City Council members unanimously voted Tuesday to postpone construction of a trail crossing near Google headquarters after the company proposed what may be a superior alternative for bicyclists, pedestrians and the environment.
Google officials didn't have to make a fuss to persuade council members that it might be better to build an under-crossing for the Permanente Creek Trail rather than the $400,000 crosswalk approved last year to get trail users across Charleston Road in the heart of Google headquarters. Numerous Google employees use the trail to commute to work, and to move around the massive Googleplex on its brightly colored bicycles.
"We think it's a far safer type of crossing and one that's probably a little more environmentally sensitive," said Google's John Igoe of the design, which provides "anyone biking in the area with a much enhanced experience."
Going beyond what anyone had asked for, Google representatives propose the removal of 96 parking spaces along the west bank of the creek to widen the creek channel between Highway 101 and Charleston Road. To do so would help restore the creek and improve wildlife habitat, work which Google and local non-profit Acterra have already begun by planting native plants on the creek banks. Google provided the city with a long list of native plants that would be used to restore the creek, described as little more than a "concrete ditch" through much of Mountain View by resident Greg Unangst.
"Permanente Creek is one of the most abused creeks in the Valley, from the (Lehigh Hanson cement) quarry all the way to to Bay," Unangst said. "Hopefully we can do much better. This is a great improvement."
Last year council members balked at paying $4.2 million for such an under-crossing. It did include a more convenient connection to Charleston Road, but council members hesitated at the removal of 20 trees required to make that work.
Google is avoiding the removal of those 20 trees, but it likely means cyclists and pedestrians must take a more indirect route to the street.
"To access Charleston Road from the trail, a trail user would cross the creek on one of the two bridges included in the project," explained public works director Mike Fuller in an email.
Google will be building two new footbridges across the creek, including one at a yet-to-be-determined location south of Charleston Road and another north of Charleston replacing a heavily used footbridge connecting the former Alza headquarters to the Googleplex, which Google has deemed too narrow.
Unangst, also chair of the city's bicycle pedestrian advisory committee, said the committee had not been able to review the design yet, adding that there is some confusion about access to Charleston Road from the trail and "a lot of chatter in the bike community about how that is going to come off."
Council member Mike Kasperzak stressed that the council wasn't approving Google's project by allowing it to move ahead in the design process.
"Safety is paramount," said resident Linda Curtis, adding that the under-crossing solves the problem of cars striking trail users. "If it ever saves lives, it's worth it."