The Pleasanton City Council signed off on separate plans detailing desired improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians on Foothill Road and on Interstate 580 overpasses, but the public debate last week focused on one temporary safety measure soon to be installed near Foothill High School.
Several families turned out to urge city leaders to fix what they call hazardous conditions on a stretch of sidewalk used by schoolchildren between Muirwood Drive (south) and Puri Court, an asphalt path with no real buffer to northbound Foothill Road, where driving speeds often exceed 45 mph.
City officials agreed, telling the council they have plans to construct a short-term solution over schools' winter break, putting in a new railing to help protect pedestrians and cyclists. Longer-range options for that segment are also spelled out in the newly adopted Foothill Road Bicycle Corridor Plan.
"It's pretty clear to me the most important aspect of this is the safety for our children getting to Foothill, to Lydiksen and to Hart Middle School," Councilwoman Kathy Narum said in support of the plan on Dec. 4.
Student safety was the theme during the public hearing, specifically along a 250-foot stretch of walkway on the east side of Foothill Road where the sidewalk is a narrow asphalt path, with fencing on one side and Foothill Road traffic on the other separated only by a curb.
Foothill Road is Pleasanton's major west-side thoroughfare, a busy access road for neighborhoods and a popular cut-through street for commuters. The segment with the troublesome sidewalk is a route children use to get to their schools, including Lydiksen Elementary and Foothill High, from neighborhoods to the south.
Because of the skinnier width of that sidewalk, it's hard for kids on their bikes or on foot to be side-by-side or pass each other, not to mention the narrow sidewalk is right up against the busy road, according to families.
"I like to ride my bike to school but I can't do it that often because of the very narrow and dangerous sidewalk," Will McConlogue, a Lydiksen third-grader, told the council. "I feel afraid when I'm on this sidewalk, and I am sure other kids do too."
In recent weeks, city officials devised a two-part plan to address the safety concerns in the short-term.
It starts with installing a new railing between the sidewalk and Foothill Road during the winter school break. The railing includes a design feature to ensure bicycle handlebars won't catch on it.
They also plan to replace the asphalt sidewalk with a concrete one as part of the city's annual streets resurfacing program during the upcoming spring and summer -- though that project is contingent upon the adjacent retaining wall being able to withstand replacing the asphalt with concrete.
The city's long-range vision calls for that segment of Foothill Road to be widened, plus adding a new retaining wall, to accommodate buffered bike lanes and a multi-use trail. That long-term plan requires right-of-way acquisition, which would likely occur as part of potential development of the adjacent private "Merritt" property -- but that could be years down the road, according to city staff.
The handful of residents who spoke to the council last week said they supported the temporary solution, but they didn't want city leaders to lose sight of creating a permanent solution as soon as possible.
"I feel like every day that we delay is a day of increased risk for our community, and it's one more day where we're gambling with the safety of our students," parent Joelle McConlogue said. "Make this area a top priority and further improve this roadway simply because we are so close to a school zone and it's affecting, like mentioned, several thousand students each day."
Will Wollesen, a Foothill Knolls resident, raised concerns about the speed limit on Foothill Road as well as the viability of the city's railing plan, which he called "sort of the Band-Aid solution."
"While I want an immediate fix, I want something that makes sense and that is comprehensive and that is a long-term solution, so I encourage efforts to continue in that regard to make it a solid and good fix," he said.
His wife Brooke Wollesen spoke more broadly about bicycle conditions on Foothill Road, saying she would fear for her safety when riding on the road and stopped cycling on Foothill after bicyclist Diana Hersevoort was struck and killed by a car on Foothill near Golden Eagle Way in 2013.
"After that, I was like: I don't want to die. And so I don't use my bike any more on Foothill," she said.
Council members seemed to support city staff talking with the Merritt property owners about an easement to allow the city to construct the long-term solution sooner. But City Manager Nelson Fialho pointed out the difficulty will be that the city would not offer any assurances to the owners about a potential future development project during early easement negotiations, which could last a year or more.
In the end, the council unanimously approved the Foothill Road Bicycle Corridor Plan, which calls for a variety of improvements from Dublin Canyon Road to Castlewood Drive.
"This is a huge step forward," Councilwoman Karla Brown said. "We know it's been on the priority list and we know it's been something we've been looking at. It is government. Government takes a while. We'll find the funding. We'll get to work on it."
The plan, completed by consultant Fehr & Peers with support from city staff and the Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Committee, details design goals for future projects on Foothill to enhance usability for bicycles, walkers, runners and drivers.
Featuring short- and long-term concepts for bicycle improvements, the plan separates Foothill Road into three segments based on distinct land-use characteristics.
The first area, classified as employment and retail focused, is Dublin Canyon Road to Stoneridge Drive. Projects through there are geared toward improving connectivity and comfort for bicyclists, a list that includes buffered bike lanes, repaving and/or widening of existing paths, and installation of sidewalks.
Several of the key recommendations for Area 1 were completed earlier this year as part of the city's resurfacing project on that portion of Foothill Road.
Neighborhood-heavy Area 2 runs from Stoneridge Drive to Bernal Avenue and is focused on creating an "all ages and abilities" network by providing a multi-use path along the east side of Foothill along with buffered bike lanes for regional cyclists. Long-range projects would also include widening Foothill Road and reworking intersections at Bernal, West Las Positas Boulevard and Foothill High.
The third area, from Bernal to Castlewood Drive, faces more constraints because of limited development opportunities and right-of-way issues, according to city staff. Potential improvements could include buffered bike lanes, Foothill widening and new striping.
The plan drafting was funded with money from Measure B and BB county transportation tax revenue. The identified projects will be incorporated into future city construction plans as funds become available or as private projects are developed along the corridor, according to city staff.
Also last week, the council voted 4-1 to adopt the new I-580 Overcrossings Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvement Plan, which focuses on proposed design changes to the freeway overpasses at Hopyard Road, Hacienda Drive and Santa Rita Road.
The plan outlines the city's lead options for redesigning the freeway interchanges, from the lead-up streets in Pleasanton across the existing overpasses and connecting to Dublin streets, to make them safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Any project would need Caltrans approval, as well as coordination with city of Dublin.
The key issue on all three overpasses is where to assign bike lanes, and bike and pedestrian crossings, in relation to the right-most traffic lanes on which drivers take a soft-right onto the freeway on-ramps without stoplights.
The strategies generally include striping changing, buffered bike lane areas, sidewalk improvements and redesigning bicycle/pedestrian crossing to include beacons to stop traffic when people are ready to cross in front of the ramp lanes.
In some cases, the plan recommends removing an on-ramp turn lane where multiple lanes exist, for safety reasons, but city staff acknowledges Caltrans likely would not support those removals. So the early designs in the plan are the ideal concepts from the city's perspective, but final design would depend on variables such as traffic data, funding and Caltrans input.
Most of the council deemed the plan a good starting point for future discussions, Caltrans review and grant applications
"As a concept/plan, because that's what I consider it, it's a step in the right direction," Councilman Jerry Pentin said. "And I don't think we can go anywhere until we have 'permission' to move forward with Caltrans and find out really what their feedback is."
Brown dissented, opposing the city spending money and staff time on studying all three overpasses (instead of just Santa Rita alone) when the other two intersections have safer underpasses nearby.
She said the plan was "something that I just can't support, if the motion is all three of them or nothing."
"I want bicyclists to be safe. I want to utilize the existing under-ramps of 580. But I just can't see taking lanes away from commuters and then having staff time spent and a lot of money with some of these changes," Brown added.
Mayor Jerry Thorne countered, "We're going to see this again, regardless. And if we decide at that point that we're not going to do one of these, we can do that. We need the traffic data to tell us one way or the other."
The plan, also prepared by Fehr & Peers, city staff and the Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Committee, was paid for with Measure B and BB money. Funding for final designs and construction has not been identified.