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By Diana Diamond

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?

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