This time around, I’d like to address plans for the intersections of Foothill Expressway at San Antonio Road and El Monte Avenue in Los Altos. These intersections are bottlenecks at rush hour, and there is agreement between residents and traffic engineers that the modifications at El Monte made a few years ago were poorly thought out.
There have been several plans under consideration, including ones with multiple turn lanes from Foothill onto El Monte and San Antonio. I took my own advice and attended the recent meeting of the Los Altos Complete Streets Commission to provide input regarding the needs of bicyclists through these interchanges.
I was shocked to learn that my recommendation to include green painted lanes through the intersections to alert drivers to the presence of bicycles was against the policy of the Santa Clara County Roads and Airports Department, which is responsible for the expressways, and therefore would not even be considered (though the city of Los Altos can request a waiver).
I looked at the popular GPS app Strava to find the number of riders who have been recorded on Foothill (more than 19,000) and made guesses to extrapolate the statistics (which include only riders using the Strava app). I estimate that approximately 1 million trips are made in each direction per year, and 75,000 individual cyclists have used Foothill Expressway over the past five years. My extrapolations may be off, but my point is that both numbers are large.
I learned that except for Foothill north of Edith Avenue and Page Mill Road (which were grandfathered in back in 2003), there are no other bike lanes on an expressway in Santa Clara County, even though bikes are allowed. It is OK to stripe lanes to show where bicycles should go, but any other signage or road markings that imply the existence of a bike lane are against county policy.
Should city seek a waiver?
My experience with the new green bike lanes through intersections has been extremely positive. They improve visibility and predictability, which are critical to road safety. Numerous studies I found through a Google search show that such lanes significantly reduce the number of drivers who do not yield to cyclists, which is consistent with my experience on roads I travel frequently (such as Alpine Road near Interstate 280).
But they won’t be considered for Foothill unless the city requests a waiver, and in my discussions with city and county officials, the financial liability of that request is not clear to all parties. The county’s logic is that in 1988, it allowed experienced, skilled riders on the shoulders but does not want to add features that would entice inexperienced riders to ride the road, even if it increases safety for those who do. That may have been the right decision in 2003, but it ignores the reality of today’s cycling and motorist traffic.
My specific concern on Foothill is that increased rush-hour traffic has led to more drivers turning in front of cyclists at the last minute. I am not worried so much about those drivers, but the drivers who are following too closely behind them, whose view of the cyclist ahead is blocked until the very last second. When one driver cuts me off, the next two usually do also. When Foothill was opened to bicycles in 1988, that was not a big worry. It is today.
I recommend that anyone with expertise on the subject or a strong opinion find a way to express it before the project is finalized – not after. If you have an interest in the Foothill project – as a cyclist, pedestrian, motorist or nearby resident – the place to start is the Los Altos Complete Streets Commission.
Whether you agree or disagree with me, I want to hear from you.