Miramonte path project sparks residential debate

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Rosalie and Virgil Davis walk Morgan along Miramonte Avenue last week. Acceptable right-of-way use has become a hot topic.

While a more technical discussion of the Miramonte Avenue Path Project was scheduled to continue at this week’s Los Altos City Council meeting, the topic has cued an emotional discourse among residents polarized about altering the busy thoroughfare.

Public comment at the council’s May 22 meeting indicated that a rift exists between those interested in maintaining parking on their streets and those worried about pedestrian and bicycle safety. The two-phase project includes pathway upgrades along Miramonte Avenue between Fremont Avenue and the border of Los Altos and Mountain View.

Jim Fenton, who lives approximately a mile from Miramonte Avenue and served more than 10 years on the city’s former Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC), said at the meeting that the city should prioritize the needs of pedestrians and cyclists over homeowners’ complaints of inconvenience.

“I have to ask whether (residents’) right to park in front of their house takes precedence over the use of the public right-of-way by the public,” Fenton later said.

The bike and pedestrian safety advocate called on the city to draft a streamlined policy that leaves the rules of what to line Los Altos streets with – especially thoroughfare streets like Miramonte – rather than what Fenton dubbed a “hodge-podge” of asphalt, dirt, gravel and more. He asked the council to establish a clearly defined place to walk on both sides of low-capacity residential streets and high-capacity urban main roads.

Ronn and Michele Coldiron followed Fenton’s plea with the opposing perspective of a couple who has lived in Los Altos for 38 years and wants to retain what Ronn called a “unique atmosphere” in the midst of industrial Silicon Valley. The Coldirons do not oppose bike lanes, but they do object to construction of raised sidewalks, as it will “irreversibly change the character of the street,” according to Michele.

Safety vs. convenience

Fenton said a week after the May meeting that he does not want to add sidewalks everywhere in town, but installing them to ensure a safe place to walk on busy streets does not interfere with Los Altos’ charm.

“I don’t think it’s turning us into a city, not by a long shot,” he said.

Michele Coldiron sought out the insight of neighbors before agreeing to speak with the Town Crier last week. She said it’s fair to claim that the project was misrepresented to the residents it affects and that the project continues to roll along without input from those people.

At an earlier BPAC meeting, residents were told that the sidewalks would be walkable pathways, not sidewalks, Coldiron said. She reached out to city engineer Kathy Small, who confirmed that two meetings had been held about the path project since 2016.

When asked how those concerned with parking privileges and those worried about access to roads and safely could compromise, Fenton said the only option he could think of is for homeowners to landscape closer to their houses rather than extend planters out to the road to maximize property space.

The Coldirons want Los Altos city officials to study Mountain View’s Class II bike paths, which the couple said allow a few designated parking spots on a level pathway where people can also be active. That would solve many of the Coldirons’ worries, including the safety risk of their grandchildren crossing the busy street if their daughter cannot use part of their driveway or the space in front of their home, as at least part of their driveway will be modified to add a sidewalk.

The Coldirons spent three hours recently gathering 30 signatures on Miramonte and Stanley avenues as well as Loma Prieta Court and submitted them to the city clerk after their remarks in May. The residents want cyclists and pedestrians to feel safer, Michele said, but they believe that the current arrangement disrupts their lives.

Funding request

The council was scheduled to further discuss the pathway project at their meeting Tuesday, after the Town Crier’s press deadline, due to a Public Works Department request for an additional $52,490 in funding to meet requirements for the project’s federal grant.

The city signed a $208,000 contract with Bellecci & Associates for design and construction services for the project, according to the council’s report summary on the proposal.

In February 2017, the city amended the original plans of the project, approved in April 2016, to include completion of a design for a raised crosswalk at the intersection of Miramonte and Berry avenues. City officials cited a better-coordinated design and the opportunity to cut construction costs to justify the decision. The intersection upgrades were previously planned as a separate school route improvement project, part of the city’s five-year Capital Improvement Program.

The city secured a $1 million federal grant to construct a portion of the improvements on Miramonte. Public Works Department staff from the engineering division recommended that the council direct City Manager Chris Jordan to allocate the additional funding to Bellecci & Associates, noting that the city could lose the federal grant if it fails to prepare and submit documents necessary for the design of both phases.

Public Works Director Susanna Chan said Phase 1 construction is scheduled to begin in late summer or fall. A Phase 2 timeline has yet to be determined, as construction funding has not been secured. Chan added that the city would pursue grants to complete the second stage of construction.

Reactions to funding request

Approving the additional funds for the project is a good deal for the city, Fenton said, because it safeguards the $1 million grant and would ensure safe routes to nearby schools like Blach Intermediate.

Michele Coldiron said that from her experience living on Miramonte, students walking or cycling to and from school use the protected path on the creek side of the road or take high-capacity streets like Covington Road that are patrolled by a crossing guard. Those habits, she said, undermine the argument that student safety legitimizes putting sidewalks on both sides of her street.

The Coldirons said they have never heard of a pedestrian being hit or killed in an accident along their section of Miramonte.

Judy Maloney, Los Altos police services manager, supplied all reports taken on Miramonte in the past 12 months, which revealed that none of the three documented incidents included pedestrians, and no one was injured in the incidents.

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