I have written before about the proposed two-way “cycle track” planned for the north side of Almond Avenue – the Los Altos High School side – surmising that it was perhaps the least-bad alternative to providing a safe route for students. However, Jennifer Granath’s letter to the editor in the April 28 Town Crier has caused me to rethink that.
Los Altos has put a process in place that is trying to improve both the experience and safety for pedestrians and cyclists. These are musts for Los Altos if we are going to preserve the country charm that attracted many of us to the city in the first place.
Unlike Jennifer, I have not sat at the corner of Almond and Gordon Way in the morning, though I know the corner well; it was where I found myself when my parents drove me here from Illinois in 1960.
I can picture the chaos Jennifer describes, with students crossing in one direction to get to Los Altos High and potentially with grade-school students crossing the other way to get from the new cycle track to Almond School.
I don’t know if anyone involved in the planning has intimate knowledge of the local situation in the morning and, though I recently checked out the lane reserved for the track, it is not possible to see what it looks like with pre-COVID traffic. The cycle-track concept is simply not well-suited for two-way, high-volume traffic, and I imagine that it will be a crush of one-way traffic going to school in the morning and traffic leaving school in the afternoon.
Let’s make it one-way then – functioning as a normal bike lane except in the morning, when cyclists will be asked to ride in the opposite direction. That way, cyclists riding the “wrong way” at that time won’t have to deal with oncoming traffic on both sides. With one-way traffic, a student will have some latitude if a car sticks its nose out of the driveway or if a car traveling in the opposite direction stops so that a passenger can open its door in the middle of the street and jump out.
Don’t laugh – this has happened to me twice in one morning commute on Arastradero Road in Palo Alto, next to what is now Ellen Fletcher Middle School, where I fortunately had an available escape route.
One-way bicycle traffic also would reduce the pressure on a grade schooler headed for Almond stuck in a crush of high schoolers.
Regardless of the details, a lone adult cyclist commuter traveling the other direction
in the morning will have no choice but to “take the lane” and travel in the traffic lane adjacent to the track. That is fine and proper, but I hope that doesn’t upset the impatient driver behind him.
Implementing the vision
Cycle tracks are a proven tool in the cycling infrastructure planner’s tool box, and a quick internet search will show you many different designs adapted to many different situations.
The situation that is being addressed here only exists for a couple of hours in the morning. I think before a construction company is chosen to build the cycle track, the detailed design needs a close look by people who are familiar with both cycling and the specific local issues.
I am sure it is possible to build a safe track there, but is it possible within budget and within the current roadway constraints?
If it is built and has to be rebuilt a year later, it will be a significant setback to the Los Altos Bike Network Planning. It is one thing to approve a concept, it is another to approve the actual implementation plan; we don’t want anyone to have to say, “That is not what I envisioned!”
Personally, I would vote
for Plan B, which I know was also considered before the cycle-track approach was chosen. It, too, would have problems. I think it would be labor-intensive,
requiring morning and afternoon crossing guards, and I think also portable traffic lights, and a place for cyclists to queue waiting for the light to turn.
If you ask five cycling advocates a question about cycling infrastructure, you will get five different opinions, but I think this is a large enough decision that before construction begins, it should be necessary to address the implementation plan (not the concept drawing) and demonstrate to knowledgeable local residents and cyclists that the concerns expressed by Jennifer and in this column have been addressed. This will be time well spent if the experience gained can be used to inform other local projects that are in the planning stage.
Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email questions, comments and potential column topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.