Editorial: Bike bridge: good idea, bad execution | June 1, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - June 1, 2012

Editorial: Bike bridge: good idea, bad execution

Kniss's attempt to rush through plan for using Stanford trail money was a misstep that served no one well

Without any prior discussion with Stanford University officials and on just a few days notice, County Supervisor (and candidate for Palo Alto City Council) Liz Kniss's proposal to allocate more than $8 million to construct a bike bridge over highway 101 and a bayfront trail fell abruptly on its face last week.

Consideration of Kniss's plan was quickly and appropriately postponed by her colleagues after a Stanford homeowners group and the university protested the lack of any prior notice, discussion or invitation of other ways of spending the money, which is available due to San Mateo County rejecting a trail which Stanford had committed to funding as part of obtaining its current use permit.

Stanford was obligated under the use permit, adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2011, to build trails that would help complete the county's regional trail plan. After Stanford's proposed trails, one along Page Mill Road and the other along Alpine Road, became mired in controversy and resulting delays, the board finally approved the Page Mill trail and left it up to San Mateo County to negotiate the Alpine Road trail.

With San Mateo County's rejection of Stanford's trail plan, some $10 million is now available to the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors to allocate for recreational purposes relating to the impacts of new development on the Stanford campus. Kniss had attempted to broaden this language back in 2006 to require the money be used to pay for recreational facilities within 10 miles of the campus, but her colleagues rejected the change.

Exactly what the parameters are for spending the $10 million will undoubtedly be a debate itself. Other conditions of Stanford's use permit already require the university to replace, using separate dollars, lost recreational resources caused by new development on campus.

We think a case can be made that using some of that money for a bike bridge over 101 is consistent with the agreement, but other options should be on the table and both Stanford and the general public should have more than a few days to discuss it.

Clearly, a bike bridge would be a major enhancement to Palo Alto's bicycle master plan and would add to the ability of some Stanford workers or students to bike to work, but there are likely other options that are as good or better. The Stanford homeowners group offered a few, including creating new or improving existing bike paths on the periphery of the campus.

With $10 million available to spend on trails or other recreational uses in the Stanford area, the Board of Supervisors needs a process that generates constructive input from Stanford, the City of Palo Alto and the public.

Kniss would be wise to focus her efforts on outreach to her constituents and on building a consensus within the community on the best use of these funds.


Posted by svatoid, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2012 at 6:00 am

A well deserved slap in the face for Liz Kniss. As most of us realize this was a campaign ploy to help her election campaign for the city council. After all, Kniss, a career politician, is owed a new elected office once she is termed out of another one. Bravo to her colleagues for seeing that they were being manipulated and exploited for her personal gain--a trait that Kniss is well known for.

Posted by Sant Clara Co Citizen, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Liz Kniss should be remInded that the campus residents are also her constituents.

Posted by Michael O, a resident of Stanford
on Jun 2, 2012 at 6:12 pm

How, exactly, would a bicycle bridge over 101 mitigate the loss of use of land on Stanford campus? It wouldn't. While a bicycle bridge may be a good idea for Palo Alto, it does nothing to directly or indirectly improve the lives of those people effected by Stanford's expansion.

My advice to Liz Kniss: if you think Palo Alto needs more money, take on Prop 13. I'll be behind you 110% if you do.

Posted by Kniss for developers, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 3, 2012 at 10:50 am

If you like the big developments being built all over Palo Alto, support her. If she gets on the council, you'll see more and more.
Her support for major developers is well known. We saw it when she ran for Supervisor and when she was on the city council.

Posted by yimby, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm

This is a fantastic project for the Palo Alto and Stanford communities. There is a huge demand for pedestrian and bicycle safe routes from Stanford and southern Palo Alto to the Palo Alto baylands and Mountain View Shoreline areas. If the cities and county are unwilling to make San Antonio Road bicycle and pedestrian friendly (especially for children), this is a fine alternative. Please get it done ASAP. The cost for this project is minimal compared to what we spend on car projects like those brand new $100 million boondoggle merging lanes on Hwy 101 (paid for by county sales taxes). Thank you Ms. Kniss.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm

I spent a minute or two counting the individuals using the new 101 lanes until I got to a hundred, and the same amount of minutes counting the individuals using the bike bridge at Oregon. The ratio is infinite as the denominator was zero. (Go ahead and yell at me but these data are factual. Feel free to collect your own numbers.)

Pertinent to the editorial, I do agree that a newer bike bridge is a good idea, but this specific Stanford money should be spent much closer to Stanford.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm

And the additional cost to Palo Alto tax payers cannot be justified. Certainly not under the current economic climate, with the city facing annual budget deficits, and essential civic needs that remain unfunded. This project represents another example of city management caving to special interests and not considering the greater good of the city. This bike bridge is a want, not a need.

Posted by Let-Liz-Pay, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Spending hundreds of millions of the public's dollars always seems like a good idea to the Weekly--particularly if the money benefits a small special interest group. There is simply no need for this bridge--no matter what Liz Kniss thinks, or says!

But of course, she could pay for it .. even get her name on it. Now that would be a great idea!

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Would you let Liz pay for it if you knew Palo Alto would get stuck with the maintenance costs?

Posted by Let-Liz-Pay, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm

> it if you knew Palo Alto would get stuck
> with the maintenance costs?

It does depend on what those maintenance costs might be. If those costs are not identified up front, then we would have to believe that they would be unnecessarily large, and the Palo Alto taxpayers might well get stuck for hundreds of thousands a year in otherwise hidden costs.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 3, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Not only saddled with the maintenance costs, but also the cost overruns for the construction. So I'll ask the question. When has our city built within budget. One only needs to look at the Mitchell Park Library for the answer. No bike bridge. There are too many other priorities for this project to even be in the discussion.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 4, 2012 at 4:30 am

Maintenance costs for ped/bike bridges are nearly zero, and the last for a long time. The old one near Embarcadero was here in the mid-70s (perhaps earlier) and has has needed no major repairs since then. Compare that to the cost of maintaining the lanes of 101 that it crosses.

Posted by Guest, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 4, 2012 at 7:28 am

Why does this project come in at $10 MM+?

There are several new/recently constructed bike and pedestrian bridges over 101 in the San Francisco direction. Why not use the design of one of these?

It'd be a bridge over an ugly freeway. Give up the nonsense that everything Palo Alto touches has to be upscale; with special design, curved materials, etc.

Take care of the shabby streets with the savings.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 4, 2012 at 8:03 am

Donald, there will undoubtedly be maintenance costs. Painting, graffiti clean-up, and normal wear will result in some cost. I'm not suggesting it would be a major cost, but to suggest that it would be "nearly zero" is a bit unreasonable. Regardless, that is additional cost that we cannot afford during these very difficult and challenging times. This is not the time to be making non-essential investments.

My biggest concern is that tax payers will also be left on the hook for any cost overruns on this project. Really? We're going to put our faith in a city management team that hasn't constructed anything within budget in I don't know how long? Just look at the current Mitchell Park Library budget and you'll have some idea.

This project is a nice idea, and in a favorable financial climate I would have no issue with the implementation. However, we shouldn't even be considering a non-essential pursuit such as this when we still face annual budget deficits and can't pay for essential civic needs that doesn't involve another bond measure and tax increase. City management's irresponsible spending and catering to special interests hast to be curbed.

Posted by Let-Liz-Pay, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2012 at 8:49 am

>Maintenance costs for ped/bike bridges are nearly zero,
> and the last for a long time

One might think so, but in the public sector there are always some sort of County/State/Federal/OSHA/EPA/UN requirements that must be met. At the very least, all such structures need safety inspections—particularly after earthquakes.

The City is currently spending $150K to measure the "reflectance" of all of the street signs in Palo Alto, per Federal Directive. This is a lot of money for something that is not very valuable. Not hard to believe that sooner-or-later some requirement for bicycle bridges won't come along that will cost the City money in order to be in compliance.

The City of Palo Alto is desperate for revenue, so they will find a way to charge for something, under their famous “full cost recovery” model. Anyone who believes that the City will not find some way to exact revenue from this structure is not being realistic.

Posted by first time commenter, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2012 at 11:23 am

Marrol, read the editorial. This money isn't taxpayer money -- it's money Stanford was obligated to use "to build trails that would help complete the county's regional trail plan." It can't be used as a slush fund to fix other problems in Palo Alto. Either it's used for these projects, or for other trails. So choose what trail you want to spend it on, but one way or another it's going to be used for a trail.

Personally I think a bike overpass over 101 is a good idea. The only other suggestion I saw in the article was for bike paths on the periphery of the Stanford campus, and that seems pretty redundant seeing as how the campus is crisscrossed with bike paths already.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 5, 2012 at 12:33 pm

First Time, look at the entire picture. The grant money will pay for the initial cost of the construction, but is not structured in any way to cover the cost overruns and ongoing maintenance. There will be undoubtedly cost overruns. Palo Alto is infamous for never completing a project within budget, and there is no reason to believe that this one will be any different. That leaves tax payers on the hook for the remainder of the cost. Sorry, but we can't afford the risk. Certainly not while we face annual budget deficits and a mounting price tag for absolutely vital and essential needs that exist in infrastructure and public safety.

Posted by first time commenter, a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm

So you don't want the money spent on any projects in Palo Alto? How about elsewhere in the county? By your logic, nothing should be built anywhere with this money because then there would be upkeep costs.

Posted by Marrol, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Not true First Time. All I'm suggesting is that we shouldn't build this bike bridge, a want and not a need, when our city is in dire financial straits. If you'd read my entire commentary you'd find that I'd have no issue with this project if and when we can afford the expenditure. This isn't the time. We still face annual budget deficits and do not have the money to fund our vital and neglected civic needs in infrastructure and public safety. You're in a convenient position to offer support when you're not going to be hit with another significant tax increase to pay for these essential needs. Sorry, we can't afford it.

Posted by Stanford is NOT your friend, a resident of Portola Valley
on Jun 5, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Wake up people -- this is just another tactic by Stanford to avoid paying this money as long as possible!! They don't want to do anything unless they can do it THEIR way, so of course if Liz Kniss says let's build a bike bridge, they say no way. They tried to force their plan on the Alpine Road neighborhoods, now they'll do the same here. Liz Kniss is not the bad guy here.

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