Palo Alto ponders design of new bike bridge | December 14, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 14, 2012

Palo Alto ponders design of new bike bridge

After securing major grant, city hopes to build new U.S. Highway 101 overpass by 2017

by Gennady Sheyner

Emboldened by a $4 million grant and a freshly completed master plan, Palo Alto is rolling ahead with design work on a new bike bridge that would span U.S. Highway 101 and give residents in the south end of the city a year-round connection to the baylands.

The project, which has an estimated price tag of up to $10 million, is one of the most conspicuous and expensive components of the city's newly adopted Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan. Currently, residents in the southern part of the city rely on an underpass at Adobe Creek to cross the highway. The underpass is typically open for about six months a year and is subject to unexpected closures, as with the recent construction of lanes on 101.

The proposed overpass at Adobe Creek has won the support of the entire City Council as well as many in the bike and environmental communities. It gained a burst of momentum last month, when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a $4 million grant for the project. In the next year, the city plans to conduct an environmental analysis for the new structure and launch a design competition for the bridge.

But first, the city wants to hash out the bridge's basic alignment. That was the topic the Planning and Transportation Commission grappled with Wednesday night, when it considered a menu of design options involving curvy ramps of varying lengths, shapes and locations. The option recommended by the project consultant, Alta Planning + Design, has the bridge stretching from West Bayshore Road to East Bayshore Road and then taking a turn on the east side into a corner of the baylands, just north of Adobe Creek. Other alternatives include a design that drops off users just east of East Bayshore and one that brings them to a site just north of the baylands, largely avoiding the nature preserve.

In advocating for his preferred choice, Casey Hildreth, a consultant with Alta, said the goal is to come up with a bridge that is "not seen as an intrusion into the baylands" but rather allows the baylands to be "extended over the highway and into the city." Other options would involve more turns and would require users to reverse course if they wish to reach the baylands, factors that staff and consultants believe would make the structure more appealing.

The commission did not vote on the project Wednesday, but members offered some thoughts and added one new design to the buffet of options already on the table. Commissioner Arthur Keller advocated considering a new option that would cross the highway and then, rather than swerving north toward the staff-recommended area near East Bayshore, proceed on a relatively straight eastward path toward the baylands trails.

Commissioner Michael Alcheck called Keller's concept a good one. He also, however, encouraged staff to pursue alternatives that "don't tread too deep into the baylands."

"I think we should be careful about our impacts on the baylands," Alcheck said. "It's not just a matter of where the bridge ends up. It's the actual construction."

Commission Chair Eduardo Martinez also had words of praise for Keller's proposed design, with its relatively simple and straight alignment. Such an approach, Martinez said, would make the structure look more cohesive.

"What makes an elegant bridge is the continuity of the structure," Martinez said, citing Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge as examples.

"In the Keller alternative, they're continuous and gentle and really lend support to the idea that it's one structure and not a fragmented structure."

Martinez, an architect, was less enthusiastic about the prospect of an architectural design competition to determine the bridge's ultimate appearance. Given the fact that so many of the conditions of the project, including the ramp alignments, are predetermined, a competition wouldn't be too important, Martinez said.

"If the city engages a good bridge designer like T.Y. Lin, that does things of this nature, through the design process we'll end up with a bridge that can be quite beautiful, quite functional and quite manageable within the cost structures," he said.

Commissioner Greg Tanaka took the opposite stance and cited the bridge's prominence as a good reason for a design competition.

"I think this bridge will be a showpiece for Palo Alto. Kind of like a gateway," Tanaka said. "I like the idea of a design contest."

Even with the ongoing work and growing enthusiasm, the project is still far from a done deal. The city has committed $1 million of its own funds as a condition for the $4 million county grant. But even so, it still needs to find the rest of the funds for the project, which would cost somewhere from $6 million to $10 million.

The city's new bike plan identifies the bridge at Adobe Creek as its top-ranked "Across the Barrier Connection." Hildreth cited a recent feasibility study that projected that the new bridge would dramatically increase the number of annual trips at the crossing, raising it from the current estimated level of 43,000 to about 74,000. To accommodate the future demand, the city is also planning to improve the bike corridors on Fabian Way and Charleston Road, he said.

The goal, Hildreth said, is to complete the draft environmental analysis next spring, to begin construction in late 2015 and to complete it within two years.

"Ideally, by beginning of 2017, this would be a fully functional, 365 access over the highway," Hildreth said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Commuter
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm

The old Adobe Creek path has been closed all year and residents are using the dangerous San Antonio Road overpass instead. Build whatever can be finished soonest. Looks are a minor factor. A fancy bridge over an ugly highway is still going to be ugly, and noisy and smelly, because of the cars underneath.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2012 at 3:31 am

In support of a design contest but would like this completed asap. There should also be an extension to Alma. If we don't do it now, it will never happen.

Like this comment
Posted by Communter
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2012 at 5:51 am

The new bike bridge over 101 at Ralston in Belmont is very nice. Not too fancy, but not a concrete blank stare either. No point in rushing into an ugly design in order to get it built a few months sooner since we're all going to be looking at it for decades to come.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2012 at 7:19 am

If a prettier design only takes another month, then go ahead. Don't delay a full year or more for it, though. That new pedestrian bridge new Rengstorff in Mountain View supposedly cost cost well under $10 million and it doesn't look too bad.

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Posted by fault
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2012 at 8:35 am

You got 4 million and you want the residence to pay for the rest! No wonder your budget is out of control. I bet your project will be over 10 millions by the time it's over. The city manager is in hiding these days???

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 13, 2012 at 9:35 am

Here is a link to the staff report from last night's meeting. It shows some graphics of the designs. I hope the link works.

Web Link

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Posted by Actual User
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2012 at 10:30 am

Can we just build the thing quickly and get it over with? I think there are more people that really need to use this bridge than people who are going to complain about its looks. If you build it, they will come.

Like this comment
Posted by Bridges are for transport
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2012 at 11:14 am

What makes a good bridge is how it safely and conveniently it connects people from one place to another. How safely and conveniently does it connect south PA bicyclists and pedestrians from the street and/or sidewalk to the bay trails they want to use? Our present connections are just awful. The San Antonio overpass is dirty, loud, windy, unsafe, downright scary for families with its fast-moving, trucks and cars barreling towardthe 101. The overpass provides no place for bikes. This is unacceptable.

Please get it done as quickly as possible, minimize cost and impact on baylands. We do not want an iconic structure. We NEED a functional bike/ped bridge. We have needed it for years. It would be helpful to see a rendering of what Commissioner Keller has proposed. I find it difficult to evaluate his proposal from what I have read here.

PTC members, this is about a critical TRANSPORTATION connection. I see little evidence in this discussion that you have ridden the Lefkowitz Tunnel and/or San Antonio overpass and related bay trails. from south PA. Please do so. It will inform your understanding of how bicyclists coming from Charleston, Bayshore, East Meadow, Fabian...and more broadly south and west quadrants of Palo Alto (where I live and commute from) will use it. We need this VERY badly.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2012 at 11:37 am

What strikes me as noteworthy is that this bridge does not need to cost Palo Alto a lot more money than the $4m grant. We should try and see if Google or any of the other businesses are willing to contribute to the cost of this bridge as it is very likely their employees who will be using the bridge more than anyone else on a regular basis.

A pleasing design is one thing, but it will hardly be a gateway to Palo Alto as it is mainly Palo Altans who will be using it. The bridge should be practical more than anything else, and not an expensive piece of artwork. Look at the bottom line for once, Palo Alto.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2012 at 11:39 am

Given how much Google offshored into tax shelters, they can cough up the bucks for it. Or ask Marky Mark & his funky bunch at Facebook. Time for corporate welfare recipients to give back to the community!

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Posted by John Galt
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 13, 2012 at 11:53 am

"Dangerous San Antonio Road overpass" ????
Have YOU ever used it? There is a sidewalk all the way across! I have biked and walked it HUNDREDS of times over the last 40 years and seem to have survived the death dealing overpass. Gimme a break! We don't need to spend 2-6 million dollars for the Liz Kniss Commerative bridge!
Get a grip!

Like this comment
Posted by Lets be Real here
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2012 at 12:07 pm

If the City has already promised one million to go witht he four million that should be it. If we can't build a bike bridge for five million dollars what a joke. We dont have any money to spend so lets no spend any more than we have to in order to accomplish this.

It's a freakin bike birgde not art!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Another project without a source for the over $6 million to complete it, but the City continues to spend taxpayers' money to build it. I guess all it takes is for 40 or 50 bicyclists to lean heavily on the Council and City Manager, and the sky's the limit. I wonder how many council members will contribute to its cost?

An estimate was made that >70,000 people would use it each year. For 365 days that is about 80 plus round trips per day. With 62,000 residents that is a very expensive bridge for a few users. (I do recognize that it might be used more heavily on a weekend, but the principle's the same.)

Was this in the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission report? Not that I know of. So the back log grows, maintenance and upkeep of another structure adds to our budget, and no money identified to cover the additional cost. What a way to run a business.

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Posted by Scott McMahon
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm

The new bridge at over 101 near Ralston Ave in Belmont is curvy and beautiful, but it's a rotten bike bridge. The pathway is narrow and the curves make it dangerous at more than 5 mph, which is deadly slow coming down from it's high arched peak.

A pretty bridge is OK by me, but please talk to some serious bike riders and take a ride over the Belmont bridge to see what's wrong with it before finalizing the design. Let's don't lose sight of what the bridge is for. As Wright's motto goes, "Form follows Function."

Like this comment
Posted by Nick Baldo
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Whatever you do, please don't choose something that adds a bunch of unnecessary curls and turns for aesthetic reasons. Those of us trying to get somewhere appreciate a relatively direct path. Kudos to the city for making this happen!

Like this comment
Posted by Horselady
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

A safe crossing is needed, period, and it should be done ASAP for the safety of the pedestrian and bicycling public.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Bicycles and pedestrians should have separate bridges, or we'll end up requiring cyclists to walk their bikes again like the Cal Ave underpass or Oregon/101 bridge. What is the proposed bike speed limit on this new bridge when pedestrians are present?

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Posted by Nick
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Come on,PAOnline, esp when it's a visual design thing like this, put in the visuals, design , plans, drawings, whatever they're showing on these so far.

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Biker
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I am all in favor of improving roads for bikers, but I wish there was some way to get office buildings to treat us better at the end of the commute! The building manager at Four Seasons office complex seems determined to make sure bicycles are treated as third class citizens next to cars.

How can we encourage more bicycle commuting if the road ends in a locked garage?

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Posted by Horselady
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Do bicycles really need a speed limit? Unless they are foolishly coasting freely downhill, of course.

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Posted by RogueTrader
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Dave's post a few messages earlier estimates that, on average, less than 100 users would bike per day. With 62,000 residents, that means less than 1 in 600 Palo Alto residents would use this bridge.

We're going to be paying 6 million dollars for something that only a very few will use. Unbelievable.

Like this comment
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm

When comes to projects big or small, this city is drooling all over the plate. It doesn't require a logic!

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Posted by Ron
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Is this Liz Kniss' legacy to herself?

Like this comment
Posted by Lance
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2012 at 4:21 am

I know there's overhead and things are tight, and that PA wants to do the best, but I've been commuting for years from PA through the Baylands, waiting and waiting for improvement - only to see us (at least those of us in South PA) fall behind most other progressive cities.

They Baylands themselves, and the business reachable through the Baylands (especially with Moffet opening up it's trails), offers PA a nice opportunity to enrich the lifestyle of its residents.

It doesn't have to cost that much, doesn't even need to be grand, I don't even care if it's dirt - just a reasonably close pass. The underpass was fine most of the time (except after a heavy rain) - still doesn't make sense to me why we didn't just keep that open.

The San Antonio overpass is not fine - not suitable for kids, or anyone, without Frogger-like reflexes willing to play timing games with the cars exiting 101 at high speeds, or face battle with big-rig trucks drifting towards your narrow sidewalk pinched against the guardrail.

If PA insits on replacing the underpass with an overpass, do it like MV just did to the south - it is more than sufficient, constructed in a more challenging space, and it didn't take nearly that long.

And if it's really not going to be done until 2017, then let us just use the underpass again!

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