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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

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.
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.

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