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Palo Alto narrows focus in quest for wider sidewalks

Original post made on Jul 29, 2014

After seeing their prior effort to encourage wider sidewalks fizzle in June, Palo Alto officials are now narrowing their ambitions and pursuing a less dramatic change to the city's zoning rules.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 9:43 AM

Comments (14)

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Posted by Question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2014 at 10:15 am

Remind me again how 12 to 15 foot setback but zero setback on upper floors made sense?


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Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 29, 2014 at 11:22 am

It provides a covered overhang for pedestrians in bad weather - shade from the sun and shelter from the rain - while still allowing room to walk on the sidewalk. Five foot wide sidewalks do not allow couples to pass each other, or wheelchairs, or strollers. Eight foot sidewalks allow for that if left clear, so that extra space is needed for street trees or street furniture - benches, trash cans, newspaper racks, etc. Thus, the desire for 12 ft sidewalks. If the obstructions were staggered, 10 feet would work, too.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 29, 2014 at 11:51 am

How about just bigger setbacks? Seems way simpler but I guess the developers wouldn't like that and someone would lose the cement contract.


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Posted by Denny
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 29, 2014 at 12:38 pm

An example of what is possible is the design of the new building at University and Cowper, where the building was pulled back on all four sides to provide more public walkway and plaza areas.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jul 29, 2014 at 4:09 pm

5 feet? Some sidewalks are so overgrown with vegetation that there's only 2 feet of walkable space. Who do I contact to get that fixed?


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Posted by M Robert
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 29, 2014 at 4:31 pm

So what happened to the enforcement of the sidewalks on University Ave. Tables have encroached on the public right of way so there is only a foot or two of walking space. Is the city at least getting rent for the use of this space?


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Posted by midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I totally support the wider sidewalks initiative. On El Camino, the setbacks desperately need to be increased to avoid it turning into a tunnel. However, with the existing sidewalks, first thing to improve pedestrian access and comfort is to start handing out tickets for cars parked on the sidewalk. I sometimes see the sidewalk reduced to half due to bad parking.


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 30, 2014 at 4:01 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

I see no issue with a building overhanging some of the WIDER sidewalk as long as:
1) the sidewalk is not cluttered with business displays/tables/news racks. It is to be for WALKING.
2) the lowest part of the overhang provides at least 12feet of ground clearance to prevent truck-building damage.

Having a weather sheltered walking area seems like a Plus to me.


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Posted by Question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2014 at 5:13 pm

12 - 15 feet overhang is pretty substantial and would do some weird things to the architectural choices.

With all the overbuilding around here, blotting out the sun is not a reason to make a code to essentially require overbuilding.


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Posted by Mitch
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 31, 2014 at 11:49 am

No one is suggesting 12-15 feet of overhang. Too often people have absolutely no idea what the actual issues being considered allow or restrict. And frankly, the tables that stick out slightly on university don't bother me. Its dining outdoors. It's beautiful.

No one is walking down El Camino these days. This initiative is a small piece in the plan to make it more pedestrian friendly. And its not a developer preference that the setbacks not be increased, its an owner preference. A local business owner preference. The assumption that some developer will not make as much money and that's why people oppose it is ridiculous. People oppose change. That's it. They oppose change. When was the last time you tried a different toothpaste? What makes anyone think this community is ready to accept a walkable pedestrian friendly El Camino? Nothing really. Stop holding this city's future hostage. The next generation doesn't have a phobia about change.


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Posted by Question
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:32 pm

@Mitch,
I was talking about the previous suggested revision: "The ordinance would have required sidewalk widths of 12 to 18 feet, depending on context, and would have allowed upper floors to be placed at zero setback as long as the ground floor provided pedestrians ample space to walk.

Zero setback for any floor is still a looming wall. I'm guessing it was a compromise to make the sidewalk setback palatable.

When did this ordinance requiring people to build up to El Camino in a wall come about anyway, and what is the historical context? It seems like if it hasn't been around for very long, businesses have very little to complain about if we tried it and it's creating an overdevelopment frenzy that is ruining our town. These businesses aren't going to do very well if no one wants to drive through our jammed up urban tunnelways that we create with such ridiculous rules.

So having varied setbacks is now "broken teeth"? I'll have to use that one when I remodel my house...


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Posted by howlong
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 31, 2014 at 5:59 pm

how long before this thread is closed to all but registered users.
do not support pa online censorship
this is not a game


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Posted by safety first
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Wider sidewalks will allow pedestrians to walk farther away from potentially sidewalk-jumping cars. It will also give the city more space to install barriers (trees, planters, walls, etc.) between the street and the sidewalk to help keep cars where they belong. In light of today's "accident", these are very real issues that have to be considered.


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Posted by Question.
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 4, 2014 at 8:01 am

Additionally, wider sidewalks also be navigable for people of all abilities, especially as technology advances for transportation and energy. A too built up environment is not only unpleasant and less safe, it will limit our options to be a real city of the future.

At the least, it will spare us the giant lawsuit we face for shutting the disabled out of the prosperity of Silicon Valley in a fake quest for affordable housing (witness the City's pressure to put in Maybell which was majority a market rate development - ironically totally inaccessible to the disabled across from a school for the disabled - while doing next to nothing for BV).

Putting safety first has other benefits.


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