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By Jay Thorwaldson

About this blog: I was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly from June 2000 to January 2011, capping a more than 50-year career in journalism and writing since Los Gatos High School, where I was editor of the student newspaper and president of the speech...  (More)

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On Deadline: Will huge new bicycle plan generate enthusiasm or a revolution?

Uploaded: Aug 5, 2011
The single biggest "citizen revolt" in Palo Alto's history wasn't over growth rates, the baylands, crime, even traffic.
It was over bicycles.
Specifically, the resident revolt occurred when the City Council formally adopted a plan in late January 1972 that would have created a 66.6-mile bike-lane system with parking banned on both sides of the street for nearly two thirds of the lanes.
By late February council members were wildly backpedaling in the face of a burst of anger, outrage, protest and concern. They discovered a basic fact of urban life: Residents consider their on-street parking spaces as "mine!"
Most council members said they passed the initial plan just to stimulate citizen awareness and feedback.
Boy did they get it. As trial balloons go, the plan crashed and burned like the Hindenburg. It also signaled the end of "trial-balloon testing" of city projects.
The final 1972 plan was for 43 miles of bike lanes with parking banned on only about 13 miles and then only on one side of the street. That plan, hastily worked out by city Traffic Engineer Ted Noguchi, mollified residents and is essentially the system in Palo Alto today, with some additions and tweaks.
But the new plan (see story at www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=21945) goes much further than envisioned by even the most ambitious bike-lane visionaries of 1972, or even those who put forth a renewed proposal in 2003 to double the number of bike lanes throughout the city (being wary of parking spaces).
And costs have ballooned also.
The original 1972 project cost about $132,000, reduced from $172,000 by removal of a new bike underpass under the railroad tracks.
The 2003 plan was estimated at $37 million, about $20 million of which would go to construct four track undercrossings. It was a separate project from the bicycle corridors that were part of a "safe routes to school" program. (See column at www.paloaltoonline.com/weekly/morgue/2003/2003_05_28.ondead28bike.html)
There is no fixed cost estimate for the current plan. A cost-estimate appendix is laced with TBDs, for "to be determined."
But it's many millions of dollars, as indicated by a list of potential outside funding possibilities that exceeds $86 million. There also is no timeframe for implementing the plan, so in one sense there's no rush. Plenty of time for a bike ride or two.
But the clock is ticking for residents who want to have some input on the complex web of bike lanes, a new bike boulevard, undercrossings and traffic changes to accommodate bicyclists and perhaps encourage a doubling of bikers by 2020.
The City Council has set two months for citizen and business input, and some people are already voicing their opinions, some more stridently than others.
The draft plan is by Alta Planning & Design. It is available for download from the CityofPaloAlto.org website (if you can find it). It's called the "Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation Plan," or BPTP for short.
If and when it is implemented, it will affect virtually every neighborhood and business district in town. But protests years from now will be greeted with a response something like: "Well, that's been part of the plan the city adopted in 2011, and you should have protested then." Right.

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com.

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Posted by bicycles reduce traffic and congestion, a resident of ,
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:45 am

The city has too much car traffic right now. We can't build enough roads for all the cars without tearing down more houses or drastically increasing housing density. Even if we did want to build more roads, the cost would be astronomical. Bicycles use only 1/10 of the space of cars. More and better bike lanes is a real cheap way to improve transportation around the city. These projects are going to be spread out over many years (maybe 10 years of more), so the cost per year is very affordable.

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:52 am

Improve the shuttle, make it more comprehensive (particularly for kids) and charge a fair fare. That would greatly improve traffic flow around Palo Alto.

The best way to reduce traffic is to get parents to stop driving their kids around town by riding bikes or riding buses.

It's not the working commuters we want to stop driving, but the parents of kids.

Oh yes, and better shopping in Palo Alto would reduce the need to drive to nearby destinations too. That would also reduce traffic.

Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of ,
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:59 am

"The city has too much car traffic right now."
No, it does not. This is a completely false and unproven factoid that has been bandied about the city for years and given credence by the constant whining of a former councilmember on this matter. It is always trotted out when people want to oppose something--the issue of traffic is always brought up.
Palo Alto does not have a sound public transportation system and has discouraged businesses from setting up stores in Palo alto (because they will create "too much traffic"!!!!). In addition the population of PA almost doubles during the work day. These 3 factors increase the number of vehicles in the city, but we do not have traffic problems.
The "people should only bike and drivers are evil" coalition has had too much sway over decisions in the city regarding traffic. Time to stop whining about traffic and deal with the bigger problems that our city faces.

Posted by bicycles reduce traffic and congestion, a resident of ,
on Aug 5, 2011 at 11:38 am

Anyone else get the feeling that Mr. Thorwaldson's editorial is going to inspire anti-bicyclist road raging?

Posted by Kate, a resident of ,
on Aug 5, 2011 at 11:54 am

First things first. FIRST,fix the Embarcadero traffic nightmare at Town & Country, PALY, and El Camino. Make that underpass four lanes, two in each direction!!! And another thing. According to statistics, there will be an big upsurge in Palo Alto's over sixty population in coming years. And not everybody can do bicycles.

Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of ,
on Aug 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Kate brings up a good point, which points to one of the problems in the city--there is an almost never ending desire to narrow or hinder traffic on main arterial roads without any regard to the consequences. We are now in the midst of a "trial" on Arestadero. We have tried to narrow Middlefield and there was talk of reducing lanes on Embarcadero.
BTW, Kate, the bicycle zealots do not care that everybody can not bike--cars are evil and if Ellen Fletcher can still bike then everyone can.

Posted by bicycles reduce traffic and congestion, a resident of ,
on Aug 5, 2011 at 12:04 pm

No, not everyone is going to commute by bicycle, but everyone one that does is one less car on the road. Encouraging bicycling reduces car congestion, which is what car drivers want, too.

Posted by Anon., a resident of ,
on Aug 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Just allow small electric/hybrid cars in the downtown area, and have parking lots on the periphery of the area. People would have to walk a little more to get to some nice spots ... but that will make them nicer. University or California.

We could try to prototype this kind of downtown center. Turn downtown parking lots into parks and put more parking garages like we have them around the outside of town. Make it easy for people to move around ... how about some horizontal escalators?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of ,
on Aug 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

How about a plan that gives equal consideration to all forms of transportation rather than taking it all away from autos? How about every third street in both directions becoming a bikeway with local autos? Of course, those areas originally designed to discourage through auto traffic plus those areas intentionally barricaded have already opted out of the solution and should be left to their own devices.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of ,
on Aug 8, 2011 at 5:05 pm

> The city has too much car traffic right now.

Interesting. Wonder if this poster has any proof.

What one can prove, however, is that over the past ten years, the volume of traffic has declined about 25%. Wonder just how much car traffic this poster believes that Palo Alto should have?

Posted by nugget, a resident of ,
on Aug 8, 2011 at 7:28 pm

I don't see why making cycling easier and safer must negate car mobility. Current bike lanes, boulevards and signs don't affect my driving in any significant way. If I have to drive on a parallel street to avoid a bike boulevard, it's no big deal. More of the same should have little, if any, impact on my driving.

Cars and bikes can coexist, especially in a city as inviting to cyclists as Palo Alto, given the weather and flat terrain. Other more congested cities have adapted with great success. If done correctly, this plan can convert more drivers to cyclists by making it easier and safer for them to get around while taking their cars off the road, to the benefit of other drivers.

Go for it!

Posted by noncoexist, a resident of ,
on Aug 8, 2011 at 7:40 pm

There is just this much space and time. If we have more bikes taking over the road then we certainly will have spent more times and less space for the cars on the road,please do not ever think about this crazy idea.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of ,
on Aug 8, 2011 at 7:52 pm

> How about a plan that gives equal consideration to all
> forms of transportation

How about you solve the following equation--

Number_people_moved_daily =
Number_peopled_driving_cars + Number_people_walking
+ Number_of_people_cycling + Number_of_people_VTA_Bus
+ Number_of_people_Caltrain.

Now .. since any reasonable solution to this equation will NEVER end up with an equal number_of_xxx contributions--then why would anyone give equal funding and priority to the smallest, and least significant modality in this transportation-oriented equation?

Posted by safety, a resident of ,
on Aug 8, 2011 at 8:39 pm

When considering this equation,you did not take into account the safety measure to each group,yes,equal does not always mean equal.but the safety of all group is the most important thing we should consider.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of ,
on Aug 8, 2011 at 9:37 pm

> but the safety of all group is the most important thing
> we should consider.

Really? And where, pray tell, did you come up with this idea?

The idea of "transportation" is to move people from point-a to point-b at the lowest cost, and the quickest time. While safety is implicit (since dead people are not likely to be repeat customers, and their estates generally have long memories and good lawyers), distance, cost, and numbers are the most important parameters in this equation.

Posted by safety, a resident of ,
on Aug 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm

We can not talk about anything if we do not consider all with safety first.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of ,
on Aug 9, 2011 at 8:01 am

> We can not talk about anything if we do not consider all
> with safety first.

Then there won't be much talking going on ...

Posted by Mac Clayton, a resident of ,
on Aug 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Good work, Jay. A call to arms against bicyclists. But why stop there? I think Palo Alto may have too many vegetarians, too. Oh, and perhaps too many thoughtful people concerned about how we might all get along in a noisy, crowded world. It's downright un-American.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of ,
on Aug 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Wonder if this cyclist will actually be charged with murder/manslaughter/not charged?

S.F. pedestrian struck by bicyclist dies:
Web Link

Moreover, this cyclist probably does not carry any insurance, and probably doesn't own a home, so that the estate of the dead woman will not be able to sue him for asset recovery to pay for her medical bills, and funeral costs.

We'll have to wait and see what happens, but this is San Francisco--so there's every reason this guy will walk.

Bicyclists run red lights and stop signs all the time. Police usually don't seem to notice, or care much ..

Posted by resident who drives, bikes and walks, a resident of ,
on Aug 11, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Sure, we all love to knock the City's web site. But despite the snide comment by Jay, it's no trouble at all to find the actual draft plan that the public is being asked to comment on!

When I entered "Palo Alto Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan" in a Google search window -- without the quote marks -- the top search result was a direct link to the page where the draft plan is posted with a comment form.

And, guess what, if one goes to the city homepage (www.cityofpaloalto.org) and enters "Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan" (without the quotes) in the site search window, the top search result is the page with background info on the plan and upcoming dates -- plus a bold clickable link to download the document. Will wonders never cease. . .

So, if you're a reader who might be interested in submitting comments on what the Planning Commission and City Council will be reviewing, here's the direct link to save you the .22 seconds:
Web Link
Public comment period goes through September 7.

Now, can anyone explain to me why the ranters don't connect the neurons to realize that every bike on the road is one less car, freeing up space on the roadway (and in parking lots) for drivers like themselves?

Posted by Mike, a resident of ,
on Aug 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm

THERE IS NO MONEY. Stop spending.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of ,
on Aug 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: resident who drives, bikes and walks: "Sure, we all love to knock the City's web site. But despite the snide comment by Jay, it's no trouble at all to find the actual draft plan ..."

You are wrong to malign Jay. Just because the plan could be easily found when you looked for it does NOT mean it could easily found when Jay looked for it, nor when other people look for it.

I went looking for it in July, both before and after the workshop and could not find it either by Search or by navigating to the Transportation Division web page and then to the Bicycling page. Some time later, I was able to find it (via navigation) but a subsequent attempt failed, but fortunately I had saved a copy on my computer.

Posted by same, a resident of ,
on Aug 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Maybe they are not the same copies.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of ,
on Aug 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

My biggest problem with the BPT Plan is that it seems to be essentially a wish-list of the advocates. I attended the meetings and heard the _advantages_ of measures being proposed only in isolation. I did not hear any assessment of _effectiveness_ of those measures, nor did I hear indications that such had been considered. Neither did the presentation address _tradeoffs_ and indirect costs.

What I did hear was that Portland and a few other cities had these measures and it was critical for Palo Alto's civic pride to not just keep up with them, but to surpass them. I'll take back my comment about effectiveness never being considered -- the Plan may be effective if the target is those who award "Most Bicycle-friendly City".

The fallacy of the "one bike, one car" argument (various commenters here) is that the streets cannot be allocated in units of one bike, or ten, or ... Similarly for vehicles. For example (the one I am currently familiar with), during morning peak hour, west-bound Arastradero is used by roughly 1000 vehicles.

A major fault of most bicycle advocates is that they refuse to consider the side-effects of their measures. In the Arastradero Restriping Trial, the measures seem to have displaced traffic onto nearby residential streets that have _more_ bicycle traffic (Maybell and Los Robles). When faced with these negative side-effects, the persistent reply of the advocates has been "Drivers shouldn't do that" (use side streets to avoid congestion where traffic is moving at 5-12 mph).

Arastradero is hardly alone in this. All the city's major arterials are under assault by the bike advocates under their mantra that every street must be made safe for bicyclists (without regard to costs or tradeoffs). For example, Irwin Dawid who is the spokesperson on transportation issues for the local chapter of the Sierra Club wants to Alma for a few blocks between his home and downtown. He doesn't explain what problem he has with the two parallel bike paths--Bryant Street and the Caltrain path--but goes straight to suggesting that vehicle lanes might need to be removed from Alma (a major arterial) so that he might have his most convenient route. Apparently he didn't consider that such a "road diet" would likely turn the Bryant Street Bike Boulevard (and other residential streets) into routes clogged with vehicles avoiding the congestion. Such is the poor quality of thinking displayed by the bike advocates.

At the beginning of the development of the Plan, the City did a survey on various measures. Because I pushed the announcement out to various email lists, I got responses from various people. All commented that they saw the survey as biased toward impeding the flow of traffic as a matter of ideology, not as a matter of effectiveness.

Posted by pat, a resident of ,
on Aug 13, 2011 at 4:31 pm

> If [bike and ped projects] encourage people to walk and bike more and the result is a healthier population then we save a bunch on health care costs. If they encourage people to replace car trips with walking and biking then we save ??

Those are big IFs. Where?s some data to show that if we build it they will bike?

The 1998 plan said, "It is hoped that individuals will reduce their automobile trips by 10 percent by 2010, as alternative transportation methods are implemented."

I can?t get anyone to tell me if that?s happened. I suspect it's because no one knows.

Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Aug 17, 2011 at 9:13 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Hi -- It was NOT my intent to stir up an anti-bicyclist revolution but to report what actually happened some years back. Pretending that it didn't happen, or being ignorant of history, provides the greatest opportunity to re-live it, does it not? If there's an object lesson to be learned from this history, it seems to me it's that one should think through the implications, probable reactions to or unwonted side effects of one's actions. The bike plan as I read it is completely fuzzy about costs and implications of many of its proposals. It is laced with "TBDs," for to-be-determined. But potential outside sources of funding were delineated clearly and in great detail. I would like to see a clearly stated best-estimate or range of costs high up in such a document, or in a covering staff or city manager's report. -jay

Posted by Gunn Class of '67, a resident of ,
on Aug 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Gunn Class of '67 is a registered user.

Have no problem with bike lanes - grants received by city ensure employee pensions for such drivel.
Aging population notwithstanding, massive bike lanes have plenty of room, e.g. Arastradel to accommodate folks on walkers and in wheelchaires. Sidewalks in such disrepair, accident waiting to happen.

And by the say, assume enormous hotels will need no parking - providing
bikes instead.

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