I have been cycling in the Los Altos area since 1975 and witnessed many changes – most of them better for cyclists.
Yes, there is friction between cyclists and motorists, but my belief is that there is less outright animosity. It’s been many years since I have had anything thrown at me, and the frequency of motorists deliberately swerving to scare me while passing has decreased.
I think that there are several reasons for this, including actions by local municipalities to design roads with cycling and pedestrian safety in mind. And based on the general increase in fitness in the area, it is more likely that a motorist is also a cyclist or, if not, has a neighbor or child who rides.
However, the flip side is the dramatic increase in traffic, which seems to have reached crisis levels in the past two years. When I started commuting through Los Altos from Cupertino to Palo Alto in 1975, the logical route included Foothill Expressway, but cycling on Foothill was illegal. The alternative was roads that roughly paralleled Foothill, but that made it necessary to navigate many intersections, including crossing Foothill several times and riding through the Rancho Shopping Center parking lot.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Ellen Fletcher, a Palo Alto councilwoman and Holocaust survivor, Foothill is now a major bicycling artery along the Peninsula. Nevertheless, it can be a nightmare at rush hour, requiring mixing with cars at the intersections of Page Mill Road, San Antonio Road and El Monte Avenue.
Similarly, my quiet, rural street has become (thanks to Waze) virtually an extra lane for Interstate 280 at rush hour; with bumper-to-bumper traffic, it is no longer possible to pass a cyclist safely and legally. And while bike lanes can be a big safety factor, abruptly ending them and dumping cyclists into a chaotic intersection or constricted road is a huge impediment for cyclists seeking a safe route to their destinations.
Various local agencies are trying hard to address the issues of traffic growth and bicycle/pedestrian safety, but both the agencies and the cyclists they are trying to help have not always met their efforts with enthusiasm.
Improvements to the Safe Routes to School Bicycle Boulevard on Ross Road in Palo Alto and upgrades to the San Antonio and El Monte intersections at Foothill Expressway in Los Altos are two significant efforts underway.
I recently rode to Palo Alto and talked to Ross Road residents, who gave me some valuable advice: The traffic engineers responsible for the project probably don’t live in the neighborhood, and they won’t know some of the local subtleties.
However, simply complaining after the fact is not productive – don’t call to complain, call to educate the planners and make suggestions. Several local residents called the city of Palo Alto to make suggestions that have been adopted, but they made the suggestions after the work had already started, because that is when they found out about the plans. It is imperative that the agencies planning the work make efforts to solicit local input before they commence construction, and they need to make sure that input is welcome and that they do not convey the attitude of “Trust us, we know what we are doing.”
Along those lines, I have reviewed the proposal for the El Monte and San Antonio intersections and have some significant concerns about the plans as drafted, but I’ve had trouble finding ways to get planners to hear my concerns. Look for a future column to see how this turns out.
Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email questions and comments to chris@ cfhengineering.com.