For the past two years, city managers from Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City, along with senior staff at Stanford, have met monthly to talk about the transit and mobility problems that impact the region.
The first outcome of their work together, an interim Peninsula Bikeway, will be unveiled Saturday, Sept. 8. The bikeway will follow, via coordinated signs, a preliminary designated route for cycling through Redwood City, Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View.
The city managers' partnership, called the "Managers Mobility Partnership," or MMP, was convened by Joint Ventures Silicon Valley and is a historically unprecedented collaboration, according to JVSV CEO Russell Hancock.
But it's just a start. The interim route, which avoids most busy roads, necessarily zigs and zags because there are gaps in the network of bike lanes and cyclist-safe routes between the cities.
"It's not as direct as you would want it to be," said Hugh Louch, principal at Alta Planning + Design, a consulting firm that focuses on multi-modal planning, describing the interim route.
"At this point, it's really piecing together what exists," he added.
Eventually, the coalition hopes to build a permanent bike route stretching from Redwood City to Mountain View that is more direct and higher-quality.
The Sept. 8 event is intended to launch the process for the cities to begin collecting public feedback on what people want in such a route and where it should be located. Middlefield Road, El Camino Real, and along the Caltrain tracks are potential options to explore for a route, Hancock said.
Once a site is chosen, the partnership would have to figure out how to design the project, conduct environmental analysis and build the bikeway. Each of those steps would require funding, and as of now, the partnership doesn't have a clear funding source.
Cities have each contributed funding to the work that's been done so far. But moving forward, funding and building the project will get complicated, Hancock said. The partnership might proceed by having each city pay for a segment of the project, or the group could look into forming a joint powers authority, which would have its own decision-making power, he explained.
Stanford policy students have already done some research into how to fund the bikeway project. They put together a 2017 report that suggested forming a joint powers authority and levying a parcel tax, or implementing lease-revenue financing. The students found that nontraditional fundraising options, like some public-private partnerships, social impact bonds and crowdfunding, would likely not yield enough to fund the project.
In a previous study, students analyzed the pros and cons of installing the permanent bikeway along El Camino Real or along the Caltrain corridor. Their analysis at the time found that it would cost about $18 million to build the El Camino Real bike route and $37 million to build the Caltrain corridor bike route, not counting the estimated $17 million cost to build a sound wall or the $200 million or more it would cost to add eight grade-separated rail line crossings for bikes.
Connecting existing bike infrastructure with cohesive signage between the four cities and Stanford was identified by the partnership as the "lowest-hanging fruit" among its priorities that could be easily achieved, Hancock explained.
In other countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, Hancock said, many people cycle as their primary mode of transport, even though those countries are less naturally suited for cycling than the Peninsula.
"Good grief, it's cold there. They have to go up hills. It rains all the time," he said. In contrast, he said, his hometown of Palo Alto has a Mediterranean climate, flat landscape, and a population that's health-minded and environmentally conscious.
"Yet none of us are on our bikes," he said. "There's something wrong with this picture. Really, Silicon Valley should be the biking capital of America."
An unprecedented partnership
As part of the partnership, each city manager signed an agreement committing to work on transportation problems with the other city managers, Hancock said.
In 2016, the city managers agreed to a set of guiding principles that included shared goals of improving walkability; enhancing bike lanes and bike safety; making it easier for transit riders to get between home and work via shuttles, bike-share or car-share programs; encouraging Caltrain to operate more frequently and with greater capacity; and promoting signal coordination across cities.
The city managers agreed to meet regularly; to encourage their staffs to work across city boundaries; to find resources for projects through private sector partnerships and federal, state and local grant opportunities; and to collect data and track progress.
A key point of the partnership is that its members are city managers -- who are considered the top city executives -- rather than mayors or other elected officials. Still, city managers are expected to act in coordination with the elected officials they work for, Hancock said.
Among the other topics the group discusses regularly are U.S. 101, the Dumbarton corridor, grade separations along the Caltrain corridor, shuttles and signal coordination, Hancock said.
"A lot is beyond our jurisdictions," he acknowledged. "So of course, we could wave our hands and say, 'This is beyond us. Someone else needs to solve the problem.'"
But by working together, Hancock said, the partnership may wield more clout when it comes to applying for grants or seeking partnerships from the private sector than by seeking funding as individual cities.
These four cities and Stanford, he said, are not just a "random region." They drive Silicon Valley, and by extension, a large portion of the state and national economy, he said. "You need it to be firing on all cylinders."
If you go:
The interim bikeway's launch will be held Saturday, Sept. 8, with group bike rides starting from Mountain View and Redwood City between 8 and 8:30 a.m. and scheduled to arrive at Burgess Park, 701 Laurel St. in Menlo Park, around 10 a.m. Elected officials are scheduled to speak at 10:30 a.m., and at 11:30 a.m., food will be served.
There will also be opportunities for families and kids to test out a pop-up separated bikeway and test ride an e-bike, according to Menlo Park officials. Go to the Peninsula Bikeway website for more information.