The Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously Monday night to consider building a Highway 101 overpass for bikes and pedestrians.
Staff recommended the . Those underpasses, although potentially cheaper, would have been closed during the rainy season and would have been susceptible to flooding and sea-level rise.
The bridge option, conceived by Alta Planning + Design, would provide year-round access to the Baylands from South Palo Alto, and come with a price tag of between $5.4 and $9.4 million, much of which would ostensibly come from Valley Transportation Authority and other transit agency grants.
That cost was a concern for the Planning and Transportation Commission, but didn’t outweigh the perceived benefits, according to PTC member Greg Tanaka.
“It’s clear that some kind of access is needed for the Baylands, especially for south Palo Alto,” he said. “The problem is the price tag.” The PTC nonetheless voted to recommend the project to City Council on a 4-2 vote.
Other members of the public were outspoken in their support. Palo Alto resident Irvin Dawid encouraged council members to themselves try biking over San Antonio to experience how dangerous and uncomfortable he said it is. A new bridge is critical, and worth the money, he said.
“The idea of cutting pennies on something like this—you’re talking about an infrastructure project that is going to last literally for generations,” said Dawid.
Cedric de La Beaujardiere, Chair of the Bike Advisory Commission, agreed, noting that the location of the bridge in south Palo Alto would support the most number of users. Staff anticipates at least 55,000 users annually. He also encouraged council to select a wide width option in order to support a higher number of people at a variety of speeds.
“Eight foot width could deter people,” he said. An “enhanced” design option that will now be considered by staff could be as wide as 20 feet. A representative from Alta said that ten feet would be the minimum acceptable width to meet future growth needs.
Council Member Greg Schmid was first to emphatically endorse the recommendation.
“I would like to enthusiastically support the proposed 101 overcrossing,” said Schmid. He was disappointed that Palo Alto is lagging behind other Peninsula cities that have already built or are building bridges over Highway 101, including in Belmont, Menlo Park, and Mountain View.
“I guess the question is, why isn’t Palo Alto there?” he said.
Council Member Karen Holman, a self-professed fiscal conservative, was also strongly in favor of the project and took a particular interest in its design. She encouraged city staff not to become too married to the existing conceptual plans, and made a motion to study the creation of a design contest.
“With all due respect to our own designers,” said Holman, “we don’t seem to be attracting really world-class designers. I think if we open this up to broader than our usual design pool, we might find something truly remarkable.”
Holman also encouraged Chief Transportation Official Jamie Rodriguez to explore public-private partnerships to pay for the bridge, namely with Google.
Council Member Gail Price motioned to vote on the recommendation, Holman seconded, and the bike and pedestrian bridge was unanimously selected for a feasibility study.