Of Parks and Parking

Growing up, a trip to the park was always a special occasion for my family. Our house was miles up a canyon that had no parks of its own, so Mom had to make a special effort to drive my brothers and me several miles to the nearest one. The park we frequented most often—which was not all that often—was called Douglas Park. It was a good-sized place that not only had the requisite children’s play equipment but also had a small stream that fed into a large pond. The stream was an endless source of amusement: we floated leaves and sticks down it, along with folded paper boats. And when we got a bit older, our father gave a couple of us some nice wooden sailboats that we sailed on the pond.

Douglas Park, like all of the parks back in those days, had play equipment that would probably horrify today’s parents. Everything was made of steel. The slides were tall, the swings were no more than canvas straps attached with very long chains, and the climbing equipment was set in sand. When we fell off the equipment, we felt it. Although I don’t recall any of us actually breaking an arm or anything, I’m certain that there were bruises. But we had fun, and we never regretted a trip to the park.

These days I live within easy walking distance from Stafford Park. My own children—who are now in their late 20’s—had a somewhat similar experience to mine. Back then Stafford’s equipment was also all metal, and set in sand. Today the equipment, although perhaps a bit less thrilling, is considerably safer and probably just as fun. In many ways our parks are much better than they were some 20 years ago, but as I learned this week there is still room for even more improvement, in ways I hadn’t really thought about before.

This week I had hoped to attend Monday’s City Council meeting, but due to a scheduling conflict I settled for simply watching it online, after the fact. The meeting agenda included a number of items in which I was interested. I won’t go into all of them here; I’ll save most for future posts. This week I’m going to take a break from the more contentious issues and instead highlight a couple of parks-related items, plus some parking-related ones.

The two parks-related items on this week’s agenda were both part of the “consent calendar,” which means that normally they’d be dealt with in a single vote, without comment. One in particular—the Magical Bridge Playground—rose above the rest, however. The Council was presented with a short video introducing the concept, and a couple of the council members spoke up in praise of the project. Although I had previously heard mention of it, the meeting was the first time I really got some background on what Magical Bridge is all about. I subsequently paid a visit to the existing Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto to see for myself.

As you can probably see from the above picture, the Magical Bridge Playground looks, on the surface, to be a nice playground with a variety of activities. However, a closer examination of the equipment reveals that there is something different about this place. From the Magical Bridge website we learn that this is a playground that is designed to accommodate the widest range of people:

Designed to be socially inclusive for children and adults of varying physical and cognitive abilities, Magical Bridge Redwood City aims to go beyond typical playground designs, which often inadvertently overlook the growing autistic population, cognitively challenged, visually and hearing impaired, physically limited and the aging population.

So, for example, instead of the standard “spinner” that you might see in the typical park, we’ll get something like this, which is designed to accommodate children in wheelchairs:

And then there is the park’s “tree fort,” which is accessible not just to kids with the ability to climb, but thanks to numerous ramps, to those with limited mobility as well:

While I can see definite connections between the Magical Bridge Playground and the parks I played in as a child, there is no way a child confined to a wheelchair, or even one on crutches, could have fully enjoyed the parks I grew up with. Magical Bridge, on the other hand, can be enjoyed by all.

For those who want to know more, consider visiting Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground in Mitchell Park, which is located on East Meadow Drive near Middlefield Road. Note that the playground is at the back of the park, over the bridge that crosses Adobe Creek. For easier access you can approach it from Middlefield Road, near the Mitchell Park Library. As for ours, the plan is to put it in Red Morton Park.

The Magical Bridge Playground is the creation of the Magical Bridge Foundation, which is in the process of raising money for our playground’s construction. The city will be contributing $1.5 million of Capital Improvement Project money—money that had already been allocated to the renovation of Red Morton’s existing playground. The Foundation now needs to raise $1.2 million in additional funds to make this project possible, and they are asking the Redwood City community to consider donating to this worthy project. The project’s web page (http://magicalbridge.org/redwoodcity/) has more information on the project and on ways we can donate. Please consider helping to fund Redwood City’s Magical Bridge Playground, and be sure to spread the word to your friends and neighbors.

Magical Bridge may have gotten the lion’s share of the attention in this week’s Council meeting, but another park project didn’t escape my notice. Buried among the rather lengthy list of items that made up this meeting’s Consent Calendar was one regarding the rebuilding of Linden Park. I’ve been following this project for a couple of years now, feeling frustration alongside the Parks Commission as they experienced one setback after another in their dealings with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), the body who controls the land upon which Linden Park sits.

Linden Park is a little-known park in the southern part of Redwood City. For reference, it is right behind University Art (which itself is located on El Camino Real, below Woodside Road); peer through University Art’s parking lot fence, and across the street you’ll see the “entrance” to Linden Park. Which, except for the signs, can be easily mistaken for a dirt lot:

Linden Park’s shape—and indeed its current status as a dirt lot—is due to the fact that the park sits on the Hetch Hechy right-of-way, above the subterranean pipe that ultimately supplies us with our water. The SFPUC, which controls that right-of-way, has a lot to say about what can be built on it. Linden Park was originally constructed in 1971 but had to be torn out in 2010 when the SFPUC upgraded the pipe. Since that time our Parks and Rec folks have been trying to rebuild the park, but coming up with a design that is worthy of construction while satisfying the stringent requirements set forth by the SFPUC has proved to be extremely challenging. Fortunately it appears that the city may have developed with a simple plan that will meet with the SFPUC’s approval, and so on Monday the City Council approved a license agreement with the SFPUC that should enable the park to be rebuilt. Ideally the groundbreaking will occur in 2017 with project completion some 90 days later.

I, for one, can’t wait to see this little neighborhood park finally get built.

Switching to the subject of parking, the City Council meeting included a “study session” on ways to handle parking issues in our residential neighborhoods. Since that subject will require more space than I can devote to in the remainder of this post, I’ll save it for next week. But I did want to note two smaller items that will help ease our downtown parking problems almost immediately.

First, it seems that the City has come to an agreement with the Crossing 900 (“Box building”) folks, one that will allow the city to move those city vehicles that it has been keeping in Library Lot C (the long, narrow lot directly behind the library) to the Crossing 900 building garage. This will free up a number of badly needed spaces from the library lot, making them available for public use. Given that Lot C is my “go to” lot when attending City Council and Planning Commission meetings, and when doing my volunteer work at the library, I’m pleased to see that it’s going to get a little bit easier to park back there.

As to the second item, the electronic signs that will let motorists know how many spaces are available in the Marshall Street garage and in the Century Theatres garage are finally appearing for real. Drive down Broadway past Jefferson and you’ll see this rather good-looking dual-sided electronic sign on Broadway, near the entrance to the Marshall Street garage:

This sign is nicely designed so as not to look like an electronic one. Indeed, as you can see from the above picture it looks more like a banner than a sign. Note that it currently says “Testing Purposes Only,” so take the displayed number with a grain of salt. But I watched for a while, and as cars came and went I observed the number changing accordingly. And although I didn’t actually count the number of empty spaces in the garage when I took the above picture, I did note that the top deck was almost entirely empty, and that there were empty spaces scattered throughout the rest of the garage: the displayed figure seemed about right.

A similar sign or two should be coming elsewhere in our downtown to show the status of the Theatre garage, if it isn’t up already (there wasn’t one on Wednesday when I took the above picture, but I expect one to appear any day now). These signs should be a huge help, letting passing motorists know whether they should even bother entering the garage.

I’m pleased that the City Council is actively working to improve our downtown parking situation, just as I’m pleased that they are putting money into our parks, both of which will make Redwood City a better place for both residents and visitors alike. I’m sure that the City Council is as happy as I am to be able to, however briefly, focus on a couple of smaller issues that almost everyone will support.

4 thoughts on “Of Parks and Parking

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