Palo Alto's dream of leading the pack of America's most bike-friendly cities now has a roadmap -- an ambitious "master plan" that the City Council enthusiastically approved Monday night.
The new Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan, which the council adopted by an 8-0 vote (with Pat Burt absent), lays out an ambitious vision for making Palo Alto more inviting to bicyclists, including new bike boulevards, trails and east-west connections across the city. With the council's vote Monday, this document becomes part of the city's Comprehensive Plan, the land-use bible that guides local goals and priorities.
Chief Transportation Officer Jaime Rodriguez said the new plan also positions the city well to receive grants that could make some of the projects in the document possible. The city is looking to invest between $7.5 million and $10 million in bicycle projects over the next five to 10 years. These "priority projects" include expanded traveling lanes, more bike parking, new bike-friendly trails and a new bicycle boulevard at Park Boulevard to complement the existing one at Bryant Street.
The document also includes some grander and more costly projects, including the proposed bike bridge over Highway 101 at Adobe Creek. The city is currently in the process of designing the project, which could cost more than $9 million.
The council's vote followed a series of glowing comments about the new document from some of the city's most avid bicyclists, including members of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee. All speakers urged the council to adopt the master plan, though some warned that the document won't do much good unless the council also commits to funding the projects contained within.
David Coale, a member of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and the environmentalist group Acterra, was among those who praised the document for promoting projects that would benefit not only bicyclists but drivers and pedestrians as well. He also said the plan would be "good for the rest of the 7 billion people on the planet, in regards to reducing global warming."
"I sincerely urge you to adopt the plan and, more importantly, to get funding for the plan," Coale said. "That's the exciting thing.
"When you fund this thing -- then it happens. And that's really why we're here and excited tonight, because we'd like to see the funding and implementation of this plan."
Another coalition member, Andrew Boone, praised the plan for doing a good job addressing some of the city's most obstructive barriers, including the Caltrain corridor, El Camino Real and Highway 101. Boone, who said he bikes everywhere he needs to go in Palo Alto, said one barrier is often enough to deter a potential rider from using a bike to get around.
"People want to walk and bike more and the proof of that is that it's on the rise -- it's been rising for the past decade," Boone said.
Palo Alto has already enjoyed some success in encouraging bicyclists and pedestrians, particularly at the school level. According to the new document, the number of people who walked, biked or skated to neighborhood schools in the local school district in spring of 1994 was 975. In fall 2009, the number was 1,710.
Work commuters are also more reliant on bikes in Palo Alto than in neighboring communities. Though more than two thirds of them drive to work alone, 6.9 percent use bikes. That's far higher than the 1.4 percent who bike to work in Santa Clara County, 0.9 percent in California and 0.5 percent nationwide.
The plan has been more than a year in the making and involved heavy input from bicycle groups, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission. The council had previously reviewed it in November and directed further revisions, including more emphasis on east-west routes and better regional connections near Interstate 280, particularly to Mountain View and Los Altos.
And while the new plan earned heavy praise from the city's hard-core bicyclists, Rodriguez stressed that the projects in the document are meant to encourage greater bike use among the more casual riders.
"This isn't just about the commute rider -- the guy in Spandex," Rodriguez said. "It's about the children who ride to school, the mom who wants to ride to the grocery store Thursday afternoon while the kids are in school."
Some of the projects are already being implemented. The city is currently proceeding with about $1 million in bike-related projects, including design of the new Park Boulevard bicycle boulevard ($30,000), design of a trail along Adobe Creek ($25,000) and the preliminary design of the Highway 101 bridge ($250,000). Staff is proposing a budget of about $1.5 million for fiscal year 2014.
The council agreed that the gradual process of implementing the projects in the plan would be costly and encouraged residents to contribute by forming a "Friends" group to help with the fundraising. Mayor Yiaway Yeh proposed a model in which the city pays for feasibility studies and then asks private partners to help fund construction. Yeh also lauded the document for integrating many different perspectives from the community.
Yeh's colleagues shared his enthusiasm for the new master plan, which is expected to bring the city to the national forefront in bicycle infrastructure. Casey Hildreth, whose consulting firm Alta Planning + Design helped put the plan together, said the city's effort to adopt the projects in the plan "would make a mark, certainly within the region and nationally." Councilman Greg Schmid called the new plan "exciting" and Councilman Sid Espinosa praised it for integrating ideas from throughout the community.
Vice Mayor Greg Scharff agreed.
"I think this is a fantastic plan and implementing it will definitely increase the quality of life in Palo Alto," Scharff said.