Bicyclists may find themselves the odd ones out on First Street, based on redesign plans for the thoroughfare at the western edge of downtown Los Altos. Last week the city council appropriated $150,450 to fund a schematic design for the project despite concerns that the draft design made the street less safe for cyclists.
Los Altos officials are planning a new look for downtown streets, beginning with First Street. Their plan includes colored and patterned paving, additional seating and trees planted as a tangible divide between the pedestrian sidewalk and the roadway.
“The street has low pedestrian usage. It has a multitude of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) violations,” City Manager Doug Schmitz said of the current state of First Street. “It is a drab street.”
He said planners ran out of room for bike-specific features on the 50-foot-wide street after accounting for “two travel lanes, wider sidewalks to enhance the economic viability of the project and planters.”
University Avenue in Palo Alto and Castro Street in Mountain View are each 75-feet wide and don’t include bike lanes, Schmitz noted.
Landscape architecture consultant David Gates said the First Street plan “reduces travel lanes in scale and scope to slow the cars and make bicycles and pedestrians more comfortable.”
The designers envision that once cars pass the entry points at Edith Avenue and First Street, they will travel along “a tree-lined median to slow traffic and create a sense of welcome and intimacy,” according to the conceptual plan.
“Bicycle passage should not be made less safe than the existing conditions,” traffic commission representative Scott Chan said.
Chan noted that bulbouts and median islands like those in the design could create “choke points,” bringing cars and bikes into dangerous proximity.
“It’s just not possible to get a bike path, not even a bike lane, in there if you want a nice pedestrian sidewalk,” he said. “Our concern is that … if you put in the median, it really creates a choke point for the cyclists.”
City staff reported to the council that while the median was a “fairly important part of the design concept,” they would look into whether it could be shortened.
City Councilman Ron Packard referenced the city’s Fremont Bridge remodel as a project that sacrificed charm for bicycle friendliness, and suggested that he didn’t want to make the same choice for First Street.
Mayor Val Carpenter said the project had already eliminated multiple street parking spaces, and that she was loath to remove more for a bike lane, noting that she observed many cyclists using downtown as a launching point for regional travel rather than a family-oriented destination.