California Dreamin’: Palo Alto bike boulevards

The City of Palo Alto is not far from San Francisco, in Silicon Valley. It is a university and hi tech town, with lots of cycling and cyclists. There are a number of factors that make it attractive to cycle: short-ish distances, a dappled shade on the streets from the overhead tree canopy [to be contrasted in a few posts with the San Jose non-canopy], and their bike boulevards.

Bike boulevards or neighborhood greenways are rather different from Ottawa designated bike routes. In Ottawa, the green sign goes up, and most of the time, nothing else changes. It’s merely a recommended route. As a result they are often frustrating to cyclists and don’t get much bang for the few bucks spent.

Palo Alto has got a 7% modal share for trips to work by a number of simple measures that create bike boulevards. And they are cheap! They expand their network of boulevards at a grand cost of merely $1 million  per year. Although, to be fair, there are a number of more expensive “missing links” like bridges and underpasses, that are on the horizon now that much of the low hanging fruit has been picked and cyclists are looking for completion of the network.

The story is best told with pictures:

simple signs mark the routes, which appear deceptively normal …


bike boulevards are usually on well-treed streets to shelter cyclists from hot California sun. Where shade is skimpy, more trees are planted. Some hi-tech firms give hi-tech bikes to new employees on their first day of work,as part of transportation demand management (TDM) practices


many boulevards do not need painted bike lanes or sharrows, since motor traffic is calmed. This busier street does have painted bike lanes on each side. About 7-8% of all work trips are made by bicycle in Palo Alto.


bike boulevards have fewer stop signs, cross streets have more. To prevent motorists from crashing in on the thru streets, diverters keep the streets just for local traffic and cyclists. Note that traffic signal heads are painted green, to blend in and be unobtrusive, a marked contrast to Ottawa’s insane desire that they be bright yellow and dominate the streetscape. Did I mention cars go slower there?


Boulevards can be constructed relatively cheaply, meaning more bang for the buck. The City spends around $1million a year building and maintaining bike boulevards. On the horizon: bike only bridges and underpasses.


cyclists and motorists can coexist harmoniously, if speeds are low. Parking permitted one side, other side is painted bike lane. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.


The grid pattern of streets makes for abundant parallel routes, so it is easy to locate a bike boulevard


Houses on the bike boulevards are often premium priced compared to adjacent streets, because there is less motorized traffic and the street is “friendlier”. The street sign shown makes it easy to find this area on google maps.