In Barron Park, city fixes sidewalks that go nowhere | News | Palo Alto Online |


In Barron Park, city fixes sidewalks that go nowhere

Ramps for disability access are added to concrete walkways that end in dirt

In an effort to make routes to local schools safer and eliminate tripping hazards for pedestrians, some sidewalks in the Barron Park neighborhood recently received safety upgrades, including new curb ramps for wheelchairs.

But getting onto the sidewalk is one thing; getting off it is another. In the historically rural-feeling neighborhood, some sidewalks end abruptly mid-block, 50 or so feet from the intersection, pitching people who use wheelchairs or walkers into dirt, gravel, weeds or decorative bark.

In some cases, the sidewalk slopes at a steep angle that could cause a wheel chair to tip.

For these new ramps, which comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, taxpayers are shelling out at least $21,600 -- $1,800 for each -- according to the project contract.

The Weekly recently counted 12 new ramps on sidewalks that connect to unpaved areas.

In addition to new ramps, sidewalk repairs -- including curb and gutter upgrades -- are part of an ongoing city program started in 1989. Repairs along two stretches of partial sidewalks on La Para and Laguna avenues cost about $24,950, including the new ADA ramps, city staff confirmed.

The city's fiscal-year 2016 capital budget states the sidewalk repairs are being done to create "better sidewalk conditions and a potential reduction in sidewalk-related injuries," and a Jan. 12 staff report noted that the repairs "will address sidewalk deficiencies."

Barron Park resident and city watchdog Bob Moss said that state law requires the city to have wheelchair ramps, "but if the sidewalk ends 20 feet after the intersection, I'm not sure that anyone cares" from an enforcement standpoint. The requirement is one of those generic laws that doesn't really consider practical accessibility.

"Functionally, it is a waste of money, since people are not going to take wheelchairs up onto the sidewalk to go a few feet into the dirt," he said. But he added that the city might not have any option, since the law requires the ramps.

"The only alternative is to do a cost comparison and ask, 'If we didn't have a (full) sidewalk, how much would it cost me to remove it?'" he said.

Brad Eggleston, assistant director of public works, said the city did not evaluate removing the sidewalks. They are not scheduled for extensions, nor are they likely to be.

Barron Park Historian Doug Graham said that in the early 1960s, Santa Clara County implemented municipal-standard curbs and gutters in some developments within Barron Park, such as along the area southwest of Laguna Avenue. That's why some parts of Barron Park have sidewalks, and some don't.

Sidewalks were "a big issue" about 50 years ago, when Palo Alto wanted to annex the neighborhood and planned to charge residents for the costs of adding sidewalks, curbs and gutters, Graham said.

Residents feared they would be "bled dry" by the city's rigid enforcement of sidewalk and street infrastructure. When the city annexed Barron Park in 1975, residents fought to keep their neighborhood rural and relatively sidewalk-free. While residents successfully persuaded the city not to force curbs, gutters and sidewalks on Barron Park, the city did install sidewalks if people wanted them, and that's why some of the sidewalks abruptly end, Graham said.

A 1993 "Barron Park Drainage and Street Design Guidelines" city report established that collector streets "shall be candidates for pedestrian walkways if there is space available outside the existing pavement and within the city street right-of-way."

But, the report noted, "Walkways shall not be constructed on any street unless they are requested by the adjacent residents."

Where a city standard sidewalk exists, it will not be extended, the report states. But residents can request removal of a sidewalk if it extends for less than a block and the removal has unanimous support of residents of abutting properties, the report noted.

Moss said that he can't recall any instance of a property owner wanting a sidewalk added in front of their house since the agreement between the city and the neighborhood was put in place. But where limited sidewalks exist, most probably a developer would have added it when putting in the new home. Most developers would just assume a sidewalk is desired around a property, he said.

Without a cost comparison, Moss said it can't be known if removing the sidewalk would be less expensive than making it accessible. But "probably it would take more to take out 40 feet of concrete than to add an ADA ramp."

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9 people like this
Posted by Long-time resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2015 at 10:13 am

That's what happens in a town becoming increasingly hostile to the disabled: nonsensical acts of purely bureaucratic rule-following. We have accessibility and other goals in the comprehensive plan, but we have long given our planning over to developers interested in cashing out by densifying. The new normal is housing that the disabled couldn't even visit much less live in.

Too bad those who want to maintain quality of life don't understand that the principles of universal design that would make our town seamless for the disabled would also bolster their cause (the way the build-baby-build element has co-opted and are using affordable housing ... though, they are barely concealing that they aren't really helping affordable housing but making conditions far worse).

12 people like this
Posted by Observation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2015 at 10:16 am

Oh, and all those rules to build right up to sidewalks that are barely wide enough or unobstructed enough for an ambulatory person walking single-file? Effectively shut out the disabled. A "grand boulevard" supposedly intended to encourage walking should have unobstructed sidewalks wide enough for a disabled person in a wheelchair to comfortable wheel side-by-side with an ambulatory person in conversation. Once the street is all closed in and built up to, though, it becomes all but impossible to fix that.

I can barely stand to read things like this, this town is just so hypocritical when it comes to supposedly liberal values.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned and Active Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 4, 2015 at 10:40 am

Let's go, Palo Alto. We can do better.

Like this comment
Posted by Julie
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 4, 2015 at 10:54 am

Sidewalks in Baron Park - again!!!! This issue of installing sidewalks in Baron Park or not installing them comes up every ten or fifteen years. I've lived in PA for fifty years and this issue has caught the headlines at least three or four times. The City always ends up doing the cheapest thing and bowing to the wishes of the majority of homeowners in Baron Park - no more sidewalks!!!

2 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:13 am

ADA ramps don't happen because the City Council is only interested in endless development of office buildings and condos that the residents do't want, Green Programs to do nonsense like the added garbage cans for our kitchens, the Gas Appliance Removal Program idea,that the PA residents don't want and spends endless time spent supporting a fire trap old broken down trailer park that the PA residents don't want.
Send City Council back to Berkeley so they can be in tune with those fools.

9 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:20 am

In the meantime, the City says, "Get out of your cars. People must bike and walk more. Kids should bike or walk to school." But the City does nothing to make Barron Park more bike and pedestrian friendly for the students biking and walking to school through there. It's literally an accident waiting to happen. If the City wants to mitigate its litigation exposure, the City either needs to make biking and walking there safer, or it should stop encouraging people to bike and walk. The former, of course, fits better with improving our quality of life.

8 people like this
Posted by Observation
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:23 am

Get rid of our incompetent City Manager Jim Keene. He has hired multiple assistants at taxpayers expense to assist him and he still doesn't fulfill his job obligations in a competent manner.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:25 am

Not sure why people are blaming the city, when its the Barron Park residents who want to keep up the fantasy that they live in a "rural" environment.

2 people like this
Posted by choose wisely
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:25 am

The city and residents have to choose between continuous sidewalks and free on-street car parking. On many streets, there is not enough room for both. Which is more important?

12 people like this
Posted by Let's be fair
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:37 am

Dear observer in Old PA, you miss the point; this is about wasteful spending. The photo in the article is on my block. It is the laughing stock of everyone who passes by; laughing through our tears. By the way, if the city is so keen to spend money in BP, why don't they install underground electrical wires as they've done in the rest of the city? These rickety posts with their thick guy wires that bisect peoples' front yards are an eyesore and a safety hazard. Whether you like BP or not, we deserve the same services as the rest of the city, as these ridiculous ramps to nowhere can attest.

12 people like this
Posted by How you can help.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:59 am

Dear Jonathon,

Residents of Barron Park opposed the city's efforts to install sidewalks in your neighborhood. The city tried in a couple of limited locations to create complete sidewalks. Barron Park residents protested. The city relented and tried other means to create safer routes, including traffic calming. Those plans are gradually rolling out.

What, exactly, do you want the city to do? And please, before you answer that, educate yourself about what is already planned and get Barron Park neighbors on board to support your proposal. Some want sidewalks. Some are adamantly opposed to sidewalks. Good plans, I think, are moving forward. Many compromises have been made as the city has tried to respond to many comments and work within the limited street right-of-way that they inherited when Palo Alto annexed Barron Park.

You can get involved, and I encourage you to do so. If you are a PAUSD parent, connect with the PTA Safe Routes to School group at your school site (ask your PTA President how you can help). If you don't have kids in school, you can join Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee. As an individual citizen, you can get involved with the Comp Plan Transportation Element process and you can participate in meetings related to implementation of the City of Palo Alto Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation Plan (which also addresses needs of residents who use wheelchairs and walkers).

There are lots of ways Barron Park residents can influence the process. I happen to agree that wheelchair ramps for partial sidewalks are probably not the best way to spend money, but they may be required by state or federal regulations.

If you want something different from what is planned, what do you want instead and what are you willing to do to support that change?

Democracy is a participatory form of government. It requires that citizens understand the decision-making process and engage at appropriate intervals to provide information and comment, not just during election cycles. Writing to PA Online is not participating; it's just gossip shared by random people who may or may not be informed and engaged with the process. Follow the process, provide comment at the appropriate time in the process. Suggest workable alternatives. Help identify and support a solution that works.

2 people like this
Posted by Patri
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2015 at 12:45 pm

@Johnathon Brown: That's absolutely not true. The city has had multiple meetings where it has invited Barron Park residents to come and give feedback and suggestions for bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure in our community.

The speed bumps, removal of the center stripe and fresh top slurry which was done last Monday on Matadero were all part of that effort.

There are other changes coming, such as turning Matadero into a bicycle boulevard, but it takes the city a while to implement changes. I think that pace suits many of us in Barron Park just fine. No one wants to rush into something which takes away from the character of the neighborhood.

6 people like this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 4, 2015 at 2:06 pm

The funny thing is, Barron Park is the one neighborhood in Palo Alto where you're most likely to see people out for a simple walk. Somehow the lack of sidewalks feels less cluttered, more relaxed, more inviting. The piecemeal bits of sidewalk and curb, I think, actually create hazards, and should be removed. It's silly to spend money maintaining them.

4 people like this
Posted by Electrical line
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2015 at 2:56 pm

How You Can Help - I would hope that the city would use some common sense. Just think if you were actually doing a project in your own yard.

I was watching the city fix some sidewalks on Timlott (a dead end street) in Barron Park. I immediately thought why are they fixing the sidewalk versus just removing the sidewalk. I believe these sidewalks are seldom used. If I was on Timlott I would want the sidewalk remove along with putting the electrical wires underground.

It made me wonder if the street residence might prefer having a larger yard without the sidewalk. Most of Barron Park residents walk on the road etc.

I for one would love to see the money spent on putting the "ugly" wires that hang all over the streets underground. This was done in North Palo Alto with city funding.

4 people like this
Posted by Underground wires
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 4, 2015 at 4:09 pm

@Let's be fair - there is a lot of Palo Alto that has not had the electrical utilities moved underground. Check out midtown south of Colorado Avenue and South Palo Alto. Barron Park is not special in this regard.

3 people like this
Posted by Underground Advocate
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 4, 2015 at 4:45 pm

This link shows the areas of Palo Alto with underground services: Web Link

The majority of areas with underground services are in the Stanford Research Park and other commercial corridors.

This link shows what is planned for the coming 5 years, with the NEW electric underground project shown in purple: Web Link

Since the original underground districts are aging, they are already in need of rebuilding before we can finish undergrounding the rest of the city.

I heard that AT&T and Comcast no longer want to pay their share of the costs to move their wires underground in residential areas, leaving the City of Palo Alto Utilities' ratepayers having to bear the full cost.

At this rate it will take decades to finish moving the services underground.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2015 at 4:54 pm

I am also an advocate for moving utility wires underground.

What I would like to ask and find the answer to are the costs involved with having the lines above ground. What are the costs for utility paid tree trimming per year? What are the costs for having linemen on call any time there is a storm forecasted? What are the costs for repairs for any emergency line repair, transformer repair, pole repair, for a storm? What are the costs of emergency tree work any time a tree falls bringing down a live wire?

With the forecasted El Nino and a wet winter, the costs of having these lines above ground must be projected. What are these projected costs?

In other words, what would the savings be if these lines were underground? Of course there are times when an underground problem can occur, but surely these must be much more rare than what does happen any time we have a wet winter.

The more lines we have underground, the less the maintenance costs from emergency wire work must be.

I would imagine that the potential savings must go a long way to paying for the cost of undergrounding.

7 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2015 at 5:06 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The "Rural Feel" misrepresentation is an example of the problem of oversimplification of political discourse.

Having sidewalks in and of themselves was not what most Barron Park residents opposed. It was what the effect of having sidewalks would mean. For example, on my street, it would have resulted in taking 2/3's of the front yards of me an most of my neighbors, resulting in devastation of trees and other landscaping (part of what was meant by "rural feel"). It would have made many driveways too short to park in, greatly increasing on street parking which would have had the consequence of increasing the danger to bicyclists.

I feel like a broken record bring this up every time people try to trivialize a very difficult set of trade-offs as a mere matter of aesthetic preferences. Hey, but why let facts complicate your story.

2 people like this
Posted by Stacey Ashlund
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 5, 2015 at 12:32 pm

I am so glad to see this! Palo Alto focuses on cars somewhat, and bike safety (a lot), yet it is VERY rare I hear any mention of what needs to be done for pedestrian safety. For those w/ vision impairments (as in the case for my 16 year old son) that cannot bike or drive, safe pedestrian access is essential! So glad that this is finally happening in our neighborhood!

Like this comment
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 6, 2015 at 6:50 pm

What Doug M. says about the impact of sidewalks makes real sense. Barron Park was platted under County zoning rules, which were very different than Palo Alto's, with many houses placed very close to the street.

I just drove past Stanford on ECR, and there's a great example of how sidewalks change the feel of a place. For some reason, they're adding sidewalk along much of their frontage, at the same time they're installing an asphalt trail right across the fence. The sidewalk replaces what was clear flat dirt between the street and fence. It feels very different now, and the value of the change is hard to see.

2 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 6, 2015 at 9:40 pm

My late wife used an electric scooter and had a terrible time getting between the road and sidewalk. More than once she flipped her scooter and had to call the fire department to get her out of the gutter. Even though the new ramps are on short segments of sidewalk, she would have been able to get in and out of our driveway without risking a tumble.

Like this comment
Posted by Grammar Police
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2015 at 10:39 pm

I agree with Douglas Moran's sentiment, but shutter at the grammatical errors of this Palo Alto Online blogger. Please Doug, put a little more effort into your posts if you want to be taken seriously.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2015 at 9:12 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Barron Park was not designed with side walks (the same as many of the roads in the hills of this peninsula). Baron, Vista, Matedero...

Just WHERE do you propose that they put these walks? Right up close to peoples front doors?
What was ABSURD was the idiots that required those 'nowhere' sidewalks in order to (re)build in an area without them.
In case anyone forgot: The North-west side of Los Robles is in a COUNTY Creek jurisdiction, not City regulated property

Re Underground power. Easy to do in an unbuilt area. Near impossible to do in areas where the above ground utilities are in the Rear of residents without alleys. It is expensive for the landowner to convert their properties service 'drop' to underground.(You can still see buildings along ECR with the telltales of that conversion on their meter panels. Those did not have to extensively TRENCH to the lot edge.)

56 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 7, 2015 at 12:44 pm

I shudder at the misuse of shutter.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 10, 2015 at 11:47 pm

@grammarpolice: You made me look at Doug's post again. I found a missing "d", an extraneous " 's ", a missing hyphen, and some awkward, but technically correct, phrasing. I'm reminded of a sweatshirt I heard about, worn by a Scrabble fanatic, which had the slogan,


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