Foothill-El Monte

This image taken going southbound on Foothill Expressway to the El Monte Avenue intersection shows new signage put in by Santa Clara County crews after cyclists' complaints about the new roadway configurations.

Newly configured intersections that are part of the Foothill Expressway improvement project are presenting a hazard for some cyclists. But the problem, users say, isn’t just the upgrades – it’s rooted in Santa Clara County guidelines that discourage designated bike lanes on the expressway.

The current striping, instead, shows a solid line at the shoulder, directing cyclists to keep to the right of the line. But the safety issues, users contend, occur especially at intersections, where designated striping for cyclists approaching the crosswalk is to the left of the right-turn lanes. It forces cyclists to veer left from the right-hand shoulder, crossing into the right-turn lanes and into approaching vehicle traffic. They said the situation is at its worst traveling eastbound on Foothill as they approach the El Monte Avenue intersection and its two right-turn lanes.

Although there are signs alerting motorists to watch for cyclists and share the road, riders said the lack of designated lanes poses risks on what is considered one of the most well-traveled roads for cyclists in the county. They’re concerned over the prospect of heavy traffic returning to Foothill, cars traveling 40 mph moving into right-turn lanes and cyclists pedaling 12-15 mph moving left to get to the designated bike slot in the through lane.

Sunnyvale resident Jonathan Blum of the Western Wheelers Bicycle Club told the Los Altos City Council at its June 8 meeting that the newly revamped intersections “constitute an immediate hazard of harm or death for bicyclists using that very popular road. I believe this must be addressed urgently before there is a serious injury or death and a legal risk to the city.”

He said he has received multiple reports of close calls, and has had a close call himself.

Added cyclist Robert Neff: “This exit configuration is a lot like some of our worst freeway interchanges, with bicyclists starting from the right side of a high-speed, right-turn-only lane. Caltrans and Santa Clara County have been trying to eliminate these for years. It is unfortunate that the effort to relieve congestion from San Antonio to El Monte has resulted in this dangerous design, and that it is only apparent now.”

Los Altos Mayor Neysa Fligor said the city has been “sharing the feedback” it has received from the cyclists with the county. In addition, the city’s Complete Streets Commission, responsible for bicycle and pedestrian safety, is scheduled to address the issue at its next meeting, scheduled today.

Chris Hoeber, who writes the “Sharing the Road” column for the Town Crier’s On the Road section, said he asked the city council in 2018 to request that the county designate bike lanes on Foothill through Los Altos.

“Unless that was done, county guidelines would not allow the county to make any ‘special’ provision for bicycles at the new San Antonio and El Monte intersections,” Hoeber said.

The request never gained traction amid council and staff turnover.

The county’s expressway guidelines, last drawn up in 2003 through the Roads and Airports Department, dictate: “In general, the recommended expressway approach is to delineate bike travel width, but not to designate bike facilities as formal bike lanes. Delineation refers to striping; designation refers to bike lane signs and pavement markings. This approach is based on the concept that children and inexperienced bicyclists should not be encouraged to use the expressways. Another element of designation is the incorporation of routes into various bicycle route maps. Casual recreational or family outing users could misunderstand inclusion on a bike route map to mean an easy route for novices.”

“Please come together to fix this problem,” Hoeber urged in letters to city and county officials. “There are lots of traffic engineers who will want to help you fix it, but you and the county have to find the political will to fix the guidelines first.”

Thus far, the county has responded by placing a sign under the green El Monte Avenue-Moody Road directional sign on eastbound Foothill that says: “Begin Right-Turn Lane (with an arrow); Yield to Bikes.”

Rocelia Kmak of the Roads and Airports Department said crews are addressing the issues.

“We are doing some fine-tuning to the signage and striping to address concerns expressed by the cycling community,” Kmak said recently. “We are monitoring the situation and will provide additional measures if needed. We are planning to work directly with city staff as we address the concerns.”

“I think it is important to recognize that most serious injuries to cyclists occur at intersections,” Blum told the Town Crier, “and that the low number of intersections (and driveways) make Foothill Expressway safer than many other roads. But the intersections have to be engineered to minimize the risk. … I have ridden this kind of intersection a lot all over the U.S. But this is a significant new challenge for many who ride Foothill.”

The nearly complete expressway project through Los Altos adds a lane in both eastbound and westbound directions between the El Monte Avenue and San Antonio Road intersections, and adds a through lane on El Monte.