Metal fences that cross the Bol Park Path to slow down bicyclists will soon be taken down, to the consternation of some residents and the approval of others, including many cyclists.
The removal of the barriers is the first revision the city plans to make to the popular bike and pedestrian route leading from Matadero Avenue to Miranda Avenue near Foothill Expressway. The metal fences, called "chicanes," at Matadero will be replaced with a low concrete island and markings on the pavement.
Some Barron Park residents fear that now cyclists will speed and, potentially, motor bikers will use the path, endangering persons in wheelchairs, small children and seniors who cannot get out of the way quickly. Others think the chicanes pose a safety hazard and support their removal.
City planning and transportation officials claim the chicanes pose a hazard to some bicyclists, persons with wheelchairs, tandem bikes and bikes with child trailers.
Barron Park historian Douglas Graham said the chicanes were installed after the bike path opened in May 1980.
"Very shortly after the opening, a number of irresponsible motorcyclists discovered the new path, which was long and straight enough that they could reach freeway speeds. Soon they were making runs at night, particularly about 2 or 3 a.m. Some of our houses are only 50 feet from the path. The police were called repeatedly and sometimes chased the motorcyclists, so we had squad cars roaring along the path at night. As far as I know, they never caught them," he said. "I do know that the walkers, joggers and non-motorized bikers were repeatedly terrorized."
The chicanes effectively ended the motorcycle problem for 30 years, he said.
But resident Richard Placone said that some motorcyclists still get through as it is. The chicanes at the path's north side are spaced farther apart. They are not scheduled to be removed at this time, Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello said, as they are not part of the same project.
Placone and a group of residents met with city staff on July 5 to ask that that chicanes be kept until there can be more public input, but staff decided to go ahead with the removal.
In an email, Mello said: "Guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice recommends that the entirety of a public right-of-way should be made accessible when any improvements or modifications are made to that right-of-way."
"Removing the chicanes will provide improvements in terms of safety and accessibility," Hillary Gitelman, director of Planning and Community Environment for the City of Palo Alto, said in an email.
"We are also committed to closely monitoring the situation and implementing other improvements as needed," she said.
Chris Corrao, city senior transportation planner, said during a June meeting with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee that Mello wants to put in a thermal detector for a few months. The detector can tell the difference between motorcycles and bicycles, and staff would be able to track whether motorcycles become a problem on the path.
After the chicanes are removed, the city plans to install the concrete islands, signs, crosswalks and street stencils in early August, Gitelman said.
Placone said that leaves an open window for uninhibited speeding.
"No safety features installed until some unspecified date in August. This means bikers will be free to zip across Matadero as they have been asking to be able to do. Safety takes a back seat in this case to a biker's convenience," he said.
Concern about the chicanes and discussion regarding their removal isn't new. Most recently, former Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez sought to remove the devices in 2011, Barron Park resident Doug Moran said. Because public outreach in this case was limited to some segments of the bicycle community, it created a volatile situation with groups that were not consulted prior to the decision to remove the chicanes, he noted.