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Bike overpass is not a priority

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Nov 14, 2006

The Palo Alto City Council unanimously agreed to support the philosophical concept of additional bike and pedestrian bridges across Highway 101, calling it a priority for this city.


What about improving our libraries? What about repairing our streets? What about the $200 million we are behind in infrastructure repairs in our city? What about a new police station? What about our $83 million debt on unfunded medical benefits to retirees? What about our need for more retail in Palo Alto? What about our two decaying neighborhood shopping centers – Alma Plaza and Edgewood?

To me, those are our priorities in town, not another pedestrian/bike crossing for 101. We already have an overpass just north of Oregon Expressway, and we have a bike tunnel at Adobe Creek that is open half the year.

Maybe it’s time to prioritize our priorities.

The idea of a pedestrian/bike overpass came from a colleagues’ memo written by Councilmembers Yoriko Kishimoto and Dena Mossar; both are big biking advocates. Kishimoto said she has biked over Embarcadero Road at times, which she knows is dangerous, but she was in a hurry. However, she could have biked over to the existing bike overpass near Oregon Expressway, which just a few blocks away.

Mossar said it would be more “convenient” for commuters from East Palo Alto if there were a bike overpass at Embarcadero, and Councilmember Peter Drekmeier said San Antonio Road could also use one.

Both Kishimoto and Mossar were big advocates for what started out as a less than $2 million but ended up being a $5 million-plus bike tunnel at Homer Avenue and Alma Street. Transportation Chief Joe Kott told us at the time that hundreds would use it daily. I’ve observed tunnel usage, and there’s only a couple people an hour.

As Councilmember Jack Morton suggested, the existing tunnel at Adobe Creek could have signs posted notifying when it is open – when the danger of flooding has subsided. I would guess it could be open at least eight months a year.

The council was told that the Santa Clara Valley Water District is considering the creation of an underpass at Matadero Creek, which would require an initial $100,000 from Palo Alto for a feasibility study. While the cost of a bike/pedestrian overpass – or two – was not mentioned, we do know that the city’s share of a study would be $100,000. One can easily speculate that a walkway over or under 101 would cost millions of dollars. And even if the state or someone else pays for it, it's still our tax dollars being spent.

Monday night’s unanimous vote did not involve any money. It simply was philosophical approval of the concept of additional bike pathways over 101. That’s the redeeming part about that vote. Maybe in hindsight the council will realize that we have a lot more important priorities in town that need their time and attention — and our money.

Comments (13)

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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2006 at 12:34 pm

Gotta disagree Diana. If the existing bridge and creek underpass were improved, the Baylands would open up to many residents that, if they do use the area now, drive a car. Remember too that the Baylands aren't limited to Palo Alto. Mountain View has an extensive trail system around Shoreline Park that connects to Palo Alto's trails and extends to the Stevens Creek trail system.

On top of that, all three trail systems are used by daily bike commuters to get to and from work. I used them for five years when I worked in Sunnyvale. I saved money on gas, saved my company money on a parking place, didn't add to the daily 101 mess (I passed untold numbers of crawling cars every day) and got a great workout twice a day.

Of the three systems, Palo Alto's came in third is usability and upkeep. Any improvements will be a win/win for recreation users and bike commuters.

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Posted by Jake
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 14, 2006 at 4:11 pm

Gotta agree With diana. More pressing issues. Like building up our sales tax base, taking care of the city's infrastructures. The bike bridge is a low priority.

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Posted by ToldUSo
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2006 at 4:25 pm

Gotta agree with Diana. In an ideal world of PA, yes a bike bridge improvement or two would be nice. But it comes down to $$$$$. If we could get some more sales tax dollars, then we might have the $$$$$ to do this sort of thing. Instead, we have no money and all the problems Diana states which do need sorting out before a bridge or tunnel. I expect most of the cyclists who use the bridge and tunnel we already have bought their bikes outside PA (although I grant you we do have some excellent bike shops in Palo Alto so I may be wrong on this one).

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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2006 at 11:18 pm

Although the homer tunnel did cost 5 million, it did not cost Palo Alto 5 million, part of it was paid for by a grant.

The tunnel usage I've witnessed is much higher than your representation.

So now where does the funding come from for the 101 bridge, 100% from Palo Alto, then I'm with you, I'd rather have some pot holes filled.

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Posted by Boris Foelsch
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 15, 2006 at 10:37 am

This is not inconflict with other city priorities. We have a lot of residents that work at Google and other companies that are really easy to bike to, if only you could cross the freeway safely.

Open space costs a lot of money. Mossar and Kishimoto are smart enough to realize that the hundreds of new residents being added in new developments in that part of Palo Alto are not coming with any additional open space. In addition, people living a mile or so from the Oregon overpass are effectively cut off from the Baylands for half of the year, unless they get in a car. I avoid biking via Oregon or San Antonio with my kids. From our neighborhood, you have to cross the Oregon, make a very dangerous, blind right turn onto the Oregon frontage with no bike lane or shoulder and then have to cross East Bayshore on the other side. Not a picnic.

When it's open, I bike that underpass about ten times a week and it connects me to the Steven Creek trail via Mt View Shoreline trails, which takes me almost all the way to Sunnyvale. I'm keeping my car off the street and a fair amount of carbon out of the air by not driving and that is also in line with city priorities.

That underpass is big plus, when it's open. Safe accessible ways to connect to existing open space are smart and can be cost effective.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2006 at 1:31 pm

I'm confused about the bike/ped bridge over 101 on Embarcadero.
It seems that it is now illegal to use it?! Since when?
Years ago I used it and found it difficult, as it's steep, but safe.
What happenend to it - anyone know? I'm not acquainted with the one over Oregon Expressway or do I have the two confused??!

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Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 15, 2006 at 3:08 pm

"I'm confused about the bike/ped bridge over 101 on Embarcadero."

Its still there, its actually closer to Oregon than Embarcadero, the 2 streets are very close to each other near 101 though. Its how I get to the Baylands when I ride my bike there.

Dont know why there would need to be another at the North end of town. One further south around San Antonio would make more sense if a bridge were to be added.

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Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2006 at 7:43 pm

The Palo Alto Municipal Code prohibits riding a bike on Embarcadero Road over the overpass used by cars. It is questionable whether the City has the authority to make a prohibition of this sort, since the California Vehicle Code applies and cannot be superceded by local authorities on this matter. The bike/ped overpass is very old and does not meet current standards. It is too narrow for 2-way traffic and too steep for wheelchair users. The baffles are too tight for tandems and trailers to get through without difficulty.

When the Palo Alto Bicycle Plan was being developed a few years ago the public was surveyed about their desires. A better year-round connection to the Baylands was very high on the list. Of course this is of no consequence to Diana Diamond, who has no conception of what it is like to travel around by bike.

East Palo Alto blew it when they re-designed the Universtity overpass. They got an earful from Palo Alto and Menlo Park on the subject, but they ignored it all and did what they wanted anyway, and it is not a pleasant crossing for bicyclists.

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Posted by Bob Gardiner
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2006 at 10:27 pm

Making the crossing of the railroad tracks/alma at east meadow and charleston should be much higher priority than access to baylands.

How many kids have to cross the tracks on their way to school?
What is more important, making it easier for people to take a leasurely ride over to baylands? or making it safer for kids to get to school?

Seems pretty clear to me.

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Posted by Alan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 15, 2006 at 11:35 pm

>What is more important, making it easier for people to take a leasurely >ride over to baylands? or making it safer for kids to get to school?

First, we would love it if they built a bridge across 101 to get to the baylands and support that fully. Connecting the Foothill corridor popular with weekend bicyclists with the Baylands along Charleston Rd could make a great weekend trip.

I do agree that getting kids to school safely should be higher priority though. If we could to build just one bike bridge I'd choose a bike bridge across El Camino near Charleston Rd/East Meadow ahead of the train tracks. Such a brige would allowd kids in the JLS area to bike safely to Gunn or Terman.

I bike across the railroad tracks at Charleston all the time and don't find it that dangerous. The cars and constricted bike path at El Camino is much more dangerous, and I currently consider it a "no go" area for our middle school aged child who currently bikes to JLS every day. When he goes to Gunn in 3 years, I'm very concerned about crossing El Camino safely on a bike.

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Posted by JLS/Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2006 at 8:57 am

I too am concerned about kids crossing the railroad tracks. I know that there is a crossing guard at Meadow/Alma, but I would like to see two there, one for the roads (which takes a lot of concentration for a crossing guard (or lollipop guard as they are known elsewhere)) and one specially designated for watching them cross the tracks. I know the police are often watching the one at Churchill, but they are more likely watching for traffic violaters rather than anything else. And what is the use of the no straight ahead sign between 7.30 and 8.00 on Churchill when school doesn't start til well after 8.00 on Wednesdays and Thursdays??

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Posted by John Barton, Palo Alto City Council
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 16, 2006 at 11:57 am

I agree with Diana Diamond that new bike and pedestrian bridges across 101 are not a top priority. Further my colleagues and I did not vote for new bridges. What we voted for was to include bike and pedestrian access to the baylands into conversations on related issues. For example CalTrans is going to rebuild the San Antono overpass and the San Francisquito Creek JPA is looking at flood control measures. Our vote asks staff to talk to those agencies about how access across 101 could be acheived in parallel. This approach has minimal costs and will perhaps provide imuch improved access.

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Posted by Anne H
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2006 at 11:09 am

Another voice for making the crossings at E. Meadow and Charleston safer for pedestrians and cyclists before improving access to the Baylands, as desirable as that may be.

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

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