Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 27, 2012

City eyes new trails between Baylands, foothills

Palo Alto hopes to create a regional trail network to link local open-space preserves

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto is flanked by pristine landscapes, from the sprawling Baylands in the east to the rolling foothills in the west, but connecting these popular destinations with trails has been a challenge for the densely developed city split by a major highway, two busy traffic arteries and a set of railroad tracks.

Now, however, the city is looking to create two cross-city trails to provide nature lovers from throughout the region easy access between the various open-space reserves. On Tuesday night, the Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed a staff proposal to plan for one path that would take travelers along Fabian Way, Charleston Road and Arastradero Road and another one that would follow Matadero Creek.

The city already has a Bay-to-Ridge Trail, but it is largely conceptual, steering nature lovers along California Avenue through the center of Palo Alto without the benefit of directional signs. Greg Betts, the city's director of community services, wrote in a new report that the "urban trail" is "only depicted on website and printed trail maps."

This route was, however, bolstered by Stanford University's recent completion of a trail route near Deer Creek and Page Mill roads that leads to the Interstate 280 underpass at Arastradero.

The two new paths, to the south of the existing Bay-to-Ridge Trail, would complement another major project the city is pursuing — the construction of a bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek to improve east-west connectivity in south Palo Alto. Officials hope that by integrating the 101 project into the broader Bay-to-Ridge effort, the city would have a better chance to acquire grant funding for the new bridge.

Betts said Tuesday that the purpose of a Bay-to-Ridge trail is to connect as many parks and open spaces as possible and to make it easier for residents of Palo Alto and surrounding cities, particularly Los Altos and Mountain View, to walk or bicycle from one nature preserve to another. He called urban trails a "regional concept" that seeks to attract as many users as possible to local nature preserves.

"If you're hiking the 13-mile track up the hill, you'll have a place to stop in parks to refresh yourself at restrooms or drinking fountains," Betts told the commission.

A southern 13-mile trail would seek the "most central and direct route" between the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Center at the edge of the San Francisco Bay and the Daniels Nature Center on Skyline Boulevard, Betts said.

"Along the way the trail route would pass as many urban parks as possible, would pass by the Arastradero Gateway Educational Center and Foothills Park Interpretive Center, and would provide safe routes away from busy streets and intersections, whenever possible," Betts wrote in his report.

The commission agreed with staff that creating a new urban trail in south Palo Alto is a great idea, though members had some reservations about the details of the proposed Fabian/Charleston/Arastradero route. Though Betts wrote in his report that this trail would take advantage of "existing safe on-street and off-street bike and pedestrian routes," Commissioners Deirdre Crommie and Jennifer Hetterley both argued that the Charleston-Fabian Way portion of the route is not attractive to recreational users. Crommie said this portion of the route is "too busy" for bicyclists and is more suited to work commuters than to nature lovers. Hetterley called Fabian Way "an unpleasant place to ride."

They both proposed an alternative route that would use Meadow Drive instead of Charleston Road and then Wilkie Way to get to Arastradero Road. The commission voted 6-0 to support the two proposed south Palo Alto urban trails, though it included in its approval Crommie's and Hetterley's suggestion to use Meadow Drive.

The creekside trail along Matadero is more tentative than the one pegged for Charleston. Betts noted that the Matadero trail "would take considerable planning and negotiation with the Santa Clara Valley Water District to construct." Major challenges include finding ways to cross Alma Street, the Caltrain tracks and El Camino Real, he wrote in his report.

"For the time being, and until grant funding for the 101 Overcrossing can be secured, this trail route would serve as a guide for long-range trail planning and construction," Betts wrote.

TALK ABOUT IT

Which of the three southern routes from bay to ridge do you favor and why? Share your opinion with others on Town Square, the online discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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