In my column last month, I addressed the groundswell of opposition from the local cycling community to the redesign of Foothill Expressway between San Antonio Road and El Monte Avenue.
It is disappointing that although the design accomplished all of its stated goals, it did so at the expense of bicycle safety – cyclists are now expected to ride to the right of the right-turn lane until the very last minute and then make a sharp left turn through fast-moving traffic to continue straight on Foothill. This explicitly violates section 403.6 of the Caltrans Highway Design Manual.
Here are the ways the design violates 403.6:
• It maximizes the potential confusion for motorists and bicycles.
• It introduces ambiguity, because depending on traffic conditions, it will be impossible for cyclists to comply with the designated transition markings.
• It does not comply with user (cyclist) expectations and certainly increases conflicts between vehicles and bicyclists with respect to the previous design.
• There is no 6-foot area for bicycle use between the right-turn and through lane, except the “slot” at the very end.
• There is a weaving area with undefined lanes.
County open to fixes
I wrote this column immediately after Santa Clara County’s July 27 meeting with Los Altos city representatives and members of the local cycling community. County officials presented three potential ways to improve the safety of the present design of the Foothill/El Monte intersection. It is clear to me that county officials have heard our concerns, and their response was much clearer than it had been at last month’s Complete Streets Commission meeting. Two of the three ideas were well received, and they represented different approaches to solving the problem.
The first two proposals were variants on the same idea, and the better one was to use green stripes to bring attention to the 100-foot long area where bikes are expected to move across the right-turn vehicle lane while yielding to vehicles in that lane.
The idea is good, but do the math: At 20 mph, it takes a cyclist 3.5 seconds to go 100 feet; at 10 mph, it takes 7 seconds. Clearly, that is an insufficient time to find an opening (cyclists would be required to yield to overtaking traffic), and cyclists would inevitably be forced to stop in the midst of traffic while looking for a way to cross. The idea can be made to work if the transition zone is realistically increased, and if the same green pavement treatment is used to show the expected bike route before and after the transition zone, alerting motorists to what to expect ahead.
The third approach is to create a separated bike lane to the right of the right-turn lanes and use traffic lights at the intersection to regulate right-turning motor vehicles and straight-through cyclists. This has the advantage that it would be navigable by less-skilled or novice cyclists at rush hour, but I don’t think this is the demographic that currently uses the expressway. It does not address all of the other intersections these cyclists will encounter. It would also introduce additional delays for through cyclists, which would make it tempting for experienced cyclists to bypass during off hours.
What was not addressed was the possibility of a separated right-turn lane to allow a well-designed bike lane between Lane 2 (straight through El Monte) and Lane 3 (right turn at El Monte). Vehicles would have to merge right across the bike route to enter this separated lane, just as they do at all other intersections on Foothill. If county officials really want to respond to cyclists’ feedback, they need to consider this idea as well.
I do not have room in this column to address all the pros and cons of these proposals, but last week’s meeting was a constructive step forward. Now that the range of possible solutions has been opened up, I am more optimistic than I was a month ago that the problem will be solved.
Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email questions and comments to email@example.com.