really need to include that," said Mansfield, whose firm took part in two community meetings on the Embarcadero project. "That's one of the big things we heard from the meetings and the stakeholders. There is a real need and desire for improved bicycle facilities through here and also improved pedestrian facilities."

The commission found much to like about both proposals, though it preferred by a unanimous vote the alternative that includes a raised bikeway on each side of the street. The commissioners particularly lauded the fact that under the preferred design, the bikeways would be running along the sidewalks and not on the roadway, where traffic volumes, merging lanes, traffic lights and intersecting driveways make for congested conditions.

Commission Chair Adrian Fine said the main reason he supported the two-bikeway alternative is because he believed the city "shouldn't necessarily give preference to one side of the street over the other."

He also concurred with Vice Chair Przemek Gardias, who argued that the city should have a policy of aligning bike pathways with sidewalks, rather than streets, along major arteries. That way, he said, bicyclists and cars won't have to fight for space like they do at certain corridors in San Francisco, where green bike lanes are a common site along major city streets.

Commissioner Eric Rosenblum, who frequently bikes in this area, agreed that the two-bikeway design is superior because it creates protected bike lanes without diminishing the level of service for traffic.

"To me, it would be a much less stressful journey," he said.

The Embarcadero project, which is expected to cost about $2.45 million to construct, is one of more than a dozen bike-improvement efforts that Palo Alto is moving ahead with. The long list of projects, which are included in the city's 2012 bike master plan, also includes new bike amenities and traffic-calming measures at Park Boulevard, Maybell Avenue, Churchill Avenue and Greer Road. In addition, the city is looking to expand its original "bike boulevard" on Bryant Street.


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34 people like this
Posted by Annie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 13, 2016 at 10:10 am

This is so long overdue. For years I have been asking the city, Stanford and CalTrans to improved bike crossing from Galvez to Embarcadero. This intersection is heavily used by bike commuters and deserves to be made safer. This can't happen quickly enough!

26 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 13, 2016 at 10:54 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Good to see that the bicycle plans are making headway. A big improvement this year for students bicycling to Gunn is that Los Robles has undergone major improvements including removal of dangerous tree root bumps, repaving and striping (not yet completed) and creation of good bike lanes. This provides a good alternative to Maybell for Gunn students coming from east of El Camino.

39 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 13, 2016 at 11:38 am

We badly need more east-west bicycle routes in this city to help our kids bicycle to school safely. I hope that this bicycle route can be extended down Embarcadero to at least the library. If it stops at Bryant, how do kids get to it from homes on the east side of Middlefield?

22 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2016 at 11:59 am

Two raised bike lanes means removing one traffic lane, right? This stretch of Embarcadero is already a miserable choke point because of many poor design decisions - losing another traffic lane would be a disaster.

9 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 13, 2016 at 12:27 pm

This link has a higher resolution image of the two alternative plans:

Web Link

23 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 13, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Another band-aid on a disaster. The whole thing needs to be redone with two lanes in both directions and no left turns into Paly or T and C. Plow the old overpass and design it correctly. Get rid of the Paly cross walk into T and C. Put a fence up in the median. This proposed plan is just sending good money after bad.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Question: What are the numbers of bike riders entering Paly at Embarcadero v the numbers of bike riders entering from Churchill?

I ask this question because I personally think that the bigger problem are the bikes at Churchill, particularly those that have to wait for first for a green light to cross but are immediately forced to stop because of a train closing the gates. When this happens there are a horrendous number of bikes and pedestrians waiting in a very small space for the gates to open and at the same time there is fast moving traffic right behind them on Alma.

I would prefer to see bike riders to Paly from points east on Embarcadero to be encouraged to use Churchill, but crossing the tracks is the big hindrance.

I would be interested to hear comments of those who have done the commute to Paly from this area of town as to whether they have tried both routes, which they prefer and why.

1 person likes this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2016 at 1:32 pm

@Paly Grad - thanks for the link. Alternative 2 actually looks like it could be a win-win. Bike lane, plus dedicated right run lanes into T&C and onto Embarcadero. Unfortunately, it sounds like that's not the favored plan.

6 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 13, 2016 at 4:20 pm

Chuffed! This should be great for Paly students who live north of Embarcadero.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 14, 2016 at 3:00 pm

I am very glad that they've finally realized giving up road bandwidth for cyclists' comfort only creates congestion, which is dangerous for everyone.

However, I always question if the amount of spending is worth it. Cyclists ought to be held to stricter standards so that they behave as vehicles and properly share the road. Those who ride really slow are better off using the sidewalk.

I grew up biking everywhere in Palo Alto before all these fancy upgrades. There was no want for fancy infrastructure. I miss the intrepid trips where I learned to quickly pedal up to speed and tighten up my habits to become a more aware & lawful cyclist.

14 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2016 at 4:00 pm

@Resident - Not sure they've learned that lesson. They are going to sacrifice a potential dedicated right turn lane for a bike lane.

5 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 14, 2016 at 7:08 pm

This will make the ECR crossing much safer for bikes. I think there should have been another alternative, much like the one chosen, but without the dedicated left turn lanes from Embarcadero to ECR. This would mean having separate greens (left and straight) for westbound & eastbound. That's how it was "forever" until recently, and it worked more efficiently, while taking up less space. I realize it probably doesn't conform to some standard, but those left turn lanes are a problem because the road is so narrow.

Paly kids from east of Middlefield really shouldn't try to use Embarcadero except at the underpass. It's too narrow and busy. Instead, use Melville to the underpass; or Coleridge or Seale to Churchill. Much safer. The changes proposed here are really more for Stanford traffic.

16 people like this
Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 15, 2016 at 6:22 am

City officials have allowed over development in PA. We are approaching gridlock due to poor city planning and leadership. Politicians and inept city staff are trying to cover up for their mistakes, by pretending they can solve our traffic problems with more bike lanes. Bike lanes will only exacerbate our traffic woes. And, the garish yellow and green markings on our streets makes the town look like a carnival.

11 people like this
Posted by @Mike Alexander
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 15, 2016 at 9:20 am

@Mike Alexander - Coleridge or Seale are not safe bicycle routes from east of Middlefield, especially during the morning rush hour. There are no stop signs or stop lights on Middlefield Road at these intersections and the heavy rush hour car traffic will not stop for bicyclists trying to cross Middlefield. The only Middlefield intersections with stop lights are Embarcadero and California and California Ave is a long detour for many kids (not to mention the confusing intersection with Middlefield Rd).

We would be in favor of adding a traffic light at Seale & Middlefield if that is what you're proposing. This would be beneficial for pedestrians as well as bicyclists.

13 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 15, 2016 at 10:32 am

"Cyclists ought to be held to stricter standards so that they behave as vehicles and properly share the road."

Thanks, I just spit my coffee. What little slice of nirvanma do you drive around in?!?! The drivers are a much more ill acting group and should only be used as a cautionary "Don't act like these guys."
I see bikes acting stupid on occasion. I see drivers acting the fool whenever my eyes are open. Don't act like the drivers on the road. Please.

7 people like this
Posted by Ahhhh
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 15, 2016 at 10:34 am

With the raised lanes, cyclists will literally be above and beyond traffic jams :)

20 people like this
Posted by Kubilay Demir
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 15, 2016 at 11:54 am

We also need the enforcement of 25MPH limit on Embarcadero. Average speed of the traffic is ~35MPH and some drivers go nuts in the evening and early morning making the locals and bicyclers feel very uncomfortable and unsafe.

8 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2016 at 12:02 pm

@Kubilay Demir - The average speed on Embarcadero is probably > 35mph, except when traffic is backed up. But whether it is 25 or 45 it still wouldn't be safe for cyclists because it is too narrow.

17 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Of course everyone is avoiding the real problems ... the tunnel under the railroad, the entrance to Paly from an already impossibly congested intersection, permitting the building of the new theater at said intersection, the city planners allowing the overbuilding of Town and Country, the attempt to combine bike paths with car traffic, the failure to recognize that cars WILL NOT go away despite the dreams of converting everyone to cyclists, and so forth.
So we're stuck with the previous bad planning and it's going to cost plenty to get around it.
Speaking of getting around it, why not close the Embarcadero car entrance to Paly and create an entrance off El Csmino? There's room on Paly ground to add a long turn lane on El Camino.
Why not build a bike and pedestrian bridge over Embarcadero to accommodate students instead of the failed plan to build such a bridge over 101?
Why not require Town and Country to build a double deck garage and more entrance lanes so that traffic doesn't back up as much?
I'm sure that there are lot's of other ideas out there that "planners" don't consider because they stick with outdated traffic concepts and refuse to believe that cars are here to stay.

7 people like this
Posted by My2Cents
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2016 at 12:56 pm

1. ELIMINATE THE PEDESTRIAN CROSSWALK/LIGHT (Paly to T&C). People (STUDENTS) should use the pedestrian crosswalks that exists at El Camino and at the overpass alongside the railroad tracks. IT IS NOT AN EXCESSIVE DISTANCE FOR PEOPLE/STUDENTS TO WALK TO EITHER OF THEM! Put a fence in the median.
2. MOVE THE PALY ENTRANCE TO EL CAMINO. Perhaps the Embarcardaro access could be made EXIT ONLY, or even better, RIGHT TURN ONLY.

And by the way, we should teach our children bicyclists the rules of the road, and as drivers we should not be encouraging cyclists to ignore them. I regularly see drivers who have stopped at a 4-way stop sign with a cyclist approaching on the cross street remain in place and wave the cyclist through. Not only are they encouraging (young) cyclists to ignore the law and come to believe that drivers will always wait for them, there is also the risk of another driver proceeding legally and actually having a collision with the cyclist. I have experienced this numerous times. Drivers, teach cyclists the rules by (carefully) taking your proper right-of-way so that they learn to stop.

2 people like this
Posted by The other guy should behave differently
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 15, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Having the average driver on the road today trying to teach anyone about how to behave in traffic is completly laughable.
I wave cyclists through if the situation is safe, because I'm nice. 95% of the time I get a wave because the people already know the rules of the road and realize I'm doing them a favor. I'm not gonna stop, not gonna become one of the many many "me first" jerks on the road. I'll probably do it more now that I'm thinking about it. We're all out there together. I not only say that, I act like it behind the wheel.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm

I fail to see how the new Paly theater has anything to do with the traffic issues on Embarcadero. Performances would be in the evening, not during commute hours.

6 people like this
Posted by My2Cents
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 15, 2016 at 7:03 pm

to: The other guy should behave differently
Respectfully, I think you misread my tone and are doing a disservice to the bicyclists. This is not a 'me first' issue. Serious cyclists recognize that they are vehicles on the road and when a car has right-of-way at an intersection, the cyclist expects the car to proceed (the same as if the cyclist were driving a car). I frequently approach a 4-way stop on my bike with a car already at the intersection. I slow and adjust my speed so as to be able to pass behind the car when it clears the intersection. But they just sit there! Even with a car behind them. I wind up stopping dead and waiting for them to pass (I do not trust them, nor the other drivers who may be frustrated by their actions).

Granted, circumstances vary, and there may be instances in which letting the cyclist continue first is the correct thing to do.

HOWEVER, I continue to see well-intentioned drivers stop and wait and wave cyclists on - particularly youth. They do this even if the cyclists are 100 feet from the intersection. So kids breeze on through. I have approached Bryant from Loma Verde (4-way stop) in my car and had youth cyclists just pedal through the intersection as if I were not there. I don't think it is because they are being cocky. I think it is because they have been conditioned by well-meaning drivers who wait and wave them through.

Just my 2 cents.

5 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm

My point is that the less busy a street is, the safer it is for a bike. Crossing Middlefield at Seale is a matter of waiting (not very long) for a gap. Timid riders can go to a light. For bikes, Coleridge intersects with Embarcadero/Middlefield. Cross there, then take Coleridge/Churchill. Or if you're north of Embarcadero, cross at Melville and take Kingsley to the underpass at Alma. Just don't ride on Embarcadero, or its sidewalks for more than a block. It's too crazy, and not likely to change.
All that said, there are good arguments for putting lighted crosswalks on Middlefield at Seale and at Ames. The distances between lights in those areas is long, and more of a problem for peds than bikes.

9 people like this
Posted by PAMom
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 20, 2016 at 8:47 pm

Please, people slow down! When it says it is 25 mph it is 25 mph!!! Do not go over 45 mph! If we put bike lanes on Embarcadero with crazy speeders it will create deadly outcomes sooner or later. Can we have more police enforcing the speed limit especially near school zones? I know, a lot of people are in a hurry to get to work, but please remember Embarcadero it is not a freeway! Be considerate!

Like this comment
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 1, 2016 at 7:07 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I would support 2 bike/pedestrian overpasses at ECR, one on each side over Embarcadero and Galvez; and Embarcadero over ECR. Remove the lights at Paly. Safe crossing would be at the train overpass (and avoid ECR/Embarcadero). A bike/pedestrian overpass at Alma-Churchill over the tracks would also be a good idea. Yes, bikes may have to be walked up, but the safety and improved traffic flow would be worth it. There are bike overpasses at Sierra Ct over 101, and over Woodside road at Stambaugh street. I've used them, and they work! I do find it easier to cross Woodside at Middlefield because there are bike lanes and it's flat, but crossing 101 on Embarcadero or San Antonio is scary. Size the width of the overpasses to handle the traffic. It would be nice to extend the bike/ped trail along the tracks even further south to San Antonio. Biking along Alma from Churchill is only safe on the sidewalk. Bryant get confusing after Oregon.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 1, 2016 at 9:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I don't care who is right or who is wrong but in any bicycle automobile encounter the bicyclist will lose.

Do as they do in Europe - create physically separate bike ways.

4 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2016 at 9:50 pm

Peter, how about some beautiful wood bike bridges over ECR?

Based on the weird Jordan bike lanes, we should put any new changes on hold for a sanity check.

Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 2, 2016 at 12:51 am

Haha, NoMoPa. Yes, the bike lane in front of Jordan is horrendous. It's a bike lane that is divided in two so the bikes can ride in opposite directions within the bike lane and they have only about 2.5 feet of riding space (5 feet total bike lane width). It's a dangerous design that is going to cause accidents.

The crosswalk to T&C needs to stay for the Paly students. Using the bridge takes much longer and is indirect. Using El Camino is actually more dangerous due to turning cars. The students only have 40 minutes for lunch.

Riding a bike on Embarcadero from Louis Road to Paly is quite dangerous due to driveways and turning cars. The Churchill route is much safer, although it's not completely safe either, with commuters cutting through Churchill, driving right beside the student bikers.

Why don't they block off the Embarcadero Road T&C entrance and force shoppers to enter on El Camino? The T&C entrance/exit is part of the reason why Embarcadero is clogged at rush hour.

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

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