In the hope of encouraging similar proactive projects, I will address three recent ones – two of which were in response to tragic accidents – aimed at making our local roads safer.
Page Mill-Interstate 280
The first is the Page Mill Road-Interstate 280 interchange, where cyclists had to cross two lanes of traffic to continue straight on Page Mill. It is a complicated intersection, designed years ago when traffic was much lighter, but the improvements significantly improve bicycle routing and safety through the intersection. My congratulations to all the jurisdictions involved for finally getting it approved. I hope both motorists and cyclists can appreciate the effort and respect each other as they cross paths.
The second project is quite ambitious: a separated lane on McClellan Road in Cupertino, a commuter route for students to Lincoln Elementary School, Kennedy Middle School and Monta Vista High School. This is a small country road that is extremely busy at rush hour. The road is constrained, and a lot of creativity was required to fit safety features into the available real estate. It will encourage cycling by kids who might otherwise feel intimidated – or whose parents are fearful for their safety. The entire project will take at least another two years, and the city and public are taking a long view to their needs.
Safety features vary along the route to adapt to the specific configuration of different stretches of road. Portions are conventional bike lanes and others are protected by curbs to separate drivers and cyclists. Although this will significantly reduce risk to kids, it does present some complications to adults who are capable of riding significantly faster than is safe within the new lanes. For example, there is a short merge zone where drivers make a right turn at Stelling Road and cyclists go straight. Navigating this will require split-second decisions by drivers and cyclists who are not prepared, and I predict it will have to be modified to eliminate dangerous right hooks. There are also driveways that cross the bike lane where a cyclist’s course is constrained to the narrow strip between curbs.
If McClellan were still part of my commute, I would choose to take the traffic lane rather than the segregated bike facility; I imagine that some motorists might not appreciate that decision, though.
The final project is Arastradero Road in Palo Alto, between Foothill Expressway and El Camino Real, passing Gunn High School and Ellen Fletcher Middle School (named after a prominent Palo Alto cycling advocate). It features stretches where motorists and cyclists are separated by a curb and parked cars, and illustrates a willingness to acknowledge that it can take two tries to get things right. It is part of the second attempt to calm traffic on a heavily traveled route.
Ironically, I made the decision years ago to abandon this stretch at rush hour after nearly being doored twice by kids jumping out after their parents stopped suddenly in the traffic lane.
When I gave the new road a test ride recently, I felt completely safe inside this enclosed space, which I did not feel in similar trials in Cupertino and Mountain View. Why the difference? The Miramonte stretch is slightly downhill and it is easy to go 25-30 mph, McClellan is level (my comfortable speed is approximately 20 mph) and Arastradero is uphill and takes concentrated effort to exceed 15-18 mph. The difference in grade would be invisible to motorists, and probably to the road designers as well, unless they were experienced cyclists. Small details such as this matter in designing safe infrastructure, and if you have expertise, I encourage you to make it available to the people who plan such projects.
I started this column two years ago with the idea of leveraging my experience and knowledge as an adult cyclist; since then we have seen increasing focus on providing safe cycling routes for kids. Good habits start in childhood, and I am excited to see the efforts being made to improve safety for children riding to school.