Despite political and technical roadblocks, Palo Alto officials signaled Monday night that they they are still looking at Matadero Creek as a partial solution for improving east-west connections for local bicyclists in the Midtown area.
By an 8-1 vote, with Tom DuBois dissenting, the City Council directed staff to consider a "hybrid" design that would incorporate portions of the Midtown Creek and other area streets to create a new bike trail between the Caltrain tracks on the west and U.S. Highway 101 in the east.
In addition, staff will consider other alternatives for creating a bike route in this area, including new bike amenities along Loma Verde, Colorado Avenue and other streets in the area that is roughly bounded by Oregon Avenue in the north and East Meadow Drive in the south.
Proposed by Councilman Pat Burt, the new "hybrid" design is a marked departure from the type of off-road recreational trail that city officials had in mind in 2012, when they approved a bike master plan that identified the Matadero Creek trail as possible alternative to improve the city's east-west connections. The master plan called for a feasibility study for using the levees along the creek for a new path for bicyclists and pedestrians.
But the trail project hit a series of snags this year, with dozens of Midtown residents protesting that the new trail would impact their privacy, threaten their security and pose safety hazards for users. At the same time, transportation planners learned that building the new trail would require the city to navigate through a series of physical obstacles installed by the Santa Clara County Water District, which has jurisdiction over the creek.
Sarah Syed, senior transportation planner, told the council Monday that some parts of the channel are narrow and leave little room for anything other than the district's maintenance ramps. In addition, the district installs "access control structures" along the creek during the rainy season between October and April.
Located at Louis, Middlefield and Greer roads, these barriers cross the entire channel and severely complicate the city's plan to build a year-round bike facility. Furthermore, the ramps that the water district uses to maintain the channel would create a series of steep dips for local cyclists.
Syed said that given the various obstacles, "the project did evolve from studying primarily the Matadero Creek trail to taking a much closer look at many on-street alternatives."
But the council agreed that while the initial vision no longer seems feasible, they also agreed that the dry creek can still be a part of the solution. Burt suggested that staff work with water district staff to explore opportunities to use parts of the Matadero Creek for a new bike route. At the same time, he requested that staff explore other "collector" streets (a category between a busy artery and a quite neighborhood street) in the area for new bike amenities.
"If we're going to have a really strong bike system, we need more 'ands' and fewer 'ors,'" Burt said. "We need not just a single decent route for folks to go from essentially across town, south of Oregon. We need more than one."
He also noted that opportunities in a "built-out community to take advantage of off-road paths are going to be very few."
"We shouldn't too readily give up on taking advantage of those opportunities to the degree that they're feasible," he said. "That's why I want to continue to look at options in using the Matdero Creek right-of-way."
DuBois disagreed and cited the opposition that the project encountered from Midtown residents and from a specially appointed Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes Midtown residents and bicyclists. Both this committee and the city's Pedestrian and Bicyclist Advisory Committee supported staff's recommendation to abandon the feasibility study for the Matadero Creek channel and to evaluate other options.
"We had a citizen committee composed of residents and bikers that (reached) this conclusion and I think we should listen to them," DuBois said.
The city, he said, should invest its resources in bike improvements along Loma Verde and East Meadow. Between 2008 and 2012, these two streets had the most vehicle-bicyclist collisions, he said (10 and nine, respectively).
"I think that's kind of concerning, so I'd like to see us spend money there," he said.
DuBois' motion to scrap the Matadero Creek trail fizzled by a 2-7 vote, with only Mayor Karen Holman supporting it. Others shared the view of Councilman Cory Wolbach that the project should be subject to further study.
"We haven't really had a chance to study the hybrid option," Wolbach said. "We might rule it out in the future, but I want to make sure we really thought about it before we ruled it out."
Once DuBois' motion to remove Matadero Creek from consideration failed, the council voted 8-1 to study a series of options, including the "hybrid" approach, before identifying a preferred alternative.
The council also asked staff to evaluate new bike improvements for East Meadow Drive and to return to the council with a budget amendment to fund these new studies.