Editorial: A first step on bridge | December 2, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - December 2, 2011

Editorial: A first step on bridge

Finding funds to build up to a $9 million project is next challenge

Representing one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the state, it was not surprising to see the City Council fall head over heels in love with the proposed bike/pedestrian bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek on a 9-0 vote Monday.

The council has been flirting with a bridge project for several years, and got a boost when the Planning and Transportation Commission endorsed the idea to create what we hope will be a year-round route for cyclists and pedestrians to reach the Baylands trails east of 101, as well as the numerous workplaces at Google, Microsoft and NASA-Ames south of the city. The Parks and Recreation Commission also backed the plan, which would have particular appeal in south Palo Alto neighborhoods and could link to a proposed Adobe Creek pathway.

The route selection process advanced last year at a meeting hosted by the city and Alta Planning + Design, the consultant on the project, when about 50 residents were asked to choose from five options: the Adobe Creek over-and undercrossing, renovation of a Matadero Creek undercrossing, a West Bayshore overcrossing, and an overcrossing at Loma Verde Avenue. The most popular choice was improving the current undercrossing at Adobe Creek, although the runner-up was the Adobe Creek overcrossing, which ultimately was chosen. The project manager said a bridge elevated 20 feet over 101 would provide spectacular views and could become a landmark for Palo Alto.

Council members were effusive in their praise of a new crossing, with Karen Holman gushing, "A bridge going over 101 to the Baylands — that structure is going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto. ...It's going to be how people identify Palo Alto." The council endorsed her suggestion to study the idea of sponsoring a design contest to make the new bridge "a really stellar design."

The council agreed, indicating it favors an "enhanced overpass with 14-foot-wide lanes, lighting fixtures and a deck overlooking the spectacular Baylands scenery. Members apparently see nothing but upside for a new bridge, and approved moving forward with an environmental assessment.

But a giant hurdle remains — finding the estimated $5 million to $9 million needed to build it. In approving the project, the Planning Commission wisely took a more conservative approach, urging the staff to consider less expensive designs. The council agreed with Holman, who said if the money is not available for the "stellar" design, the city should opt for a "good utilitarian design" rather than go with an "underfunded artistic endeavor."

Unfortunately, all of the council's support may be a moot point unless city officials can round up a lot of money from federal and state grants or the local Valley Transportation Authority's Bicycle Expenditure Program. Qualifying for a VTA or any other grant may require the city to complete engineering work to demonstrate that the project is "shovel ready." Luckily, funds for the environmental report are in hand, so some work can proceed.

In neighboring Mountain View, a $9.6 million pedestrian-bike bridge will be completed next year that includes an undercrossing of Middlefield Way and an overcrossing of Hwy. 101. Rather than searching for grants, Mountain View is building the project with funds from the Shoreline improvement district, which funnels property taxes from the neighborhood's many high-tech firms, including Google, into a fund that has been used for years to make improvements at Shoreline Park and other areas north of the freeway.

A Palo Alto bridge will support the city's commitment to cycling in the Comprehensive Plan and its new Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, a major focus of Mayor Sid Espinosa this year. Both plans call for a year-round crossing of 101, so pedestrians and cyclists do not have to rely on the Adobe Creek underpass, which is prone to flooding and typically closed during winter months.

There are plenty of reasons for the city to move ahead with the overcrossing. A new bridge would serve nearly a quarter million cyclists who cross Hwy. 101 every year, with more than 150,000 using the Adobe Creek trail. Given the increasing interest in bike-commuting and the growing number of jobs east of the freeway it is likely that even more Palo Alto residents will be able to leave their vehicles at home and commute by bicycle.

PULL quote:

'That structure is going to be how a lot of people see Palo Alto.'

-- Palo Alto City Councilwoman Karen Holman

The project manager said a bridge elevated 20 feet over 101 would provide spectacular views and could become a landmark for Palo Alto.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 2, 2011 at 10:55 am

Yes, indeed!! This bike bridge should give access to a wonderful view of Palo Alto's proposed 'tourist attraction', a compost-sewer sludge burning factory complete with smoke vents and in and out traffic on ten acres of Baylands parkland. And how may people will use this? A small percentage of the residents. There is a huge backlog of infrastructure falling apart - including our streets. This bridge and California Avenue should be waaay down on the list.

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 2, 2011 at 11:04 am

Naturally since this involves "biking", the council is falling all over themselves to support tis proposal (yes, we know cars are evil and drivers must be prevented from driving in Palo Alto--but we still want the revenue from shoppers, tourists etc). As Bob, above and other posters on a different thread have mentioned, do we know how many people will actually use this bridge. Also the cost--$9 million is a bit steep. As for Holman's quote--it still sounds as ridiculous today as it did when she made it. Perhaps Holman should gush over more important issues facing our city. as for the idea of a design contest--really, do we want to go there?
Finally as I have stated before, people will never identify Palo Alto from a bridge over 101--it will be identified as the city where Stanford is located--and thank goodness for that, otherwise Palo Alto would be Gary, Indiana.

Posted by use San Antonio Road, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2011 at 11:24 am

The city should just make the San Antonio Road bridge over Hwy 101 bicycle and pedestrian only. That is a cheap way to solve the problem. Cars can use Rengstorff instead, which is just a minute away at freeway speeds.

And if we want to save even more money, cancel those extremely wasteful new lanes that are being build on Hwy 101. $100 million or our tax money for just a couple of miles? Whose idea was that? A new pedestrian bridge is a trivial amount of money compared to how much we spend on car-only projects.

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 2, 2011 at 11:32 am

I am not sure, use San Antonio Road, if you are serious about your suggestion. But, either way, it is ridiculous. Besides the fact that Mountain View may not be too crazy about your plan.

"A new pedestrian bridge is a trivial amount of money compared to how much we spend on car-only projects."
We spend money on "car-only" projects because this area is dependent on auto traffic. Those are the facts. Some people may be able to make do using a bike everyday, but for most people and businesses that is not a feasible plan.

Palo Alto has, for years, been trying to narrow down main arteries to one lane in each direction with the hope that all the traffic would just disappear.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

When bikers tax themselves for bike improvements, THEN talk about them. Cars pay their way.

Posted by Mark A, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 2, 2011 at 8:09 pm

No, Walter, cars don't pay their way. Not even close. Most road and hiway project funding comes from income,sales,and property tax revenue streams. And everyone pays that. Please reconsider your prejudice. Cyclists are a part of the community too, and deserving of some small considerations. Some people even cycle because it is the only reasonable way they can get around. And of course more cycles means less cars which means less wear and tear on the roads and less traffic overall. You might even benefit.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2011 at 4:45 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Mark, you are so wrong. The gas tax fund is continually plundered for Toonerville Trolley schemes and, yes, for bike facilities. If bikes are a serious transit answer, then it is long past time for them to pay their way. And along the way they might even try stopping at signals and signs just for the novelty. As a matter of fact, we might even reclassify bikes as pedestrians and put them back on the sidewalks where they really belong.

Posted by Actually, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2011 at 9:11 am


I get that you don't think of bikes as a serious form of transportation, but Mark is right, the gas tax is not high enough just to cover the cost of car infrastructure. What you say is also true that the tax that does not even cover cars needs has in the past been misdirected to the general fund. Since many bike riders get to work on a bike as their only means of transportation. Not everyone is rich and privileged like most PA citizens, some people struggle and can't afford a car. I see them every day riding their bikes to work across 101 to get to work. Like cars, bikes can be used for transportation to get to jobs, buy groceries and other actives that increase the tax base. While it is true that cars dominant the landscape, bikes are also there and deserve their share of the pie.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2011 at 9:33 am

I actually agree with both sets of comments about taxing bikes.

Yes, bikes have a lot of benefits, both to the individual who rides them and also to the community as a whole.

I also think that bikes deserve to have a much better infrastructure as a whole, designated bike lanes, designated traffic signals, better upkeep of bike paths, better bicycle parking and signage would be the place to start. All this does cost money and a dedicated source of funding for these would seem to be necessary.

I feel that a one time tax of say $25 at the time and point of purchase, similar to the tax paid on new tvs, would be the way to go. This tax would be on all bicycles, with perhaps the exception of plastic toddler tricycles, and could also include skate boards, rollerblades, scooters, etc. This would provide funding for upgrades of infrastructure. But, it would have to be statewide rather than just Palo Alto.

But then again, I think that transportation of all kinds should be a statewide and regional issue rather than a city by city issue.

Posted by Money waster, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2011 at 11:33 am

A far better use for that kind of money would be to install grade separation at Charleston and the railroad tracks, it would benefit many more residents of Palo Alto.

Wasting that kind of money on a bike/pedestrian bridge for the few is Jaime Rodriguez doing what Council hired him to do, waste money on bike/pedestrian paths. Expect to see many more lane reductions and bicycle paths created all over town.

This one is a done deal!!!

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Amen, money waster. Make urban grade crossings illegal.

Posted by Actually, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Grade separation, now there is a waste of money.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 6:21 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Actually, how so?

Posted by South PA Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2011 at 10:40 am

Maybe you guys haven't noticed but all the grade separations at the railroad tracks are in north Palo Alto; we need at least one in south Palo Alto.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Overhead with Charleston and then close Meadow and Churchill. Make Embarcadero two lane Westbound in AM, two lane Eastbound in PM. Close the North crossing.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Where is Middlefield Way in Mountain View ... are they talking about Old Middlefield, which is listed as Old Middlefield Way on Google Maps?

And where is this undercrossing going to be?

Posted by Actually, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2011 at 2:16 pm

It's at the end of old middle field at the freeway entrance. The under crossing is close to done.

Posted by OY!, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Show me the money! How and where did Palo Alto get hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a freeway overpass while running a $4 million deficit? Where will Santa Clara County come up with $6 to $9 to build a freeway overpass while running a $240+ million deficit? The Weekly suggests some mysterious reserve fund that Stanford appropiated the county for public benefit. Too bad the county used this "reserve" fund to fix the deficit at $240 million. The skyrocketing and ballooning deficit spending by ignorant public officials to fund pet projects at taxpayer expense is a ticking time bomb and is unsustainable.

Posted by peanuts, a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm

The real boondoggle is those $100 million freeway ramps that they are building along Hwy 101 right now. Think about how better our schools could be with that kind of money.

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