Eyes on the Street: East Palo Alto’s First Sharrows

Sharrows on Woodland Avenue in East Palo Alto
New sharrows installed on part of Woodland Avenue in East Palo Alto are the Woodland neighborhood’s very first bicycle infrastructure. Photo: Andrew Boone

When East Palo Alto repaved Woodland Avenue between Newell Avenue and West Bayshore Road in late March, one half-mile of the city’s bumpiest pothole-filled street was suddenly transformed into its smoothest one, complete with new striping and well-placed sharrows on top. City planners hope the sharrows will help residents bike and drive more predictably on Woodland’s streets, almost all of which are too narrow to accommodate both parallel-parked cars and bike lanes.

They may just be stencils, but the new sharrows are the first in East Palo Alto, and the very first bicycle infrastructure of any kind in the high-density Woodland neighborhood west of Highway 101. Most of the city’s multi-family housing has been built in this narrow slice of land that San Mateo County allowed developers to build without sidewalks, before the area incorporated and became part of East Palo Alto.

High population density, poor transit service, narrow streets, and missing sidewalks mean that people walking or bicycling must share the road with car traffic volumes that are very high for a residential neighborhood. Woodland Avenue carries 3,300 cars per day, including a significant proportion of cut-through traffic comprising drivers seeking a faster route to Highway 101 than University Avenue during the evening rush hour.

Woodland Avenue, East Palo Alto, Before March 2014 Repaving
Woodland Avenue east of Newell Road was full of potholes and had no stripes or markings of any kind before its resurfacing in March 2014. Photo: Google Maps

The city was awarded a $109,000 state grant in November 2013 to install sidewalks and sharrows on Scofield Avenue, but only on the westernmost 300 feet of the street between University Avenue and Capitol Avenue. Some East Palo Alto streets located west of University Avenue will also benefit from new striping and sharrows as part of a joint project with Menlo Park, which was awarded a $395,000 grant from the SMCTA’s Measure A Ped/Bike Program in early April. Most of those funds will be used to construct sidewalks on O’Conner Street and Menalto Avenue, which are still missing them because this was the last area to be incorporated into Menlo Park.

East Palo Alto also submitted its own $235,000 “Woodland Neighborhood Bicycle and Pedestrian Connectivity Project” grant application to this year’s Measure A Ped/Bike Program. The funds would be used to construct Scofield Avenue sidewalks another 450 feet from Capitol Avenue to Cooley Avenue and install sharrows there and on several nearby streets, including Newell Road, Cooley Avenue, West Bayshore Road, and Woodland Avenue from University Avenue to Newell Road. Unfortunately, that application was disqualified by SMCTA staff because it was received after the January 17 deadline.

Woodland & University, East Palo Alto
The intersection of University Avenue and Woodland Avenue in East Palo Alto is a major barrier to active transportation for local residents, but the city has no plans to improve it. Photo: Andrew Boone

Because it missed the Measure A funding opportunity, East Palo Alto plans to apply for funds from California’s new Active Transportation Program, which in September 2013 combined several sources of state and federal bike/ped funding into a competitive grant program. Applications are due on May 21 for the statewide part of the program, in which all cities (and many other government agencies) in California are eligible to compete for $180 million in funds. Cities in the San Francisco Bay Area will then have until July 24 to submit any other project applications to compete for an additional $30 million in funds.

East Palo Alto also plans to apply for an ATP grant to complete the engineering design and environmental review phases for a planned bike/ped bridge over Highway 101 at Newell Road/Clarke Avenue, the city’s highest-priority project for improving walking and bicycling.

  • It almost seems to sound like a case of racial and income based environmental discrimination. Like libraries, we should always think of the neediest when placing new resources. The city seems to have dropped the ball on missing the first application deadline.

    Does East Palo Alto have a bike coalition or walkability group?

  • Bruce Halperin

    I bike to work from Palo Alto Caltrain to the office complex at University/Woodland, shown in the background of the third picture. The intersection is absolutely awful for cyclists and pedestrians, and the only means of access across 101 is a very narrow sidewalk on the north side of University. The whole thing should be torn down and rebuilt to accommodate all road users.

  • Eric

    Unfortunately there’s also a push to remove, rather than replace, the Newell bridge between the two cities, so they have “that” to contend with as well as the usual funding issues.

  • Bruce Halperin

    Yes, apparently Palo Alto residents fear replacing a decrepit 100-year-old bridge with one that has sidewalks and bike lanes will somehow attract crime.

  • Shayne Weale

    I bike on Woodland Avenue frequently and rejoiced when the section from Newell to Pulgas/West Bay Shore was finally repaved February 25-27. Now if only EPA police would enforce the stop signs at the intersection of Newell and Woodland. Drivers also still frequently speed on Woodland. It’s designated as a “connector road” where installation of speed bumps isn’t allowed. More sidewalks would make Woodland far safer for pedestrians, but what little area there is for additional sidewalks is taken over mostly by parked commercial trucks and other vehicles from Woodland Ave and neighboring EPA residents.

  • Damiana

    As if criminals can’t figure out how to get to that area via Embarcadero Rd or Univ Ave!

  • Damiana

    It isn’t almost discrimination, it most definitely is. I don’t think we have either group here, unfortunately.

  • The SVBC’s mission is to advocate for Santa Clara and San Mateo County bicyclists.

  • Damiana

    Thanks, Jym. EPA does have a lot of cyclists, but I doubt that many, or any, or part of a coalition, as I don’t think that we have one here. We do have a cycling advocate on staff in the city gov’t, Michelle Daher. She cycles everywhere, and she’d know if there is a coalition here, as she’s the environmental coordinator. Her #, for anyone interested, is: 650-853-3197. Perhaps she’s part of SVBC, There’s a big language barrier, however, and many of our cyclists – including kids – don’t wear helmets.

  • steve

    How mentally incapable are the people running this city that they miss deadlines on things like that? This makes the city look incompetent. It’s already known as a ghetto now people are going to think its run by a bunch of low IQ morons who miss deadlines. Get it together EPA

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