Mountain View Voice

Opinion - July 15, 2011

Google bridge can be done right

Now that Google has clarified its plan to build a pair of small bridges across Stevens Creek that would be open to pedestrians, bikes and private transit vehicles (but no automobiles), we hope City Council members will reconsider their sometimes harsh criticism of the project that came out at last week's meeting.

During the initial discussion of the bridges, council members had the mistaken impression that the spans would be private, for use of Google employees only. Not so, a company spokesperson told the Voice last Friday, saying that while Google would own the bridges, they would be open to "essentially anyone who wants to use them," which would include walkers and bicyclists as well as passengers on buses and shuttles.

And ironically, the company said it hopes the bridges will minimize impact on the trail, a dramatically different point of view than the council members, who criticized the very idea of a building a bridge over the beloved trail.

It should come as no surprise that Google would want a bridge to link its current North Bayshore headquarters to a planned 1.2 million-square-foot campus at NASA Ames, right across the creek. Over the last several years, the company has made no secret of its plan to open a major "Planetary Ventures" division there that would be under construction by 2013 and could ultimately be home to 5,000 employees and include recreation facilities, a childcare center and cafeteria services.

But when Google unveiled plans for the bridge at last week's City Council meeting company officials were greeted with a wave of protest from several council members who believed that the company would not permit the public to use the bridge. In addition, members said the bridge was not compatible with the Stevens Creek Trail, which Mayor Jac Siegel said was "Priority 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5..." with the city. Even an additional $700,000 a year in property tax revenue failed to sway Siegel away from the hard position on the bridges.

In our view, the bridge is hardly a surprise and is totally appropriate for Google to build, given its ambitious expansion plans in both Mountain View proper and its 42-acre campus at NASA Ames. Surely a way can be found to engineer a pair of small bridges that will be compatible with the Stevens Creek Trail and the natural setting of the area, including views of the nearby marshlands and San Francisco Bay.

Ultimately, the city will have the final say on the environmental impact report on the two bridges, which in the illustrations shown at the last week's council meeting appear to be low-slung and could force the trail to be moved from atop the levee, creating some ups and downs trail advocates may not appreciate. Perhaps a better design can be found that will not interrupt trail users in any way, and still accomplish Google's goal of connecting its campuses.

The bridges will be the first link from Bayshore to the north portion of the NASA Ames property. Hikers, cyclists and people riding mass transit will have easy access between Moffett Field and North Bayshore. Since would be largely funded by Google, this is an opportunity that has few down-sides. The city should work to make this a project that will protect the trail and provide utility for Google employees and guaranteed access to the public.

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