Just two years ago, Palo Alto's proposed bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 was a pipe dream, one of the most expensive components of the city's new master plan for bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
Now, with a generous influx of grant funds bringing the $10 million project to the brink of reality, city officials are delving into the details and preparing to open up the design process to a wide spectrum of architects.
On Monday night the City Council voted 7-0, with Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman absent, to hold a design competition for the new bike bridge, which would be located at Adobe Creek and span Highway 101 between south Palo Alto and the Baylands. Once built, the bridge would replace an existing undercrossing that is typically closed for six months every year because of flooding.
The project, which is seen as a critical east-west connection in the city's rapidly evolving bike network, received a jolt of momentum in November, when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a $4 million grant for the bridge as part of a broad package of improvements lobbied for by the city and Stanford University. Earlier this month, the city received another $4 million for the bike bridge, this time through the One Bay Area Grant program administered by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
Another $1 million for design work could come from the funds allocated to the city by Stanford University Medical Center as part of a development agreement that allowed Stanford to greatly expand its hospital facilities, according to a new report from the Public Works Department.
The "invited design competition" will be managed in part by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and staff will work with AIA on design criteria and solicit proposals from about 20 local, regional and national architecture firms. A jury will then select three or four for interviews and invite the finalists to submit designs sometime in early 2014.
Their designs will then be reviewed by the city's Architectural Review Board and Planning and Transportation Commission before the council makes a decision on a design contract in spring 2014.
If all goes according to the plan, construction will begin in fall 2015.
"Given the wide range of bridge options and configurations, the possibility of a bridge design competition provides a venue to vet many designs simultaneously in the least amount of time and funding," the new report states.
Several members of the city's Architectural Review Board expressed enthusiasm for a competition during a February meeting, with board member Randy Popp saying there are "only things to be gained from it and nothing to be lost." His colleague, Lee Lippert, called a competition an "incredibly good idea," and board Chair Clare Malone Prichard encouraged an "inclusive" process for designing the bridge.