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Posts from the "Palo Alto" Category

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On the Peninsula, Demand Could Overwhelm Limited Bike-Share Launch

A total of 20 Bay Area Bike Share stations will be installed in downtown Redwood City, Palo Alto, and Mountain View. Click for an interactive system-wide map.

All the way down the Peninsula, excitement around the pilot launch of Bay Area Bike Share comes tempered with a dose of concern about the small number of bikes that will be clustered around Caltrain stations in five cities.

Bay Area Bike Share’s meager scale at the time it launches is sure to limit its usefulness. Half of the system’s 70 stations — holding ten bikes each — will be placed in downtown San Francisco, and the other half distributed among participating cities down to San Jose, which will get 15 stations. Redwood City will get just seven stations, Palo Alto six, and Mountain View seven.

“That’s the big concern,” said Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain. “A lot of current and potential Caltrain riders I talk to are excited about being able to use bike-share in theory, but it’s not serving where they need to go.”

Nonetheless, advocates say the launch of bike-share is overdue.

Image: Bay Area Bike Share

“Bike-share is going to make it easier for everybody to ride a bike more often, whether for work, shopping, or quick trips during lunch break,” said Colin Heyne, deputy director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. “Data from other bike-share systems show not only increased rates of bicycling, but also decreased rates of driving and car ownership, so it can contribute to reducing traffic congestion and improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Hundreds have already signed up for Bay Area Bike Share since membership sales opened on Monday. For $88 per year, members can rent sturdy new celeste-colored city bikes for up to 30 minutes at a time for free, with surcharges for trips longer than that.

The system is set to arrive at a time when both transit and bicycle commuting are surging. Caltrain ridership has increased 80 percent over the past decade, and the number of commuters bringing bikes on board has tripled, according to the agency’s stats. With commuters who are able to use the shared bikes instead of hauling their own bikes aboard, bike-share could free up some much-needed bike storage space on the train.

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Remembering Ellen Fletcher, Palo Alto’s Pioneer Bicycle Advocate

Cross-posted from Cyclelicious.

Ellen Fletcher. Photo: Richard Masoner

Holocaust survivor, PTA mom, city council member, and bike advocate Ellen Fletcher succumbed yesterday at age 83 to lung cancer at her Palo Alto home.

Ellen escaped Berlin as a Jewish child on the Kindertransport trains and spent her teen years as a refugee in World War II London, where she biked to her factory job.

She eventually ended up in Palo Alto, California, where she got her start in cycling advocacy as safety chair of the local PTA when she saw that the best way to protect school children from their greatest danger was by reducing auto traffic around schools. She revived the Santa Clara Valley Bicycle Association (which exists today as the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition) in the early 1970s. Ellen pioneered the first bike boulevard in the United States on Bryant Avenue (now named in her honor) while serving on the Palo Alto city council from 1977 to 1989.

Caltrain Bikes on Board Pioneer

If you like bikes on Caltrain, you can thank Ellen Fletcher. Beginning in 1977, she and Daryl Skrabac of San Francisco pushed Southern Pacific to try bikes on board. They finally agreed to a four month demonstration in 1982, when four bikes were allowed in the aisle of the cab car. Southern Pacific refused to continue the experiment. When the Peninsula Joint Powers Board took over the line in 1992, they agreed to make room for bikes, but needed money to make it happen. Cap Thomas of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition persuaded the city of San Francisco to contribute $40,000 to making space for 8 bikes in each cab car.

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Palo Alto, Choked By Famously Free Parking, May Consider Pricing the Curb

Smarter parking policies could lead to less congestion on streets such as University Avenue. The current volume of autos on University is 20,000 per day, according to the city. Photo: Richard Masoner/Cyclicious

For the first time in 15 years, Palo Alto’s outdated parking policies are being reviewed, and planners will consider recommending sustainable parking principles in the downtown core to better manage the supply. The affluent Silicon Valley city has not had a comprehensive examination of its parking strategies since 1997, when it installed four color-coded parking zones downtown. There is a two-hour limit in each zone but all curb parking is free.

“I think everything’s on the table right now. We don’t want to exclude anything at this particular state,” Jaime Rodriguez, the city’s chief transportation official, told Streetsblog.

The study will explore charging for on-street parking, installing SFPark-like meters and sensors and a number of transportation demand management (TDM) measures to discourage single-occupant vehicle trips. Advocates pushing for parking reform hope that Palo Alto will follow cities such as Redwood City or Boulder, Colorado, which have implemented innovative performance-based parking policies and benefit districts that helped spruce up their downtowns and boost business. Two other Peninsula cities — San Mateo and Burlingame — also charge for on-street parking in their downtown business districts.

Palo Alto Mayor Yiaway Yeh led the charge for a comprehensive parking study at the July 16 City Council meeting. A proposed residential parking permit program for the Professorville neighborhood was nixed in favor of the review. Some residents in Professorville and Downtown North have complained that downtown employees who take advantage of unpriced on-street parking on residential streets make it difficult for them to park near their homes.

Some influential merchants and residents are framing the problem as a downtown parking shortage. ”There has always been a parking deficit in the downtown,” Barbara Gross, board member of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, told the City Council. “Parking has a direct influence on the success of the business district and has overflow impacts on surrounding residential areas.”

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Santa Clara VTA Proceeds with Bay Area’s First Bike Share Pilot Program

Despite the much ballyhooed talk by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom that his city will implement a public bike share pilot (two years of talk that has garnered numerous press hits), the first bike share program in the Bay Area will likely be implemented by the middle of 2010 in Santa Clara County by the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).  While small size may still be a liability to its success and long term funding sources must be determined, the VTA is miles ahead of other transit operators in completing the process necessary to deliver a pilot.

The VTA has wrapped up its market research data collection, is completing its business model, and will release its final analysis report by the end of this year for a pilot project intended to link three Caltrain stations in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Jose with multiple satellite destination points, such as Stanford and San Jose State Universities and job centers like Moffett Park and San Jose City Hall. 

The VTA used an initial $75,000 from their general budget to hire Economic and Planning Systems (EPS) to conduct the planning work, but applied for a $500,000 Safe Routes to Transit grant to implement the pilot, money that will come from bridge tolls collected by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). VTA has learned that the project has been ranked for funding, though it might not get the money for a month or two.

"Bikes in general are given short shrift in suburban sprawling areas," said Chris Augenstein, Deputy Director of Planning at VTA. "We can do a lot more to make bicycles a real mode and integrate them into everything we do."

While the VTA insists it is too early to start speculating about how many bikes would be involved in the program, they've conducted over 1200 surveys at target areas, with particular focus on Caltrain riders and corporate partners who sit on their Bike Share working group, including Yahoo! and Adobe. When pressed on a number of bikes, Augenstein said that Paris' Velib bicycles cost over $3,000 each and suggested I could do the math to figure out how many bikes the MTC grant would buy (over 150, though other start-up costs must be factored in). He also said the VTA was studying advertising models with companies like Clear Channel (which runs Barcelona's Bicing bike-share program) or JC Decaux (which runs Velib) to offset operating and expansion costs.

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Proposal to Limit Vehicles on University Ave in Palo Alto Gains Support

university_2.jpgUniversity Avenue in Palo Alto. Flickr photo: richardmasoner
In the past few weeks, Stanford University students have built support for a proposal to reduce parking, widen sidewalks, and eventually close eight blocks of University Avenue in Palo Alto to motor vehicles. The Palo Alto Pedestrian Mall (PAPM) started out as an assignment in a "Creating Infectious Action" class at the design school at Stanford and has since garnered support among transportation committee members of the city council and businesses along the avenue, many of them restaurants that want to take advantage of extra sidewalk seating. 

Amrita Mahale, a masters student in engineering at Stanford, explained that their assignment in class was to create a social movement that would reduce gas consumption, and after looking at traffic mitigation around campus, she and her fellow students thought that University Avenue would be more visible and significant. They started a Facebook page, which she was proud to note had over 1300 members in less than two weeks, canvassed businesses along the street to build support among a key constituency, conducted informal surveys of street users to measure their response ("all positive" she said), and enlisted Palo Alto's former mayor and current councilmember, Yoriko Kishimoto, who has become a champion for the proposal.

"Now I think we have enough momentum for the city to take us seriously," said Mahale.

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