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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  1/1/2010

Mary Avenue Bike Bridge: The Downside

Last April 30, the City of Cupertino (my home town) at long last, cut the ribbon on a brand spanking new, beautiful bicycle-pedestrian bridge. CalTrans was there. The New York-based architect-builder was there. The mayors of Sunnyvale and Cupertino were there. And so were tons and tons of cyclists, neighbors, and other assorted hand-shaking politicos. After the speeches, applause and much videoing and photographing, everyone schlepped across the bridge over Interstate 280 to Homestead Road, and back again.

Some six months later, on Veteran's Day, November 11, no one was at the bridge approach at Meteor Drive. No one, that is, except one City contractor, who had completely blocked the right-lane approach with some kind of pumping machine. He also had hoses strung along the left-hand exit lane, right in the middle of the lane. Not across the lane, mind you, but in the direction of the lane itself. Bridge Approach

Jim and I, on our way to a club ride in Los Altos, rode north on Mary Avenue and came upon the bridge in the described condition. We couldn't go up the right-hand side, so we chose the left. Jim got through the hoses unscathed, but my rear wheel must have glanced one. Down I went in a nanosecond. I hit my head HARD! In fact, I sat up and fairly shouted: "I hit my head!"

Keep in mind that this was on a public holiday when nary a City employee would even toy with the idea of showing up for work. Yet here was this guy working the landscaping. The City Yard, right next to the bridge approach, was wide open. But no one was there. I know because I rode back down and into the yard looking for someone -- anyone -- to report this egregious lack of responsibility and concern for safety.

The wonderful Mary Avenue Bridge

Please understand, we love this bridge. It's not only convenient and easy to use, it's also downright gorgeous. For months while it was being built, people driving along Interstate 280 between San Jose and Palo Alto would marvel at its progress.

In the words of Gary Richards, aka Mr. Roadshow of the San Jose Mercury News, "while the large, white span held up by 44 cables is striking during the day, you should check it out at night. That's when it will really glow, with lights illuminating the 90-foot-tall, 325-foot-long structure that crosses 11 freeway lanes. Think mini-Bay Bridge."

Mary Ave BridgeMini-Bay Bridge, my aching head. It's almost a scale model of the Viaduc de Millau , under which we rode on our last tour in France.

"The cost was high. At $15 million, it's believed to be the most expensive span of its type in the South Bay," Gary wrote. But, he added, "Studies indicate that 265,000 people will use the bridge each year, 175,000 of them cyclists. And best of all, 35,000 of those will be commuters opting to leave their cars, vans and SUVs in the garage."

For a while it looked like the project was doomed. The cost was just too high (think hundreds of millions of dollars). At the dedication in April, nearly every speaker referred to the last-minute decision to go with the a cheaper solution. "You have six weeks," Cupertino's Public Works Director reportedly told the New York architecture firm. Over two years later we have a striking landmark at what turned out to be a bargain price.

But not security or safety

About 12 acres of landscaping surround the approaches on both sides of the bridge. The plan is for native trees to grow up around the paths there, hiding local residences from view. A "public art plaza" was installed in April. It featured a red-shouldered hawk hovering over a flock of native quail.

QuailIt wasn't long before one of those little bird sculptures anchored in rock disappeared. A prank? A political statement? Who knows? What we do know is that there was a lack of planning on the part of the City about those sculptures. Another one was purloined before the rest were removed until the City can figure out how to anchor them more permanently. They haven't returned as of year's end.

But worse than not securing expensive artwork was the City's decision to hire a contractor to tackle that landscaping. Apparently it was too much work for City staff to take on the job of planting all those trees and shrubs. So they hired a San Jose outfit, B&B Landscaping Contractors, to do the job. And proceeded to let them tackle it pretty much unsupervised.

Thus the situation we encountered on Veteran's Day. Was City staff even aware that anyone was working on the landscaping -- unsupervised -- on a holiday? You bet not! The very next day I was at City Hall showing them my split helmet and telling them about the debacle I'd experienced. Reaction: "But it was a holiday! Why was anyone working on the bridge?" Yeah. Right.

I was so scared when my head hit that pavement. All I could think about was all the recent news reports about people who'd been whacked on the head, got up and said something like, "I'm fine," and 24 hours later were no longer among the living. My helmet liner sported a solid crack on the left side. I had a big goose egg on the left side of my head. And a splitting headache, perhaps a mild concussion.

The next day I bought a new helmet and visited my doctor, who checked my eyes, reflexes and cognition, then told me to get my friends to check on me carefully and often for the next four days.

So I filed a claim with the City of Cupertino. I stressed as best I could that I wasn't nearly as upset about the lost helmet (almost new) or the doctor visit/co-pay. My biggest concern, I told them (and wrote on the claim form), "is that the Mary Avenue Bridge . . . be maintained in a much safer manner for users. . . ."

Over the next six weeks I received an education on how these issues are handled. First off, I visited the next meeting of the Cupertino Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, to tell them my sad tale. They assured me that, as of November 30, 2009, this contractor would no longer be working for the City of Cupertino. I'm still not clear if that was because the City fired them, or because the contract merely ended.

Two weeks later I received a letter from a Claims Examiner at the Association of Bay Area Governments(ABAG) stating that ABAG would investigate the claim and be in further contact. Ten days later she sent me a copy of a letter to the contractor requesting documents and proof of settlement. Good progress, I told myself.

Then, a week later, came the certified letter from the City denying the claim! My reaction was disgruntled ire. But I decided not to rattle any cages since I felt I'd made my point about the City's responsibility to insist on safety standards from all workers on such facilities.

Fast forward to Christmas Eve. By then my head no longer reverberated with pain every time I rode my bike over a bump. In my mailbox I found an envelope from B&B Landscaping. And in the envelope, a check for the total of my claim. Yes! There is justice in this world!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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