Standing up for safe school routes

Local students who bike to Cupertino Middle School and Homestead High School via Grant Road are forced to make what many consider a dangerous choice near Crist Drive: merge into traffic or cross the road illegally and bike against traffic on a bike path on the opposite side of the road.

Bike Safety
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
A young bicyclist rides against traffic in the problem spot where a bike lane terminates with no safe alternative.

Like many others, the daughter of Los Altos resident Patricia Steele chose to cross to the side of the street with the bike lane Feb. 15 – with disastrous consequences. Steele’s daughter, who asked not to be identified, collided with a car. The eighth-grader at Cupertino Middle was thrown from her bike and lost consciousness for several moments, according to Steele. She was sent to Stanford Hospital’s trauma center to treat a concussion and severe whiplash.

“I remember when I got the call that my daughter had been in an accident,” Steele told the Town Crier. “My heart stopped. I remember thinking, ‘Why are they taking her to Stanford trauma center? Why not El Camino Hospital? It’s so close.’ (The police) told me that my daughter had been knocked unconscious, and that they wanted to bring her to Stanford.”

Although her brain scan showed no significant damage, Steele said her daughter suffered from depression, nausea and headaches in the months that followed. She has been cleared to bike again but won’t.

“I wanted my daughter to be able to learn responsibility, to be able to bike and have her independence, but now she’s scared to even get on a bike,” Steele said.

In search of safer routes

In the past 12 months, there have been three bicycle accidents on the stretch of Grant Road where Steele’s daughter was injured, according to the Los Altos Police Department. Steele said her daughter’s accident prompted her to join other parents in south Los Altos – which is served by the Cupertino Union School District (Cupertino Middle and Montclaire Elementary School in Los Altos) and the Fremont Union High School District (Homestead High School) – to advocate for safer routes to school for bicyclists and pedestrians.

“It’s unrealistic to expect middle schoolers to know all of the rules of the road when they don’t even have their permits,” Steele said. “They’re expected to navigate major roads like Grant and pass through the middle of traffic to get to school and bike on the wrong side of the street because they feel unsafe on a road without a bike lane. We might be a small group, but we deserve to have our voices heard and have safer routes for our children to be able to bike to school.”

Steele is working with Los Altos City Councilwoman Lynette Lee Eng to address safety concerns. Other parents have also taken action, circulating a petition to convince the Cupertino Union School District to bus students in the Montclaire attendance area to Cupertino Middle School. They presented the petition – signed by 134 families – to the district’s board March 28.

Los Altos resident and parent Debbie Crouse, who helped launch the petition, is hopeful that busing could be an interim solution for families.

“We don’t have safe routes right now, so let’s use buses for now to improve the safety, the traffic congestion and the environment,” she said.

All of the families who have signed the petition stated that they are willing to cover the cost of busing, according to Crouse, though they hope the cost could be covered under the school district’s existing budget; it already buses students living near Stocklmeir Elementary School to Cupertino Middle. Crouse and Los Altos resident Stacy Banerjee, the creator of the petition, recently met with the district’s chief business officer and Interim Superintendent Chris Jew to discuss the possibility of finding room in the budget for busing.

“He was open to the conversation of adding additional busing,” Crouse said. “He wanted to have more time to do analysis, to see if he could accommodate busing within the current budget by potentially looking at busing routes. The school district’s challenge is budget – if you need to get another bus, that is a capital expense. It’s also difficult to find drivers to drive school buses.”

Next week: Parents appeal to the school district and the city for busing and safer routes.

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