Bike/Ped Bridge Over 101 In East Palo Alto Could Begin Construction This Summer

Before: Walking across Highway 101 in East Palo Alto requires crossing wide six-lane intersections, and using a narrow sidewalk on University Avenue’s north side (far left). Photo: Andrew Boone
Before: Walking across Highway 101 in East Palo Alto requires crossing wide six-lane intersections, and using a narrow sidewalk on University Avenue’s north side (far left). Photo: Andrew Boone

Despite a handful of small setbacks, East Palo Alto’s dream of providing a safe crossing over the 101 Freeway for people riding bicycles and people walking is nearly a reality. Construction of the “East Palo Alto Highway 101 Ped/Bike Overcrossing,” a 12-foot wide bridge over Highway 101 between Newell Road and Clarke Avenue, could begin as early as this summer. The bridge will provide a long-awaited connection between the city’s east and west sides.

With a “mitigated declaration” approved by the city last year, and $8.6 million in-hand from the state’s active transportation program and local funds, city staff are completing a quality control review and could release a request for bids in April.

“The completion of this bridge is critical for transportation and accessibility for the people who live in East Palo Alto and the surrounding communities,”  said Emma Shlaes, Policy Manager, Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. “It will provide a safe and comfortable connection for people walking and biking, allowing access to jobs, schools and shopping.”

Current conditions for people trying to safely cross between the city’s east and west sides are not adequate. The main available crossing is University Avenue, which runs roughly north-south across the center of East Palo Alto, crosses Highway 101, and continues as Palm Drive through downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University.

With a complete lack of bicycle road markings, a design that encourages high-speed auto driving and only one sidewalk on its north side, Streetsblog writer Andrew Boone notes the design “practically ensures danger for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Despite these conditions, City Engineer Kamal Fallaha told Boone in a previous article that the University crossing is “one of the most traveled by bicyclists and pedestrians in San Mateo County.”

After : A safe and attractive option to crossing on dangerous University Ave.
After : A safe and attractive option to crossing on dangerous University Ave.

The completion of the bridge will bring an immediate improvement to the area. The new bicycle/pedestrian bridge will be a mere one-third of a mile from the University Avenue crossing. Residents of the densely populated Woodlands neighborhood will no longer be forced to choose between a car trip and a more dangerous trip on bike or foot to access schools, shopping centers, the public park, or the Ravenswood Child Development Center.

Funding for the project comes from a mix of state and local sources. The City of East Palo Alto allocated $600,000 from its own budget for the studies and initial design of the project. Construction funds come from a Caltrans grant for $8.6 million.

However, in 2015 San Mateo County Transportation Authority scuttled a funding plan that could have saved the city $5 million, claiming that highway construction funds could not be used on an overpass project for people who weren’t driving cars.

“The people of East Palo Alto have been waiting for this crossing for a long time and we’re really excited to see it finally move forward,” said Shlaes.

  • Bruce

    There are several factual errors in this article. First, the “After” image shows a crossing north of University Avenue, rather than the approved bridge to the south between Newell Road and Clarke Avenue. Second, the link “had to rework portions of the initial design” links to an article about a separate project altogether – the Palo Alto (not East Palo Alto) crossing over 101 at Adobe Creek, nearly 3 miles away.

  • saimin

    The Adobe Creek bridge is in a different city and different county from East Palo Alto. Is the author of this article really that confused? Or was is that just the wrong link? I know the East Palo Alto pedestrian bridge has been under consideration for many years but has always been delayed for various money reasons.

    The bridge is especially important because Hwy 101 splits East Palo Alto in half with homes and jobs on both sides of the highway and a dangerous commute for non-car drivers to get from one side to the other.

  • Thank you for the catch Bruce. I was using an old image for the article which is an embarrassing enough gaffe on its own. I’ve updated both the text and the image appropriately.

  • p_chazz

    Maybe this is a quibble but: “University Avenue, which runs roughly north-south across the center of East Palo Alto, crosses Highway 101, and continues as Palm Drive through downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University.” isn’t factually correct either. University Avenue crosses Highway 101 and continues as…University Avenue! It doesn’t change to Palm Drive until it enters the Stanford Campus west of El Camino Real and downtown Palo Alto.

  • aslevin

    The article says when the construction might start, but not yet how long the construction is expected to take. Is this known?

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