Mountain View Voice

News - April 26, 2013

Google offers to fund city's bike projects

by Daniel DeBolt

Mountain View city officials are in talks with Google about using some of the internet giant's billions to help make its hometown more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

According to an April 19 memo from City Manager Dan Rich to the City Council, talks are underway with Google about the company funding "several" bike and pedestrian projects from a list of over a dozen proposals the City Council has discussed recently. The proposals include a study of possible improvements to California Street and Escuela Avenue, lights for the Stevens Creek Trail bridge over Central Expressway, a Permanente Creek trail crossing near Google under Charleston Road and the narrowing of Castro Street in front of Graham Middle school to slow traffic and, make room for protected bike lanes and decrease the street crossing distance where where several students were hit by cars last year.

Amid an unprecedented effort to increase street safety in Mountain View, Google's offer would "free up a substantial amount of city funds" for other uses, Rich reports. Details have yet to be worked out, however.

Google is "very interested in working with the city ... in regard to this very, very high priority program which we believe will provide a greater sense of safety for both the bike traffic as well as the pedestrians," Google's John Igoe told the City Council on April 2.

"We want to clearly offer our resources to the city" on a number of the 16 bike and pedestrian projects presented to the council on April 2, Igoe said. The projects were proposed to be funded over two years. By partnering with the city, he said Google hopes to be able to move some projects up in the priority list, possibly bumping some of the second year projects up to the first year.

Google officials apparently hope to entice more residents to walk and bike, as it has been able to do for Google employees who can be seen riding multi-colored bikes around North Bayshore on any given weekday.

"I know Google has a very high rate of employees who bike to work," said Wendee Crofoot, a bike advocate who is pushing for safer streets in the Rengstorff Park area. Calling it the move of a "good neighbor," she welcomed the funds as it would free up city funds for other bike and pedestrian improvements, library improvements or affordable housing to help counter the ongoing "gentrification" of the city by employees of Google and other tech companies.

The offer comes as Google is expected to propose plans soon for a new headquarters on a large open lot at Shoreline Boulevard and Charleston Road, continuing the rapid expansion of office space in Mountain View proposed by tech companies in the North Whisman and North Bayshore areas. The City Council has been requiring "community benefits" from such office and residential projects, and may still require a slew of transportation-related benefits from Google to alleviate traffic impacts on Shoreline Boulevard and Rengstorff Avenue.

Crofoot said she recently attended a meeting at Google headquarters where Google officials discussed various bike infrastructure needs with a group of bike advocates.

"They were definitely interested in a bike boulevard in Mountain View," Crofoot said of Google officials, referring to the practice of installing cul-de-sacs on streets to allow only bike traffic through, as pioneered by Palo Alto. A bike boulevard of that sort would be a first for the city and is not yet officially proposed, but bike advocates pointed to Latham Street as a good candidate for one in Mountain View, Crofoot said.

Other projects Google may be interested in funding include a "cycle track" or protected bike lane between the downtown train station and Google headquarters, up Stierlin Road and Shoreline Boulevard. The idea has been discussed in various City Council study sessions and will likely be studied with other transit improvements proposed for North Bayshore. But Google is also "interested in building better connections east-west," to serve residents of the city, Crofoot said.

Google could also fund 150 new bike racks for downtown, which Crofoot and members of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee have been pushing for as more and more bikes are locked to things not designed to be used as bike racks. The council asked city staff members to examine the idea on April 2.

Crofoot says the cost of a simple u-shaped rack for two bikes is $200, or $30,000 total for 150 racks. Crofoot says the cost is cheap compared to vehicle parking, which is lacking downtown, according to a recent study calling for a new garage. The 405-space parking garage at Bryant and California streets cost $18 million in 2007 — that is $44,444 per parking space.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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