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Palo Alto plans to improve bike routes

By Georgia Wells | 8 Oct 2010

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Palo Alto is making plans to make the city more accessible to cyclists.

With two tree-lined bicycle boulevards and miles of designated lanes, Palo Alto is proud of its reputation as a biker’s haven. Yet other cities have things to envy: The lanes in New York City are painted green, while in Madison, Wis., they are wide enough for two-way traffic.

Hoping to catch up, Palo Alto’s Planning Department kicked off its Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Sept. 30, bringing in specialist Ian Moore to speak at City Hall about potential improvements.  The city hopes to increase bike ridership and improve routes to qualify for the League of American Bicyclists’ platinum-level community status.

Moore suggested that Palo Alto upgrade current bike lanes, making them wider and more visible, add bicycle-specific traffic lights at tricky intersections, and install street signs with mileage markers.

Many of the 60 people in attendance suggested improvements, too.  Palo Alto resident Michael Morganstern wants to change the legal meaning of stop signs to “yield” for bicyclists, “so that bikes don’t need to come to a full stop.”

Lawrence Garwin, a Stanford University student, urged the city to put up bike-specific street signs where “no outlet” signs have been. Many “no outlet” streets actually have bicycle and pedestrian bridges, he said.

“My life is bicycle-based, and when I see signs that don’t apply to me, I wonder which ones do.  It makes me feel like a second-class citizen,” Garwin said.

Garwin began pursuing his bicycle-based lifestyle at 13, when his mother died of cancer.  “I looked around and realized that each human is like a cell in the body of Mother Earth of Gaia.  We can choose to be a healthy cell, or we can choose to be a cancerous cell, where we pollute.”

He said he hasn’t missed much by not driving “except being in a hurry.”

Kathy Durham, the city’s Alternative Commute Coordinator, promotes safe routes for school programs and bike-to-work day to encourage residents to take up bicycle-based lifestyles.  Her goal is to raise awareness of the many bike routes Palo Alto has already.

To promote neighborhood-level biking, Durham is working with the Community Environmental Action Partnership (CEAP) neighborhood liaisons Lisa Altieri and Robyn Duby to sponsor a Bike Palo Alto! event Oct. 10, in coordination with the 350.org Global Work party day to implement solutions to the climate crisis.

To encourage people who don’t normally bike, Altieri and Duby’s Bike Palo Alto! event will include safe biking tips, free Palo Alto bike maps and nine different bike routes suitable for all biking abilities.

“Our idea is to nudge a culture shift in Palo Alto.  We have a decent infrastructure, even if we don’t have Portland’s biking culture,” said Duby, Stanford Human Biology Department Secretary and College Terrace CEAP liaison.

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