Palo Alto City Council approved the California Avenue streetscape project unanimously, after a motion to go ahead with a trial failed 2:7 (Holman/Schmid). The project will reduce the low-vehicle-traffic 4-lane street to 2 lanes, and use the additional space for sidewalk widening and bike access.
Merchants who had been opposing the project supported a trial to verify that the project would not cause a vehicle traffic impact. But a majority of city council members were not convinced that a trial would be beneficial, given the overwhelming evidence that Cal Ave does not have a car traffic problem. Cal Ave has only ~5000 vehicles per day, which is 3 to 4 times less volume than other retail streets in the area, including Castro (Mountain View), University (Palo Alto), and Santa Cruz (Menlo Park). In addition, a trial would put the schedule needed for the grant funding at risk.
In response to comments from the Planning and Transportation Committee, city staff withdrew a controversial proposal to add a contraflow bike lane from the Caltrain underpass. There will be further review with the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee and the bike community on the design.
Public comment was mixed, with over 20 speakers arguing strongly for and against the project, and for and against a trial.
David Bennett, the proprietor of Mollie Stones supermarket, located at Cal Ave and Park, made the rather shocking comment that “bikes hurt supermarkets”. He believes that if cyclists follow “share the road” signs, which document current safe practice, the presence of cyclists will discourage drivers who will stop coming to the Cal Ave area to shop.
Council Member Burt observed in response that cyclists actually consume much less scarce parking space, and are therefore beneficial to merchants.
In the fairly dense Mid-Peninsula cities, where pedestrian bike and transit mode share is high, local merchants tend to underestimate the contribution of customers who arrived without a car, or who chain multiple trips as a pedestrian.