BY ELAINE GOODMAN
Daily Post Correspondent
While the city of Palo Alto seems to be telling residents to live with a controversial set of street modifications on Ross Road including a roundabout at East Meadow Drive, officials are signaling they may take another direction when it comes to bicycle boulevards on other streets.
That’s the mixed message of a new report from City Manager Jim Keene to the City Council.
The report is a follow-up to a June 12 meeting at the Mitchell Park Community Center, where the council heard from about 50 people on the Ross Road bicycle boulevard project. While some of the speakers said they supported the project, others voiced concerns, and some blasted the project, calling it a disaster and a waste of money.
The project is intended to slow down car traffic through measures including roundabouts, speed humps and curb bulb-outs. The rationale is that with slower car traffic, bicyclists and cars can share the travel lane. Critics say the design is dangerous for cyclists.
Keene’s report itemizes residents’ concerns and provides a response to each one. For example, Keene acknowledges that “not everybody rides a bike” and that it may be hard for drivers to adjust to the changes.
“In keeping with this comment, staff will pay close attention to the navigability of street treatments for various types of drivers before installing new traffic calming elements,” Keene said.
The report is on the council’s agenda for tonight’s meeting as an informational item, meaning the council isn’t expected to take any action.
On the other hand, the report notes, some residents say Ross Road traffic seemed to be slowing down as the project progressed. They urged the city to give the project time to work before undoing any changes.
“Staff agrees with these sentiments,” Keene responded.
City to track traffic
The city plans to track how the redesign of Ross Road impacts those traveling it. A report on the project will be provided in January that will include measurement of traffic speeds; counts of cars, bicyclists and pedestrians; and assessment of behavior at roundabouts. Residents, bicyclists and the general public will be surveyed about the road, along with representatives of Ohlone Elementary School, the Palo Alto YMCA and the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple.
The information will provide insight into whether the project is working as intended. After the information is gathered, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the City Council will discuss next steps regarding the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan.
“Considering the evaluation from the Phase 1 project, the City Council may wish to review the current direction of the bicycle boulevard project and to provide direction for future projects,” Keene said in his report.
The Phase 1 project Keene refers to is part of the city’s Neighborhood Traffic Safety and Bicycle Boulevards Plan. Phase 1 includes Ross Road, Louis Road, Bryant Street, and Amarillo, Moreno, and Montrose avenues.
In response to resident concerns, the city in March halted work on parts of the Phase 1 project that had not already begun.
Not like Bryant Street
Keene noted previously that many residents, when hearing about plans for additional bicycle boulevards, assumed they would include dedicated bike lanes or be similar to Bryant Street, where car traffic is discouraged by blocking the street to automobiles at Lowell Avenue.
Some council members indicated on June 12 that they might like to take a different approach than that used on Ross Road for future projects.
Councilwoman Karen Holman said she didn’t realize that closing streets to car traffic was excluded from the bike and pedestrian plan.
“I was not aware … that street closures were taken out of that plan,” Holman said. “I think we ought to revisit that — seriously. We’ve had a lot of comments about how successful Bryant is. We didn’t listen to that.”
Councilman Tom DuBois questioned the intermingling of cars and bicycles.
“I do think where it’s possible, we should try to separate bike lanes from cars,” DuBois said. “It seems like a lot of the feedback was forcing bikes, especially with children, into the roadway.”