Council switches gears on Midtown bike project | News | Palo Alto Online |


Council switches gears on Midtown bike project

Palo Alto to study 'hybrid' design involving Matadero Creek, area streets

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.

Related content:

Midtown bike project veers off course

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8 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 10:07 am

Midtown Palo Alto is a quiet, safeneighborhood. It is already extremely accommodating to bicycles the way it is.


[Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2015 at 3:04 pm

We need better E/W bike paths and better methods for bikes crossing major arteries such as Middlefield/Loma Verde and Churchill/Alma. Please can we have some bike only lights so bikes can cross when there are no cars turning across their path.

7 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"Other cities have bike paths along creeks and Palo Alto should have one too."

That was the overwhelming sentiment in the early 1990s when the bike trail along Matadero Creek was conceived (I was a participant in the workshops). The advocates refused to look at the "facts on the ground" -- they believed that the segment along the concrete culvert (below El Camino) was wider than it was and could be landscaped. They believed that the segment above El Camino had a broad public right-of-way when in fact it had houses that went to the top of the creek banks (some overhanging). In addition to having to remove those houses, the bike path would have required cutting down many mature oaks and redwoods (Google map: Web Link).

Two decades later, with the dream having be shown to be unrealistic/delusional, the idea of having a bike path along the creek has become unmoored from the original rational, and now is its own reason-for-being.

2 people like this
Posted by bike rider
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 6:13 pm

enough with this non-sense. the bike lanes are fine the way the are. no one complains about bikes and cars under the current system--except for the outsiders and environmentalists who want to mettle in every little thing that they can possibly get their hands on. get to the real issues-- we need more dams (against environmentalist ideology) and not a stupid speed rail train to nowhere. people have to drive their cars to get to where they want to go. not everyone can just jump on a bike and ride off to never never land. get real. instead of more hindrance for those that do drive--get rid of the incessant building and building and building that is clogging up our road systems. that is another real issue that needs to be addressed.

24 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Please please please do not use Loma Verde as a bike boulevard unless the police are ready to start enforcing traffic regulations for bikes and increase enforcement for cars. Several stop signs were added to Loma Verde in the last year which has been overall a good (if slightly annoying) thing.

However, if this becomes heavily used by bicyclists who commonly blow through stop signs as if they are not there, even at night when they are biking with no lights, you are setting up a very dangerous situation. I am happy to give bicyclists their share of the road. I'm thrilled when they signal their left turns and bike with headlamps and other lights at night so I can clearly see them. I don't mind slowing down when the road is narrow and they need to bike in the middle of the street as long as they stop at stop signs and light up their vehicles at night so I can see them to give them their right of way.

I've been terrified several times in the last month when bicyclists loomed out of the darkness wearing dark clothes, no helmet, and no lights except a dirty not very reflective reflector on the back of their bike. Please give me a chance to see you and make room for you on the road. I can't do it if I can't see you. I am always thrilled when I see someone with reflective clothing and extra lights on their helmets and those reflectors on the wheels. Unfortunately, this is less than half of the time.

This will only change, when the police start enforcing the traffic laws for bicycles too. Oh and please give tickets to all the motorists that blow through stop signs too.

6 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2015 at 7:54 pm

There is too much traffic in Palo Alto for it to be safe to ride a bike. Bike lanes are a joke. Bikers don't stay in their lanes, they ride two or three abreast, and they don't obey stop signs. A small but vocal group of bike fanatics are pushing bike lanes. Residents beware. Bike lanes will limit parking on your streets. There will also be unsightly markings on your streets. Removing stop signs on bike streets is counter productive. It allows cars to speed because they can go for blocks without stopping.

7 people like this
Posted by Cincy
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Cincy is a registered user.

Ah, here's an unwanted comment from "back in the day."

I rode my bicycle on dirt paths along Matadero Creek between Greer Rd. and Middlefield throughout my childhood. Undoubtedly the landscape has changed over the decades, but one thing hasn't, it's an off street trail that provides cyclists an opportunity to not mix it up with cars. If I still lived in Midtown, I'd highly approve.

4 people like this
Posted by Melanie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 10:33 am

I am curious to know who pushed for bike lanes on the south side Oregon Expressway during that road's reworking? Obviously some thought that would be used as an east/west bike route though I didn't think anyone would want to use it and yet there it is taking up space along with sidewalks that are almost never used. I also have seen many bikers go through stop signs without stopping and with CHILDREN on board or behind! I agree that whatever is decided should be a considerate, reasonable solution taking into account the reality of our traffic problems. I need to get around with my car and can barely get through Palo Alto with all the construction, traffic, and bad roads.

4 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 11, 2015 at 10:51 am

Marie said "bicyclists who commonly blow through stop signs as if they are not there". Really? That's interesting. On my morning bike ride yesterday, some old lady yelled at me and my friends something along the lines "organ donors, stop at stop signs" (repeatedly) as we were slowly grinding towards an 4-way stop; the street in question had 15% uphill grade leading to the stop sign. Than she blow through it with her car as if stop signs was not there. We were all "seriously, she yells at us before we even got anywhere near stop sign, then *she* blows through it?" While we are at it, cars blowing through stop signs (and red lights) are just as common, especially in Palo Alto. The richer the people are, the more entitlements they entitle themselves with. Both for reasoning why it's OK for *them* to bend laws a bit when it suits them. And for complaining when *other* people are doing exactly the same thing they are doing.

To get back on the topic. Cycling routes are complex issue. You can't just throw some paint on the street and call it a bike lane. There's plenty of bike lanes that were constructed in that way, which should probably be removed. While zoning regulations require homeowners to provide parking for their vehicle on their property, reality is that most garages are used for general storage, and parking on the street is considered much more convenient than parking on driveway. There's one dude on Louis road who leaves his car parked in the bike lane almost every single day (yeah, you, the one with "being senior is great" or somesuch written on the car). Putting *usable* bike lane would generally require elimination of on-street parking. Most residential streets, while plenty wide for what they are, simply are not wide enough to provide two lanes for cars, plus on street parking, plus bike lane with sufficient/safe buffer zone between parked cars and bike lane. IMO, it is extremely unrealistic to expect homeowners to give up convenience of on-street parking. Which is likely the reason why city put sharrows on Cowper, instead of putting in bike lanes (don't honk at cyclists on Cowper, those are not bike lanes on the side of the road, it's clearly marked on-street parking zone from Meadow to about Loma Verde).

North/south is generally not a problem for creating bike routes. Those streets tend to be either residential (e.g. Bryant, Park) or major traffic arteries (e.g. Alma, El Camino, Middlefield). You can simply cut off through traffic every few blocks on residential streets like it is done on Bryant and call it a day. I'd wager residents would actually welcome that, as it would reduce car traffic on the street and make it safer, more quiet, more residential looking, more livable. Those cut offs on Bryant was probably the best thing that happened to residents of that street, as it prevents drivers from using it to "bypass" congestions on nearby Alma.

East/West is bigger problem, as those tend to be connectors. Especially south of Oregon. It's unrealistic to expect city would barricade off through traffic on those streets. Elimination of on street parking on some of them might be an option, so that you can put in usable and safe bike lane. But not realistic either. Residents would complain so loudly, if we had colony on Mars, they would be able to hear them. Creeks could have been an option, if there was wisdom long time ago to not allow residential developments to spread all the way to their edges, leaving no buffer zone of any kind.

Another important thing is that you need meaningful and connected system of bike routes. If what you are building would require cyclists to make major detours and/or leave parts of it disconnected with unsafe segments in between, no matter how short, you are basically wasting a lot of money. If to make 2 mile journey, you'd need to drive around for 5 miles, you'd likely complain about what was the city thinking when they were planning traffic infrastructure. Well, exactly the same thing is true for cycling.

3 people like this
Posted by Question
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 11:18 am

I have a question related to this topic. We used to have actual bike lanes on Colorado. A couple of years ago, they were actually removed. Why? It felt much safer riding a bicycle on Colorado with an actual bike lane.

10 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 11, 2015 at 11:18 am

Palo Altan: It's actually not unsafe. Not even close. There are hordes of kids that perfectly safely bike to school every day in Palo Alto. Especially when it comes to middle school kids. If you were to transform their parents into chauffeurs, you'd get total traffic meltdown every morning around 8am. A lot of adults bike too, and many use routes that don't overlap with major car routes. If you are car-centric (nothing wrong with that), it's easy to be unaware of all that heavy bike traffic going on in and around the city.

It's really not "us vs. them" problem either. It's about making things work for everybody, and allowing people to have choice. Nobody is twisting your hand to ride bike, and you shouldn't be actively forcing other people to drive because it suits you. Yes, the traffic is bad lately, so bad I hate days when I actually have to drive for one reason or the other. And I'm actually type of person who likes to take his car out for fun drive. But it's no excuse for aggressive and unsafe driving and occasional road rage I've been seeing more and more often.

6 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of University South
on Nov 11, 2015 at 11:22 am

The Matadero Creek route is unfeasible. This was the conclusion of staff, the citizen's advisory group, and the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee. Our time and money would be much better spent by examining alternative alignments and figuring out how to get a bike/ped crossing of Alma and the Caltrain tracks in that area.

5 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 11, 2015 at 11:30 am

Question: See my (rather long) comment above. Many streets are too narrow to have both usable bike lane and on-street parking. Even if you limit on-street parking to one side of the street. E.g. I don't consider southbound bike lane on Louis safe, because of on-street parking allowed on one side of the street. Which, if I had to guess, might be the reason to remove striping for it. Just as nobody would drive their car few inches from parked cars, nobody should ride their bike that close to parked cars either. For more or less same reasons. While it is (legally) their responsibility to check if it is safe to open door, vast majority of drivers don't check. Stay clear of parked cars, no matter if you are driving or riding. It's extremely unsafe to pass within door-length of parked car.

6 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Why use the narrow creek *trail*? It's narrow, dangerous, requires a lot of work to make it safe, and yet will have very low capacity.

I say we cover up Matadero Creek entirely. It will create a bicycle superhighway.

Yes it will cost a lot more. But the result will be a much better bike trail. You connect this to the bike trails at shoreline people from south Palo Alto can safely ride all the way to Santa Clara to work.

Like this comment
Posted by Alex
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 11, 2015 at 5:02 pm

m2grs: It would be very expensive to implement. It would significantly increase cost for water district to maintain them. These creeks are major drainage for the area, and need to be maintained from time to time to reduce risks of flooding for neighbourhoods around them.

Like this comment
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 7:45 pm

@Alex, it's been done before. Some creeks are covered right now. Covered creeks still drains to the bay. Don't get me wrong. Creeks are covered but not filled. They still provide the same flood prevention function.

1 person likes this
Posted by Matadero Creek Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 10:20 pm

I'm one of the folks whose house backs onto the proposed creek trail. I'm not sure what all the hoopla is about. We have a 6' wooden fence at the back of the property as do the neighbors. How much privacy are we losing? Safety?

If someone wanted to climb over the 6' fence, today they can do it - they just have an extra 4' chain fence to climb to get there.

The nay-sayers are definitely vocal - but are they a majority?

2 people like this
Posted by Midtown facts
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Interesting thought to cover Matadero Creek and make a bike superhighway. Would that mean closing Waverley St, Cowper St, Middlefield Road, Ross Road, Louis Road, and Greer? Those streets all cross the Matadero Canal between Alma and Hwy 101.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2015 at 11:03 pm

I'm glad to see this action by City Council. Many parts of the creek alignment can be opened up as walking and biking connections at low cost: Emerson to South Court, Waverley to Middlefield, and Ross to Louis, maybe a little more. They will not make the complete 101-Alma connection, but they will add off-street options for getting around the neighborhood. I think confident cyclists will continue to use the faster streets, but there are all levels of bicyclists, and this would create local, off street bike riding and walking opportunities we don't have now.

Someone asked about the bike lanes on Colorado disappearing. They were removed after repaving because they were sub-standard. A bike lane should be at least 12 feet from the curb when there is parking, and those were not. N. California has a similar challenge.

Someone else asked about the bike lane and sidewalks on Oregon Expy. I agree, they are unexpected! The county expressways designers have been paying attention to the "Complete Streets" guidelines, and all their projects now include bicycle and pedestrian facilities, if at all possible. On some expressways, like Foothill, the bike lanes are crucial and popular, but on others, like Oregon, there are nicer off-expressway options.

Like this comment
Posted by AlternateConfiguration
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2015 at 10:14 am

I would still like to see more investigation/consideration given to having bicycle lanes next to the sidewalks, and any parking be next to the bicycle lane. I see two things being accomplished by that arrangement.
1. the parked cars (and the space for parking) provides a buffer between moving traffic and bicycles.
2. on streets with rolled curbs (south palo alto) this should eliminate cars actually parking on the sidewalk.

(roadway) parking bikes sidewalk

Like this comment
Posted by AlternateConfiguration
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2015 at 10:17 am

I realize that there are likely issues with this configuration, particularly concerning bicycles moving to the left in order to turn left.
However, I still think it worthy of consideration, particularly on routes that deliver school-aged children to/from schools.

Like this comment
Posted by AlternateConfiguration
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 16, 2015 at 10:19 am

My diagram got compressed.
Maybe this will be clearer.

...(roadway)... parking bikes sidewalk

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