News

Council gives up grant funding for south Palo Alto bike projects

Staffing shortages, shifting priorities and disagreements stifle city's progress on East Meadow Drive and Fabian Way bikeways

Cyclists bike down East Meadow Drive in in Palo Alto on July 14, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

After failing to make progress on new bikeways in south Palo Alto, the City Council agreed on Monday night to give up more than $900,000 in federal funding for the project.

The funding, which was provided to the city in 2017, was intended for the construction of separated bike paths and traffic-calming measures on segments of East Meadow Drive and Fabian Way, as well as at the Waverley Avenue multiuse bike path between East Meadow and East Charleston Road, next to Mitchell Park. The project would have been funded through a grant program known as the Vehicle Emissions Reductions Based at Schools (VERBS), which focuses on prominent school corridors. The segment in south Palo Alto includes JLS Middle School and Fairmeadow and Herbert Hoover elementary schools and Kehillah High School.

Despite initial enthusiasm among city staff and the Palo Alto City Council, the project never took off. Residents along East Meadow raised alarms about the prospect of losing about 80 parking spots east of Middlefield Road to make way for a protected bikeway, which they claimed is not needed in this area. Facing opposition, the council agreed in August to revise the proposal and settle for narrowing car lanes and adding green paint and road markings designating the roads as a bike route.

On Monday, the council dealt the project a major blow when it voted 5-1, with Greg Tanaka dissenting and Tom DuBois absent, to relinquish the grant funding, which was awarded by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) through the One Bay Area Grant 2 program (VERBS is a program within the OBAG grant). The $919,000 grant stipulated that the city must initiate construction by January 2023.

The city's Office of Transportation argued in a report that the deadline cannot be met thanks to a combination of staffing shortages and the council's shifting priorities. The VTA advised the city that it would need to complete its outreach, design and environmental review by Oct. 1, the deadline for submitting the design package to the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for processing. The effort to prepare the documents was further complicated by the departure of the senior transportation planner who spearheaded the project in July 2021 and by the city's inability to hire contractors to help manage the project. The city finally hired a new staff member last month.

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City staff were also advised by the VTA that even if Palo Alto submitted the documents to Caltrans by early October, there is a strong chance that the Caltrans would take too long to process the application, thus jeopardizing the city's ability to meet its deadline.

"Not meeting the deadline will be marked as a project delivery failure by regional and state funders and will count against the City in future funding applications, whereas returning the funds does not jeopardize the City's future grant prospects," the report states.

Staff plans to reapply for the grant in the next round of the OBAG program, which is scheduled for this May. In the meantime, transportation staff plans to shift its focus on planning for bike and pedestrian improvements on California Avenue and a segment of Ramona Street near Hamilton Avenue. Both streets were closed to cars during the pandemic and the council expressed a preference last month to keep them car-free for the foreseeable future, though it has yet to put this decision to a formal vote.

Some bike advocates expressed disappointment about the loss of grant funding. Art Liberman, vice chair of the Palo Alto Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, lamented the city's move to relinquish the grant. Speaking for himself and not as a representative of the committee, Liberman argued that the city is giving up a figurative "bird in hand" for a speculative "two in the bush" that it may never catch.

"Will the city obtain a grant to do the south Palo Alto bikeway project in the future? Maybe, maybe not," Liberman said. "Maybe Palo Alto will never have the south Palo Alto bikeway."

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Arnout Boelens, who advocates for bike improvements, also lamented the loss of funding. Why, he asked in a letter, was the council not previously notified that the California Avenue and Ramona Street projects jeopardize the city's efforts in south Palo Alto?

"Both City staff and volunteers have put a lot of work into this project already, and a lot of this work will have to be redone in order to reapply for funding in May; a large and expensive waste of resources," his letter states.

The council action to relinquish the funds took place on its "consent calendar," a list of items that get approved by a single vote without any debate. The only dissenter was Tanaka, who said he was "puzzled" by the proposal to give up the grant funding and suggested that the city could have done a better job scheduling the bikeway project.

"Giving up $1 million when we're short on cash doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me," Tanaka said.

Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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Council gives up grant funding for south Palo Alto bike projects

Staffing shortages, shifting priorities and disagreements stifle city's progress on East Meadow Drive and Fabian Way bikeways

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Mar 22, 2022, 12:47 pm

After failing to make progress on new bikeways in south Palo Alto, the City Council agreed on Monday night to give up more than $900,000 in federal funding for the project.

The funding, which was provided to the city in 2017, was intended for the construction of separated bike paths and traffic-calming measures on segments of East Meadow Drive and Fabian Way, as well as at the Waverley Avenue multiuse bike path between East Meadow and East Charleston Road, next to Mitchell Park. The project would have been funded through a grant program known as the Vehicle Emissions Reductions Based at Schools (VERBS), which focuses on prominent school corridors. The segment in south Palo Alto includes JLS Middle School and Fairmeadow and Herbert Hoover elementary schools and Kehillah High School.

Despite initial enthusiasm among city staff and the Palo Alto City Council, the project never took off. Residents along East Meadow raised alarms about the prospect of losing about 80 parking spots east of Middlefield Road to make way for a protected bikeway, which they claimed is not needed in this area. Facing opposition, the council agreed in August to revise the proposal and settle for narrowing car lanes and adding green paint and road markings designating the roads as a bike route.

On Monday, the council dealt the project a major blow when it voted 5-1, with Greg Tanaka dissenting and Tom DuBois absent, to relinquish the grant funding, which was awarded by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) through the One Bay Area Grant 2 program (VERBS is a program within the OBAG grant). The $919,000 grant stipulated that the city must initiate construction by January 2023.

The city's Office of Transportation argued in a report that the deadline cannot be met thanks to a combination of staffing shortages and the council's shifting priorities. The VTA advised the city that it would need to complete its outreach, design and environmental review by Oct. 1, the deadline for submitting the design package to the state Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for processing. The effort to prepare the documents was further complicated by the departure of the senior transportation planner who spearheaded the project in July 2021 and by the city's inability to hire contractors to help manage the project. The city finally hired a new staff member last month.

City staff were also advised by the VTA that even if Palo Alto submitted the documents to Caltrans by early October, there is a strong chance that the Caltrans would take too long to process the application, thus jeopardizing the city's ability to meet its deadline.

"Not meeting the deadline will be marked as a project delivery failure by regional and state funders and will count against the City in future funding applications, whereas returning the funds does not jeopardize the City's future grant prospects," the report states.

Staff plans to reapply for the grant in the next round of the OBAG program, which is scheduled for this May. In the meantime, transportation staff plans to shift its focus on planning for bike and pedestrian improvements on California Avenue and a segment of Ramona Street near Hamilton Avenue. Both streets were closed to cars during the pandemic and the council expressed a preference last month to keep them car-free for the foreseeable future, though it has yet to put this decision to a formal vote.

Some bike advocates expressed disappointment about the loss of grant funding. Art Liberman, vice chair of the Palo Alto Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, lamented the city's move to relinquish the grant. Speaking for himself and not as a representative of the committee, Liberman argued that the city is giving up a figurative "bird in hand" for a speculative "two in the bush" that it may never catch.

"Will the city obtain a grant to do the south Palo Alto bikeway project in the future? Maybe, maybe not," Liberman said. "Maybe Palo Alto will never have the south Palo Alto bikeway."

Arnout Boelens, who advocates for bike improvements, also lamented the loss of funding. Why, he asked in a letter, was the council not previously notified that the California Avenue and Ramona Street projects jeopardize the city's efforts in south Palo Alto?

"Both City staff and volunteers have put a lot of work into this project already, and a lot of this work will have to be redone in order to reapply for funding in May; a large and expensive waste of resources," his letter states.

The council action to relinquish the funds took place on its "consent calendar," a list of items that get approved by a single vote without any debate. The only dissenter was Tanaka, who said he was "puzzled" by the proposal to give up the grant funding and suggested that the city could have done a better job scheduling the bikeway project.

"Giving up $1 million when we're short on cash doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me," Tanaka said.

Comments

Keri
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Mar 22, 2022 at 8:39 pm
Keri, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Mar 22, 2022 at 8:39 pm

This news is so disappointing. I know the City staff spent a lot of time on these VERBS projects, which are so important to keeping children and others safe on major school corridors. To have these projects axed by neighbors (who don't own the street) is shameful for all residents. South Palo Alto is desperately in need of a separated under/overpass for bikes and pedestrians. We've been waiting for years for the promised improvements to Wilkie Way as a bikeway. We need to let the City make these safety improvements. Why have we, as a City, decided that the right to park in front of your house is more important than creating safe routes for bikes and pedestrians?


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2022 at 9:00 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 22, 2022 at 9:00 pm

I'm not sure how this all fits into the mix but since the new Express Lanes on 101 and the slower regular lanes, it is my impression that there has been more traffic using Bayshore, Fabian, Middlefield, etc. I would imagine that some of this increased traffic is drivers deciding not to use 101, or at least not using the same ramps to 101 and driving more on local streets.

This says to me that there will be more traffic that is hoping to speed up their 101 drive time. What that does to traffic safety can only be imagined.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 22, 2022 at 9:12 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 22, 2022 at 9:12 pm

Good, And Mr. Tanaka, don;t be so puzzled that the city gave up the grant money; just because money's there doesn't mean we need to spend it when traffic's already a disaster with all the cars diverting to city streets from 101.


Rose
Registered user
Mayfield
on Mar 23, 2022 at 12:47 pm
Rose, Mayfield
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 12:47 pm

Given climate change and traffic issues, we and our City officials should be doing everything possible to encourage and make bicycling safer on our streets. When cycling is safer, more residents and workers will use public transportation and their bikes. That will reduce emissions and traffic, as well as lower the cost of transportation. Students can ride to school, adults can ride to work, to get groceries, to see friends. Save money, get healthy, get happy! Smell the roses.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2022 at 1:07 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 1:07 pm

In town, we have people of all ages walking and biking for recreation, transportation, exercise, physical therapy. This is part of being a healthy, safe, and sustainable community. I bike, walk and drive for transportation. As a driver, I expect to drive at much slower speeds in town, especially on school routes like these streets. I welcome changes that make it safer for everyone, even if that means we have to remove parking. I accept that this means I will not always get to park immediately close to my destination or home and that I might have to walk a bit from my car to my destination. Good exercise.

Suggestion: the city might consider some off-road handicap parking at a destination like a park to make sure people who HAVE to drive and whose abilities require close proximity to destination are accommodated. There might also be a time limited space for people who are schlepping picnic and party equipment and provisions to the park for events to temporarily park as they shuttle things to their event site in the park.

Points made about auto trips being diverted from 101 are well-taken. However, to my mind, this makes the project MORE needed to maintain safe conditions in town, especially on school routes. More than half of this community's children walk or bike to school. Let's keep them safe. Also, our community is aging (I'm a senior.). Walking and biking is a good way to stay fit and healthy--but as we age, seniors are more likely to be hit by cars. Data on this is crystal clear. Safety for in-town routes helps older folks like me who want to stay fit and healthy as we age.


Amie
Registered user
Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2022 at 1:17 pm
Amie, Downtown North
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 1:17 pm

This is very sad after so much money and time (oh the many meetings) being spent on this potential bike lane.

To me the photo says it all - those folks are riding ON THE SIDEWALK because the street does not feel safe. 60% of the public say they want to ride more but are scared. When we are facing a severe climate emergency and 60% of the city's emissions are from road transportation, bike lanes represent changes we need ASAP. We have less than 25 years of snow in Tahoe and camping in the sierra forests, all as we currently face crippling droughts. How don't people get this!

As a final note - public right-of-way is for public movement and use, not for parking of a privately owned car. I would love to know how many garages along this stretch (especially for those who opposed the bike lane in favor pf parking) are too full of stuff to even house a car.......


Eeyore (formerly StarSpring)
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2022 at 4:12 pm
Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 4:12 pm

I'll be the contrarian here. We do NOT need to spend more taxpayer dollars on traffic "calming", too-small-for-safety traffic "circles" that still have stop signs, bulb outs and other traffic impeding street furniture. I'm all for maximizing safe routes for CHILDREN, but spandex wearing adult cyclists are getting more than their fair share of City resources. We have real issues in this City that have a better claim on our expenditures. The Bicycle Coalition has a loud advocacy, but whomever shouts the loudest does not get the priority.


Cal Ave resident
Registered user
College Terrace
on Mar 23, 2022 at 8:28 pm
Cal Ave resident, College Terrace
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 8:28 pm
Resident
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Mar 23, 2022 at 9:10 pm
Resident, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 9:10 pm

This refusal to make roads safer for middle and high school children is a shame, especially after the recent death in Mountain View. East Meadow drive is a commonly used road by children and separated bike paths are a necessity on it.

@Eeyore People like you'd rather jeopardize the safety of children just because you don't like adult cyclists. I'm sure you have no school age children yourself.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2022 at 11:09 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 11:09 pm

Council Member Filseth, Your vote to let go of this bikeways funding flys in the face of your waxing opines about 2000 micro housing units in the ROLM / GM Housing Element sites. Hello?! The ROLM and GM sites are transit deserts, far from schools and city parks and playgrounds, picnics, trains and laughter and hope. How absolutely hypocritical of you to turn away bikeway dollars where you'd just about cartwheel for homes in toxic outer limits. All the while promoting a massive housing site -- the size of a small city -- right on top of a cruddy freeway. Yes shut down bike opportunity while walling yourself in your precious R1 zone (if I were not such a polite and respectful person of all genders, creeds and cultural backgrounds, I would think the letter R stands for something other than Residential). Your remarks and unsavory perspectives are absurd and far far far from our galaxy, where it is that humans on Earth reside. The council just vomited away another great fight agains climate changes and sustainability and a future on Earth for our kids.


panative
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 23, 2022 at 11:12 pm
panative, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 23, 2022 at 11:12 pm

900k works out to to roughly 11k per East Meadow parking space. Nothing about that makes any sense.


Easy8
Registered user
Green Acres
on Mar 24, 2022 at 12:19 am
Easy8, Green Acres
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2022 at 12:19 am

It was kind of buried in the article. Bike improvements ARE planned for these routes, it's just that the improvements are not as extreme as originally proposed by the grant.

Web Link


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 24, 2022 at 10:16 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2022 at 10:16 am

I too will be a contrarian here.

All those decrying on-street parking as elitist (or whatever) continue to ignore the fact that ADUs and the new high-density housing don't require ANY additional parking. People won't be able to park IN the garages because the garages will be HOUSING. But please keep on virtue-signalling while ignoring reality.

As for safety, I'm sure the additional 2,000,000 people mandated for the Bay Aea will do a lot for parking, safety and the ease of transportation whether by bike, car, foot or pogo stick. Just ignore the fact that the traffic light timing STILL doesn't work right and that frustrated drivers have been forming their own lanes. FOR YEARS.

Enough with the virtue signalling and look at the totality, See also 5 lb bags and 20 lbs of, er, material.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 24, 2022 at 10:21 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2022 at 10:21 am

I read the comments above - no sense of reality here. Palo Alto is a small city. It is wall to wall residential with expensive homes on all borders. Yes - the homes in south PA are expensive - any and all being replaced with two-story new buildings, or totally renovated one-story homes. We do not compare with other bordering cities relative to commercial space that can be repurposed, or open space that is not built on or assigned the budgetary requirements of a PARK. Much pointless hyperbole from Native.
Are people confused by the fact that we are here originally because of the SU and grew up around it? We have no say about the fields for play on El Camino which are SU property. If SU increases the size of it's facilities then they need to add housing on their property. And they have a huge amount of property that is not built on. What does ABAG have to say about that?

If people are moving out to less expensive suburban cities then that is the norm for CA. That is why schools are closing. Families with school age children are leaving. Blowing money away to re-make the streets which are already marked up to the hilt. Time to refocus on fixing the schools so they are not shifting people all over the place.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2022 at 12:40 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2022 at 12:40 pm

Something definitely needs to be done to the Loma Verde/Middlefield light. There are too many turning vehicles, parked vehicles (some illegally), pedestrians, bikes and people running out of Philz with coffee, seeing a walk signal and running out even though a car may have already started a turn. This happened to me today and since I had already started turning before he ran from the coffee shop it was very fortunate for all that nothing happened.

I would suggest this is the most dangerous intersection in south Palo Alto.


Mondoman
Registered user
Green Acres
on Mar 24, 2022 at 10:33 pm
Mondoman, Green Acres
Registered user
on Mar 24, 2022 at 10:33 pm

This is great news! The Charleston/Arastradero traffic "calming" and "improvement" project has been a poorly thought-out boondoggle from the beginning. I was glad to read about "the departure of the senior transportation planner who spearheaded the project in July 2021" as that will hopefully minimize the chances of similar future boondoggles.

Seemingly similar to the case in academic pedagogy circles, academic transportation circles seem to constantly produce new fads without attention to basic performance metrics and even physical facts. Slower-moving, more-fragile bicyclists should be physically separated from higher-speed, massive cars and trucks as much as possible. That means putting bike routes and lanes on lightly-traveled residential streets, not on heavily-traveled arterials like Charleston.

It also raises grave safety questions about local implementations of "traffic calming", which all too often simply involve narrowing auto lanes and bounding them with physical barriers in an effort to make drivers feel unsafe and so drive more slowly. Well, they ARE less safe, as evidenced by the many scuff marks from wheels hitting those physical barriers (easily visible along the new Arastradero/Charleston "improved" sections).

More real SV-style engineering and fewer fads, please!


III
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 2, 2022 at 7:28 pm
III, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 2, 2022 at 7:28 pm

What we really need to do is SLOW DOWN CARS,
Get trucks off our side streets.
Trucks, one problem is so many construction 3 ton trucks
up and down streets all day long. Not sure how to change
that, with every 5th Palo Alto home being bulldozed to the ground.
Slowing down speeders.... OMG..... Amazing how many Mothers I see
driving their children to school down our streets, 33mph, almost
the Oregon Expressway speed limit..... Middlefield from San Antonio
to Oregon Expressway is a DISASTER..... 40mph is the norm....
Speed limit is 25mph. Only reason goes slower Middlefield to Embaracdero
is single lane each way.....


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