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April 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, April 01, 2005

Macias objects to bridge plan Macias objects to bridge plan (April 01, 2005)

Council member questions $277k study for highway crossing

By Jon Wiener

Laura Macias wants everybody to know she is not anti-bicycle. A former parks and recreation commissioner, she frequently said during her successful campaign for city council last year that she would like to see more safe crossings for pedestrians and bicyclists.

But when the city spends nearly $300,000 to design a bike bridge over Highway 101 without knowing how many people will use it, her business acumen takes over.

"If there was no way to get across 101, I would say we need to have it. But there are ways to get across," said Macias, who has twice opposed a staff proposal to extend the Permanente Creek trail to Old Middlefield Way.

Macias said she would rather see the money spent on park space or shuttles to ferret workers to North Bayshore job sites. But her fellow city council members are backing the extension, voting on a preferred route for the project and authorizing a $277,000 design contract, all with the goal of giving pedestrians and bicyclists a safe route to Shoreline Park.

Currently, the trail begins at Michaels restaurant at Shoreline and comes to a stop on the northern side of the highway. Building a pedestrian/bike bridge across 101 could cost an additional $3 million.

"It's not too useful at this point, quite frankly," said Jack Muench, senior civil engineer for the city. "It's just sort of the start of a trail."

The project has received only lukewarm support from the parks and recreation commission, generated little interest from the public, and has yet to be approved by the city council. But city staff is expecting the council to support the project when it is up for approval as part of the Capital Improvement Plan later this spring.

Many council members see it as an issue of equality. The only other dedicated highway crossing is the Stevens Creek Trail, more than a mile away.

"We were looking for some access for people on the other side of town," specifically children, said Council member Tom Means, who served on the parks and recreation commission until this year. "There just wasn't a safe route on the street."

Council member Nick Galiotto said the cost of the project does not begin to compare to the millions of dollars spent on each stretch of trail elsewhere.

"All the emphasis in recent years has been on the Stevens Creek Trail. We have a big gap," until you reach the western border, said Galiotto.

The money for the project will come from the Shoreline Community Fund, through a special district that keeps property-tax revenues tied to the North Bayshore area. The Stevens Creek Trail and the Shoreline Golf Pro Shop have both benefited from this set-up.

Macias suggested the city is building the project just because the money is available, and not because of the demand for it.

"We know if anything is a big issue because we get e-mails on it or it comes out in the Open Space plan," she said, adding that the project meets neither of those tests.

A handful of recreational cyclists have turned up at city council meetings to support the bridge.

The city's Parks and Open Space Plan does list the project as a priority but ranks three other trail projects ahead of it -- Stevens Creek, Hetch Hetchy and a third along the edge of the bay. But with the Santa Clara Valley Water District moving ahead with a flood control project all along Permanente Creek, officials believe completing the design for the bridge early could entice the water district to pay for some additional trail improvements.

Macias' fellow council members say that another safe crossing of 101 will be well worth the cost. But Macias plans to keep reminding everyone of the other things they could do with the money in order to make the city more amenable to alternative transportation.

"I think that's a great benefit," she said. "I just don't think that one stretch of a bike bridge delivers on it."
E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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