Editor's Note: This is a blog post from Los Altos Patch's 'Local Voices' section that features residents writing their perspectives.
Now that the City Council has approved the revised Bicycle Transportation Plan, it is time to focus on another alternative mode of transportation, walking. Los Altos has been intending to get started on a Pedestrian Master Plan for over a year now, but this has been delayed until a new Transportation Coordinator was hired. That has now happened.
Los Altos seems to have a love/hate relationship with pedestrians. On one hand, we would like to preserve the rural feel of the city by encouraging people to walk rather than take their cars when appropriate. On the other hand, sidewalks and other pedestrian accommodations are sometimes seen as urban amenities and it is narrow streets and the absence of sidewalks that differentiate us visually from surrounding cities like Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale.
There seems to be no "rhyme nor reason" to where sidewalks currently exist. Sidewalks are sometimes provided for a portion of a street, and then end -- sometimes very abruptly. Correcting this requires time and money, but first we need to define our goals for pedestrian facilities. This is precisely why a Pedestrian Master Plan is so badly needed.
The vast majority of our residential roads do not need to change. They are quite walkable even in the absence of sidewalks. But some roads do need better accommodation for pedestrians, such as:
- Collector roads (like El Monte, Fremont, and Miramonte). While many of these roads do have sidewalks on at least one side, the sidewalk sometimes changes sides of the street, requiring pedestrians to cross the street unnecessarily. There are some sections with no sidewalk at all.
- Roads that are designated as Suggested Routes to School. Our children need safe places to walk to and from school, rain or shine. However, current streetscape standards seem to allow residents to build obstacles such as landscaping all the way to the edge of the road, requiring pedestrians to walk in the traffic flow to get around them.
- Routes that lead to our business districts (Downtown, Loyola Corners, Homestead Crossing, etc.) need to make it easy for pedestrians to walk safely and comfortably rather than take their cars. While there are, for the most part, good pedestrian facilities in the business districts, getting to them on foot can sometimes be an adventure.
Sidewalks that do exist need to be properly maintained and have obstacles removed. I have seen people pushing baby strollers in the street right next to a sidewalk that was in a condition too poor for use. There are many places where ramps at intersections lead directly to a narrow sidewalk with an obstacle like a telephone pole a short distance away. This doesn't work well for either strollers or wheelchairs. We also seem to be tolerant of vehicles parking in many of our sidewalks, creating temporary hazards.
We can serve the pedestrians of Los Altos, and encourage more pedestrian use, without upsetting the rural feel of our city. But doing so will require good planning.