Key agreements pave way for Palo Alto's new bike bridge

Public officials, Google execs celebrate partnership for new overpass at Adobe Creek

Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss addresses dozens of officials and residents at a ceremony where the city signed agreements for a new pedestrian and bike bridge on Dec. 17, 2018. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Palo Alto's plan for a bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 sped ahead on Monday morning, when city officials formally signed agreements with multiple agencies, paving the way for construction of the long-delayed project to begin next year and conclude in 2020.

At a small, makeshift space off of Adobe Creek trail in south Palo Alto, agency representatives signed agreements that allow the city to go out to bid in January.

Among the 60 people at the event were representatives of organizations involved in the project -- such as the city of Palo Alto, Google, Caltrans and Santa Clara County Valley Water District -- and everyday commuters who have kept a close eye on the bridge's progress.

In their opening remarks, Assistant City Manager Ed Shikada and City Manager Jim Keene praised the milestone in the project, which officials have been discussing for at least six years. The proposed bridge is a key component of both the council's 2014 infrastructure plan, which also includes new garages and a new police headquarters, and the 2012 Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Plan.

"It's been a really long journey," said Shikada, who will soon become Palo Alto's city manager with Keene's retirement.

Keene proudly reminded the audience that Palo Alto has a 10 percent bike-to-work commute and emphasized the importance of fostering a bike-friendly city.

Once the bridge is completed, the city estimates that about 74,000 trips will be taken across it annually.

State Assemblyman Marc Berman commended the city on infrastructure work that has been done over the past nine years, pointing to the improvements to road quality, the Rinconada fire station replacement project, the recently opened Baylands Golf Links, the Municipal Services Center and animal services center.

"Residents don't realize how much work goes into the infrastructure assets that we have in Palo Alto -- how many nights were spent at the Lucie Stern Center eating cold pizza, pouring over all the details of what are Palo Alto's infrastructure assets, prioritizing what the backlog is and figuring out how to pay for it," he said.

Once built, the new bridge at Adobe Creek will provide year-round Baylands access to south Palo Alto residents, who today rely on a seasonal undercrossing that's typically only open between April and October.

Under the city's agreement with Google, which owns property on West Bayshore Road, the tech giant has donated a permanent easement to the city for the bicycle and pedestrian bridge. The agreement provides to the city both a temporary easement for construction and, once construction is complete, a permanent, non-exclusive easement.

According to a report from the Public Works Department, the permanent easement will allow the city to reconfigure a driveway and parking stalls; install bridge structure and piles; and put up landscaping, lighting and signage.

The landscaped area will also serve as a bioretention area that treats stormwater runoff. According to the city, there will be no net loss or increase of private parking stalls on Google's property, allowing the company to continue use of its private parking lot at the site.

The city's agreement with Caltrans sets the terms of maintenance of the overpass, which is in the state right-of-way. The agreement obliges the city to take pre-eminent responsibility for project maintenance. According to the Public Works report, this will likely require the city to seek a maintenance-service contract for work such as structural repairs and graffiti abatement.

The report also noted that the state has waived any future encroachment-permit fees to support the project.

Gary Kremen, Santa Clara Valley Water District board director, discussed at the ceremony the environmentally beneficial aspects of the project. He said since the overpass will allow commuters to stay on their bikes safely throughout the entire year, it will aid in reducing carbon emissions in the city.

Mark Golan, Google's chief operating officer for real estate investments and development, also pointed out that the area is a "key gap in bike network."

"The bridge will greatly improve the regional bicycle network, enabling thousands of new and safe commuting and recreational bike and walking trips for residents," he said.

For supporters of the project, the new agreements are a welcome bit of news for a bridge project that has been hampered by an extraordinarily long design process and escalating costs. Initially envisioned as an "iconic bridge," the overpass underwent a design contest in 2014 that included evaluation by a panel of independent experts, the city's Architectural Review Board and ultimately the City Council.

After some debate over two design options -- a prominent, red arch and a slender, ribbon-like bridge -- the council opted for the latter, only to abandon the design when the engineer's cost estimates far exceeded the city's expectations. The city then scrapped its plan for a bridge with "Wow!" factor and settled for a more basic, 12-foot-wide structure.

The City Council approved the environmental impact report for the project in November 2017. The new bridge will also include an overlook area with benches and signage as well as lights to illuminate the bike path at night.

Many residents in attendance at the ceremony expressed their enthusiasm for the overpass but said it had taken far too long for the project to start construction.

Peter Allen, a Palo Alto resident since 1985, travels 10-mile loops out on the levees every week. Although he wouldn't need the overpass for his commute, he said he could use it during recreational biking. He described the project as "long overdue."

"It's just a good project for everyone, and it's nice to see this officially moving forward because there have been bumps on the road," he said.

Greg Unangst, a member of the Mountain View Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said he discovered the current undercrossing in the 1980s but said there were no signs. Raising public awareness of the route has been difficult.

"Here we are 40 years later finally getting a bridge," Unangst said.

Sonia Micek, another longtime resident, attended the ceremony with her husband, Eugene Micek. Like Unangst, she didn't know the undercrossing existed for a long time.

"It took us 10 years to even realize we can come this way," she said. "For the last 20 years we've enjoyed it very much. It'll be exciting it'll be available year-round."

She said every year she had been disappointed when an extension had been placed on the project but is now hopeful that it'll finally be built.

"It's a relief that we've come to this point. It took longer than anyone ever anticipated. We live on the other side (of the highway) and it's nice for us to be able to walk here. ... It's very peaceful to see nature close by, to get away from the urban setting, so it'll be exciting to see it finished," she said.

Though the project's cost has increased to $16 million (up from initial estimates of about $10 million), much of the funding will come from state and regional sources. The Santa Clara County Recreation Trails Program has provided a grant of $4 million, while another $4.35 million will come from the One Bay Area grant program.

Mayor Liz Kniss recalled that during her time working at Sun Microsystems her colleagues had told her the commute would be much easier "if only the bridge was open year-round." She lauded the project as an opportunity to cut down the time residents spend on their commutes.

"I think this is truly an example of everybody working together, bringing the money together, bringing the excitement together," she said at the ceremony.


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28 people like this
Posted by worker
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2018 at 5:58 pm

So glad this bridge is finally being built after the city so badly botched the project to build it in 2014. Right now, the only reasonably direct way to bicycle from southern Palo Alto to the employers in the north Shoreline area is to take San Antonio Road, where the lighting is very poor during the winter evening commute and there are no bike lanes and reckless driving is rampant. Every person bicycling to work is one less car on the road and in the parking lot.

2 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 17, 2018 at 8:04 pm

It's a shame that this project was rushed along. We could have had a great piece of architecture similar to the bridge in Cupertino, instead we get a cookie-cutter bridge with no redeeming qualities.

Adding this bridge without bike upgrades on West Bayshore is asking for trouble. W Bayshore is a deathtrap for bikers, especially going in the north direction. Cars on one side, fence / freeway on the other.

17 people like this
Posted by Questions
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2018 at 10:35 pm

There are a lot of wordings in the article except for a few words clarifying the location of the bridge.

I assume it is going to be close the current undercrossing by Adobe Creek. The other question is why the city does not dredge the creek to keep the undercrossing open throughout the year. The creek is full of dirt and mud along the undercrossing. It probably cost the city much less than the cost of the bridge to clean it.

And for the last question, if there is so much demand for bikers from South Palo Alto to Bay, why I rarely see any biker or walker on San Antonio overpass. I use the sidewalk to cross the bridge. It is narrow but functional and serviceable. But I rarely encounter any rider!

7 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2018 at 10:43 pm

@ worker - We always avoid San Antonio Road. Instead, we bike across Rengstorff. It is easier and safer to cross. It isn't that far from San Antonio Road either.

17 people like this
Posted by Downfall
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 17, 2018 at 11:23 pm

So nice to see the city leaders patting themselves on the back for something that should have been done years ago. Sure its going to cost at least an extra $6 million due to the delays but who cares since "...much of the funding will come from state and regional sources." Isn't it fun to be wasteful with taxpayer money!!

17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 18, 2018 at 12:14 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Glad the bike bridge will be built. But when I read a statement like "Keene proudly reminded the audience that Palo Alto has a 10 percent bike-to-work commute and emphasized the importance of fostering a bike-friendly city," I can't help wondering about the many millions of dollars spent on traffic diets, road furniture, bollards, roundabouts, bulb-outs etc, to make the remaining 90% of us waste our time stuck in increasing gridlock due to the ever-increasing number of commuters.

But then again, our public officials tell us we've got no traffic problems and there's no relationship between office growth and congestion.

20 people like this
Posted by Build it now
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2018 at 6:18 am

This bridge should have been built years ago. Unfortunately the project was hijacked as an ego trip for a certain council member(we need am iconic bridge. We need a design contest. Let's ignore the results of the design contest. Forget it. It costs too much).
Finally we will get what we're wanted all along- a simple bridge.
Btw, what happened to the money that kniss got from Stanford that was for this project? Was that all wasted?

9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2018 at 7:59 am

Approved, designed, funded. Let's build it before somebody changes their mind.

19 people like this
Posted by worker
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2018 at 9:58 am

@Online Name - the 10% number only applies to adult commuters. 40% or more of public school children bike to Palo Alto public schools. That is why the city is improving bicycle safety on routes to and from schools.

17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 18, 2018 at 10:34 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@worker, you're right about the adults but there's still something sadistic and illogical in putting us on traffic diets and narrowing the roads WHILE growing the number of commuters and offices so dramatically.

It's past time for institutions that are adding tens of thousands of new workers (and their families) to start paying their fair share of the costs of their expansion

21 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2018 at 10:35 am

> "Residents don't realize how much work goes into the infrastructure assets that we have in Palo Alto -- how many nights were spent at the Lucie Stern Center eating cold pizza

If the people planning our infrastructure cannot figure out to get a microwave to heat their pizza, how good are they really at planning infrastructure?

Meanwhile, little East Palo Alto beats the pants of Palo Alto in building a bicycle bridge. Good job EPA!

26 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 18, 2018 at 10:40 am

> instead we get a cookie-cutter bridge with no redeeming qualities.

No redeeming qualitied except that it might actually get build within a reasonable
time and budget.

Hurray for the cookie-cutter bridge that gets build as opposed to an ostentatious
monstrosity that not everyone will appreciate, that costs too much but will show
up EPA ( serves them right, eh? ) for beating PA in putting up its own bike bridge.

1 person likes this
Posted by Hopefull
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 18, 2018 at 10:54 am

Carp in the creek spawn right in that area...for now.

1 person likes this
Posted by longtime bicycler
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 18, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Everyone else seems to be able to make a bike bridge that looks nice. How come this one's such an ugly truss bridge? Bouncy and crappy.

2 people like this
Posted by Cost compare
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Original estimate was $10 million, for a stylish architecture. Then it went up to what?

The EPA bridge at Home Depot looks plain and simple, like a cement overcrossing -- that alone is $13 million: Web Link

Maybe Facebook is better at pushing things through than Google? Move fast and break things, they say.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 18, 2018 at 4:54 pm

Lots of pictures of people talking, people walking and some bikes, but I would have liked to see some better pictures of the planned bridge. I have been googling but all I can find are pictures of the EPA bridge.

It may or may not be an ugly bridge but I don't really care and it was never an issue for me anyway. As long as it is functional and doesn't cost us an arm and a leg, it will be just another bridge over 101.

13 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2018 at 11:32 pm

Next steps are: Final permit sign offs with CalTrans. Put it out to bid. Start construction in 2019, finish in 2020 I hope. The existing underpass will have to be closed during construction, so summer 2019 - no access.

The project includes a path along Adobe Creek to E. Meadow, so it will be accessible without riding on W. Bayshore!

The money that was awarded by the county Board of Supervisors, when Liz was there, is being used for this project.

The design contest... Turned into a fiasco, because the winner was unwilling to commit to building the design anywhere near the target budget. By the way, the same firm worked on the Cupertino bridge over 280, which had significant design problems with its deck, resulting in severe cost overruns.

To see images from the plans, go to the city web site here: Web Link

When it rains, there is too much water, little slope, so that underpass fills up. Dredging would make no difference. Very early on the city looked at improving the underpass, and allowing a year round path underneath, with a flood wall, but the water district needs the full cross section for flood events, and CalTrans did not want any more excavation under 101.

4 people like this
Posted by A Bridge Too Long
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 19, 2018 at 7:25 am

>> The design contest... Turned into a fiasco, because the winner was unwilling to commit to building the design anywhere near the target budget.

I thought the contest was like a contract, otherwise what was the point? Seems like Palo Alto gets jived and jerked by every contractor/developer project?

It's a bad decisions to have one long unsupported truss over the freeway instead of having it supported and anchored in the middle of 101 ... even it if does somehow make ( one-time ) construction costs a little easier or less expensive. In construction and estimation it is likely the costs will be skimped there. Palo Alto just has to show off in some way that no one really cares about.

16 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2018 at 9:44 am

This bike bridge project has been discussed for so long that I'll only believe it's real when I can bike over it. Sort of like underground power lines or fiber to the home real.

6 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 19, 2018 at 3:23 pm

Don't get me wrong, the bridge is long overdue, but the number of bicyclists in this city is vastly over-inflated as is the budget we spend to service this largely imaginary community.

14 people like this
Posted by worker
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 19, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Some car drivers complain that bicycles are always getting in the way of their car and slowing them down. Some car drivers complain the city does not have enough people riding bicycles for the city to need spending money on safer streets. Both groups are probably driving while distracted and not seeing all road users.

7 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2018 at 5:56 pm

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

This bike bridge design is what a village puts over a stream, not what a city puts over a major highway. Construction got expensive because of the market and because of delays caused by worries about rising cost, not because of the design. The "cost reduced" design is still expensive to build. The major beneficiary is a large employer in Mountain View who's paying a small fraction of the total cost.

Good that something is happening, but probably a preview of how grade separation will proceed.

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 19, 2018 at 9:25 pm

Why why they don't dredge Adobe Creek along the existing 101 underpass?! It is a much cheaper solution to keep it open year long!

4 people like this
Posted by Thank you!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 1, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Thank you! is a registered user.

Thank you, electeds who supported this project. Thank you to Paul Goldstein, Richard Swent and Robert Neff who, each in turn, have worked on the county ped/bike committees and supported this and other county-wide bike/ped facility projects for almost 20 years. Thank you County of Santa Clara for your $10 million contribution. Thank you, Water District, for allowing access in your right-of-way. Thanks, Google, for your contribution of $1M to the project budget. Thank you, City of Palo Alto for your financial contribution and support. Thanks to the many people who bike commute and walk in the bay lands who wrote letters and turned out at meetings to support this project. Thank you, Audubon Society for working with staff to identify environmental mitigations for potential impacts on sensitive bird habitats in our bay lands.

These new connections will provide safer, year-round access to regional bike routes on the bay trails and easy pedestrian access to bird watching and hiking in the bay lands.

Money well spent. Let's get it built!!! I know lots of people feel impatient, but there were a lot of constituencies whose needs, property rights and concerns had to be addressed. This was a complex project that has finally come together thanks to the help and leadership of many.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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