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By Diana Diamond

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Wait, wait – we’re working on it

Uploaded: Feb 18, 2020
The wheels of local government often turn very slowly – projects seem to take years, rather than months to complete.

This week I came across a lengthy city staff report “Evaluating the Neighborhood Traffic Safety and Bicycle Boulevard Phase I Project,” which is not the sexiest nor most fun topic to read through – almost 40 pages, including data-filled attachments, charts and bike rider figures. The Palo Alto City Council will discuss it Monday night, Sept. 24. I doubt all of the seven members will slog through all of this material.

The report, a seemingly exhaustive staff analysis, focuses on community feedback from the Phase I bicycle boulevard stage, which involved redesigning Ross Road into a bike boulevard, adding lots of street “furniture” (roundabouts, bulb-outs, median strips, speed humps and neckdowns), and also a focus on the Amarillo Avenue-Moreno Avenue Bicycle Boulevard.

The most amazing things to me were the costs associated with these bike boulevards and striping. For example, it cost $7 million to complete parts one-to-four out of nine sections of Phase 1 which, in itself, is a four-phase project Phases II, III, and IV that still are needed. A look at the expenditures shows a $240,861 design error on one street, $281,861 in city design changes, $164,020 in unforeseen costs and $12,000 for quantity adjustments.

Work on these bike boulevards began in 1982. It’s now 38 years later and the city has a long way to go to get the proposed bike paths and boulevards completed (plus there’s that $14 million bike/pedestrian bridge across 101). I couldn’t find in the report the total amount the city has spent on bike projects since 1982, but it’s been a lot and there are millions of dollars more in proposed projects. And Phase I consisted of nine segments, but only four were completed.

And yet just a couple of weeks ago the council hesitated on spending more money on internal hiring of more city auditors because the $400,000 in costs were more than other cities and thus too expensive. (Keep that number in mind; the bike costs are much higher and affect mostly bikers. The audit department oversees city officials and tries to keep them honest -- and important service for all of us.)

Also in the report are these figures:
• “In June 2016 the City budgeted $11.6 million in the 5-Year (FY 2017-2021) CIP toward the achievement of the Bicycle + Pedestrian Transportation Plan.
• “In 2017 the City Council awarded a $9.6 million construction contract to Granite Construction Company for the Phase 1 Project. The project consisted of nine segments that comprised the Ross Road, Amarillo-Moreno, Bryant Street, and Louis- Montrose bicycle boulevards.
• “In September 2017 construction commenced on the Phase 1 project staged in a series of segments that was intended to minimize the disruption in the affected residential neighborhood. The project started on south Ross Road.”

Well, Ross Road, as you may recall, resulted in a lot of real residential anger, particularly because part of this safe bicycle boulevard design involved places on the street where bicycles and autos, actually shared the same road, lane, with bikes and cars yielding to each other, particularly at the small mini-roundabouts. Not many thought that was a good example of bike safety. Residents also complained those roundabouts made it difficult for fire trucks to navigate or moving vans to turn around that circle.

So, the staff is recommending redoing some things, like taking out some of the furniture that was put in – even one of the major roundabout. Good for the city to recognize it made some mistakes. I drove my car down Ross Road several times, and found it especially difficult to navigate that road at night.

There have been four accidents, three involving bicyclists at the East Meadow and Ross Road since this “safety” project was completed. There was no data that was taken when this project began a couple of years ago, so no one is sure whether more or less cyclists and cars are using Ross Road now.

I mentioned the “wait wait – we’re working on it” delays. In July 2018, the city manager decided to monitor the improvements and present a draft report to the council in January, and a final one in August 2019. Those reports never arrived, due to “vacancies…demands of other priority projects … and an evaluation of the Residential Parking Permit program.”

Staff has been diligent, but the delays have been bad, and too many mistakes were made. The costs are significant, so I am not sure whether Phases II, III and IV will even be started.

It will be interesting to see on Monday night how the council is going to handle this report and the next step in bicycle “improvements” for the city. And whether they are concerned about the costs. Are you?

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 4:05 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Front page of the Daily Post (2/18) is a long article on how the city will now -- close to $7,000,000 later -- remove the Ross Road roundabout and one other one while stopping work on the few other roundabouts approved.

Their article failed to mention the citizen petition signed by more than 3.000 residents or the costs to the taxpayers of the consultant's report telling the 3,000 residents they were wrong and the roundabout was just ducky.

Note that Jaime Rodqriquez, the PA Transportation czar at the time. has gone on to provide his own special types of transportation consulting to Los Altos.

Posted by Diana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 4:14 pm

I had not read the Post article �" but your memory serves you well. I also recall that the city was going to wait a year after the residential complaints so PAlo Altans could get “used" to the changes, as in “wait, wait."

Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 5:58 pm

Very, very good! I walk Ross/Louis every day and it has been obvious from day one that those new structures were dangerous to pedestrians/bikes/and drivers alike!

Take -em out.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 6:52 pm

Let's look at this another way.

If those Ross Road and Charleston/Arastradero works had not been done, just think there would be money for making underpasses or overpasses for Charleston, Meadow and Churchill.

Just think, if they take it out, that will be more money down the drain. That money could also be put into the pot to grade separate Caltrain.

If we want to improve bike safety, then making it safer to cross the tracks for roughly half of our high school students who ride their bikes to school from east of the tracks, we could have improved it for everyone and not just bikes.

I am disgusted by the way the city has wasted money on useless measures and at the same time wasted years discussing bike bridge over 101 and grade separation.

Having spent time in Europe I am completely impressed by how they are improving infrastructure in sensible ways in realistic timelines. What is it about Palo Alto that prevents infrastructure improvements that makes a real difference to safety, and just as importantly, traffic flow and circulation?

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 18, 2020 at 7:55 pm

The Ross Road and Middlefield Road bicycle projects accomplished their primary objectives. They provided highly photogenic flashy infrastructure that could earn impressive-looking design awards for city staffers Jaime Rodqriquez and Josh Mello to display on their office walls. And to pad their resumes with for their next jobs, which they have mercifully attained. I don't know if these two characters got their coveted wall decorations, but we definitely got their dangerous legacies.

Lesson: Glitzy road furniture does not a bicycle boulevard make. Next time, skip the name-brand career builders and hire proven experts to design the project. We'll get a useful product, quicker, and for less money.

Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 19, 2020 at 10:39 am

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

Resident --

You wrote: "Having spent time in Europe I am completely impressed by how they are improving infrastructure in sensible ways in realistic timelines. What is it about Palo Alto that prevents infrastructure improvements that makes a real difference to safety, and just as importantly, traffic flow and circulation?"

You ask a great question and I don't have any answers -- just thoughts:
• I wonder if city hall establishes deadlines for staff, i.e., this review must be finished in 60 days; or, we cannot go without an auditor for 12 months, and must find a new one in six months.
• Ten years ago, the Embarcadero Road/ECR intersection was a problem, and the city agreed it should be solved. Ten years know bikes have the upper hand, perhaps because things like bike boulevards and mini-roundabouts show how "advanced" a city we are by wanting more bikers on the road. By the way, most of us drive cars, not bikes.
• City staff say projects get sidetracked because other issues come forward. Okay, I understand that, but there are ways for managers to solve those problems -- better focus, narrow down the number of issues worked out in a given month, deadlines (see above), focusing on finding solutions for the more important issues, etc.
• The Ross Road assessment report I wrote about had a lot of information, with lots of charts, but does the city and everyone else have to know at a given roundabout, how many bikes made a right, or a left turn, or went halfway around the circle? Or how many of those surveyed preferred being notified of changes through community meetings or mailers or e-mail or a letter? Is that worth a long data sheet in the analysis?

Just asking.

Posted by Ray, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 19, 2020 at 4:56 pm

I drive my car just about everywhere now although I used to use my bike for most local errands (sometimes even to Costco in MV for a one-off item). But being on the "safe" Bryant St. bike boulevard and being knocked off my bike by a car door opening in front of me resulting in an ambulance ride and half day in Stanford Hospital kinda soured me on bike riding on Palo Alto streets. By the way, according to my tracking app, I put on over 8,000 miles on my bike(s) over the years so I am not a slacker. The best place to bike, I found, is in Holland. I think a cabin class ticket on KLM round-trip to Holland for a Palo Alto planner to bike for a month could be a worthwhile investment (considering the money spent on the Ross Road fiasco). Really!

Posted by Keri, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Feb 19, 2020 at 10:18 pm

Keri is a registered user.

@Diana Diamond and @Online Name and anyone else interested in bike routes: Read the staff report. The staff does NOT recommend getting rid of the Ross Rd/E Meadow roundabout. The staff recommends adding two stop signs on E Meadow at the roundabout. This inaccurate statement about removing the roundabout can be attributed to a Daily Post headline on Tuesday, Feb 18. The Daily Post reporter obviously didn't read the report, either.

As an avid biker, I appreciate the improvements on Ross Rd and wish the City could begin more improvements to bike routes in South Palo Alto.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 20, 2020 at 9:15 am

Diana, this is a serious request.

How about running for City Council? I think you are what is needed on our Council? We could do with Arthur Keller and Pat Boone also.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Feb 20, 2020 at 12:59 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Keri, I'm just reporting what I read in the Daily Post. As for reading the long, lavishly illustrated reports from the transportation department, many of us gave up on that years ago because so many of their models were blatantly wrong, resulting in citizens paying for their own traffic studies at PEAK times rather than when the traffic was lightest so they could justify shoveling "traffic calming" funds to their buddies.

What is absurd is the way the past 2 transportation guys only listened to avid bicyclists while wasting multi-millions of dollars of our tax dollars sticking road furniture everywhere to back up traffic and narrowing roads while the population and thus traffic keeps growing.

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 20, 2020 at 3:10 pm

"What is absurd is the way the past 2 transportation guys only listened to avid bicyclists ... "

That's not very absurd. Bike organizations present glitzy awards to their benefactors, suitable for display and for inclusion on resumes. What do residents give, beyond salary money?

If you want to be heard you've got to outshout the other side.

Posted by Keri, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Feb 20, 2020 at 4:04 pm

Keri is a registered user.

@Online Name, I completely understand that you and many residents don't necessarily read the staff reports. But reporters who are paid to do a job should read the staff reports before writing their articles. The Weekly and Daily Post staff have no excuse for misrepresenting and magnifying inaccurate information.

Moderator comment: FYI, the Weekly's reporting on this was accurate; the Daily Post's was not.

Posted by Keri, a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on Feb 20, 2020 at 4:56 pm

Keri is a registered user.

I agree, moderator, Gennady Sheyner is a solid reporter and wrote a great article! The Daily Post and Diana Diamond are inaccurate.

Posted by More bikes , a resident of Green Acres,
on Feb 20, 2020 at 5:08 pm

More bikes is a registered user.

Biking is not for everyone. Diana does not see herself cycling. Fine. But bikes are our future. They do not emit greenhouse gases, they are small and do not cause (much) traffic, and they are fast because they can bypass traffic. Plus they don't use big parking spaces. E-bikes offer even more options. It is past time to make our city more bike friendly and to further incentivize bike riding. And, Curmudgeon, I am a resident, as are many of my friends and neighbors who also bike.

Posted by Thank you, Sherry.., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 21, 2020 at 1:04 pm

Thank you, Sherry.. is a registered user.

This is hilarious. A completely one-sided argument from the woman, Diana Diamond, who once said that she couldn't bike to work because she had to wear stockings and high heels. (I sometimes wear high heels and a skirt when I bike.)

Diana has never met a bike/pedestrian project she didn't hate. Meanwhile she steadfastly ignores that the percentage of enrolled PAUSD secondary school students who bike to school has grown from 18% in 2002 to 57.5% in 2019. That doesn't include the kids who walk to school. The vast majority of these students are choosing alternatives to driving or being driven to school.

She ignores data in the report that says bike volumes on Ross increased 50%

People who bike eliminate thousands of car trips every day. That makes streets quieter and safer for everyone. Let's join the kids for a little exercise and some fresh air and fun. Our planet will love us for it. Our community will be quieter and safer. We'll be healthier.

Posted by A little history..., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 21, 2020 at 3:07 pm

A little history... is a registered user.

This is a direct quote from a PA Online post on this subject from someone who lived near Ross Road in 2016 (before the project was built):

Here is a problem that really exists: pedestrian safety. I walk in the Palo Verde and adjoining neighborhoods every morning, and here is what I see: Adults, teenagers, and pre-teens who should know better riding their bikes at full speed on sidewalks, often refusing to yield to me even after they have seen me on the sidewalk. Drivers who consider a slowing to 15 mph to be adequate observance of stop signs. Drivers who move through intersections while I and other pedestrians are still in them...

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 21, 2020 at 3:12 pm

"And, Curmudgeon, I am a resident, as are many of my friends and neighbors who also bike."

Glad to hear that, but your point escapes me.

My concern is who has the most influence over city staff and how they achieve it. City residents tend to naively assume staff will consider their interests as a matter of course. They pay the staffer's salaries, after all.

But biker orgs know to lobby planners and how to tangibly reward them for their good behavior. Residents need to do likewise if they want equal attention. Else there will be more and more showcase fiascoes like Middlefield and Ross roads.

Posted by More bikes, a resident of Green Acres,
on Feb 21, 2020 at 10:17 pm

My point is that the bike lobbies may be made up of residents like me and my friends and neighbors. You are saying -I think- that there is little or no overlap between "biker orgs" and residents. I doubt that. I live on the other side of town from Ross Road, so I don't know about that personally, but I am all for the Arastradero changes, it is much safer now and I live just off the street.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 24, 2020 at 12:39 am

Maybe someone could PLEASE explain what the point is of the thick white pole "road furniture" emplacements on Middlefield?

Specifically, the ones placed at an offset to intersections in groups of 4's along Middlefield.

The problem I see is that when I am making a left turn onto Middlefield those seemingly prominent and unmissable "road furnitures" are blocked from my view and probably most driver's views by the front left roof pillar of our cars.

I keep thinking I or someone is going to take the left turn wide and smack right into one of those things, if it has not happened yet.

What are they there for,and what are they actually doing?

Posted by Middlefield mess, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 24, 2020 at 3:42 pm

CP Anon, I have wondered about this too. Driving on Middlefield has become difficult having to look out for those useless bollards obstructing views and obstructing right turns.
I wonder who made the big bucks constructing and installing that useless "furniture."

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 25, 2020 at 5:45 pm

"What are they there for,and what are they actually doing?"

They prevent street sweepers from cleaning that 10 yards of curb nearest to the intersection, plus they direct right-turning vehicles closer to the oncoming traffic. I suppose those are considered good things in contemporary traffic engineering practice.

They also look impressive on photographs, especially at night when they reflect the flash.

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