Sharing Road light

It’s hard for motorists to miss the no-right-turn signal to allow pedestrians and bikes to safely cross San Antonio Road at the end of Almond Avenue.

Three months ago, I wrote about the planned Almond Avenue two-way cycle track – also known as a protected bike lane – with some skepticism and wondered if it was a recipe for disaster.

With Los Altos High and Almond School back in session (thanks for alerting me about that, Kimberly Carahasen), I rode my bicycle to Los Altos High last week to check it out during both the morning and afternoon peak traffic times. I was pleasantly surprised – at least for my one-day sample – that the two-way cycle track is working well, thanks to the good behavior of the students using it.

I rode up and down the route several times during the peak time in the morning (8:15-8:45 a.m.) and afternoon (3:45-4:15 p.m.). What happens during these half-hour periods is amazing – a huge burst of activity that suddenly arises and then disappears a little less than 30 minutes later.

I learned that bike traffic was not 100% one-way. A few kids traveled the opposite direction in the morning; my assumption is that they were going to Egan Junior High. During both the morning and afternoon, there were a few adult cyclists doing their thing in both directions, in addition to the crush of Los Altos High students. In general, the kids’ approach was great: They rode at a safe speed, mostly single-file and not goofing off; when they saw that their path was blocked, they just moved onto the sidewalk, following common-sense right-of-way rules.

I cannot say the same about motor vehicle traffic, however. Cars exiting the parking lot pulled into the bike right-of-way without stopping or looking, and multiple adults and students turned directly in front of kids. I’d love to see some tickets or warnings given, because this is the high-risk part of the design, but the kids all seemed to be exercising the appropriate caution and not letting it bother them.

In the afternoon, a few motorists decided to pull over and block the lane while waiting to pick someone up. These complications are a good reason to advise anyone in a car or on a bike who doesn’t need to be there to avoid Almond during this period.

There were only a few kids on their way to Almond, and their timing was such that they were just outside of the peak period. I don’t know if some kids who would otherwise ride their bikes to Almond were intimidated by the high schoolers so therefore not riding.

At the intersection with San Antonio Road, the two-way cycle track worked well, with the exception that cars intending to turn right often blocked the cycle path. The law is ambiguous, as cars are supposed to merge right (including into bike lanes), but this rule does not take “wrong way” cycle tracks into account. I think bollards to prevent cars from blocking bike traffic for the last 25-50 feet before the intersection would be a worthwhile enhancement. The conspicuous no-right-turn light that comes on to allow pedestrians and cyclists to clear the intersection can’t be missed.

At the intersection with North Gordon Way, the protected bike lane also worked well, though bikes have to ride on the wrong side of North Gordon to access the crosswalk. If that is OK with residents, I guess it is OK with me, but it is one of the dichotomies of using Los Altos’ 1950s-built semi-rural streets for high-volume mixed-mode traffic.

Traveling the route

A couple of things happened on my rides from home to Los Altos High. In the morning, a group of five kids suddenly appeared out of a side street riding five abreast directly in front of me, traveling the wrong way on Springer Road. We scared each other, but fortunately no harm done.

This is another consequence of the Los Altos street design – the kids would have had to go a long way out of their way to ride on the right side to a place where they could safely cross the street. Parents need to work with their kids to develop a strategy to deal with situations like this and do their best to see that the kids learn and prepare for the dangers they will face.

In the afternoon, I had to run the gauntlet of a similar group of kids on their way across Foothill Expressway from Loyola School. As soon as I got past them, I had to contend with a motorist who made a big show of swerving around me to get to the queue of cars waiting to turn right on Fremont Avenue three seconds earlier than if he had waited for me.

These experiences were a vivid reminder to me of the bad old days when I had to ride city streets to commute from Cupertino to Palo Alto before it was legal to ride on Foothill.

Because this column is based on observations on a single day, I’d like to hear from anyone who sees the situation differently or has horror stories I might have missed. However, my initial impression is that the new design is a success.

Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email questions and comments to chris@cfhengineering.com.