On The Road

Foothill Expressway and riding on the sidewalk – both can be dangerous

Foothill Expressway cyclists
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Cyclists on Foothill Expressway in Los Altos pause at a light at the El Monte Road intersection, where widening construction is underway.

By Chris Hoeber

The construction project at the Foothill Expressway intersections at El Monte Avenue and San Antonio Road has been in the works for a long time; I guess we can count ourselves lucky that it’s being done during the shelter-in-place while traffic is minimal.

I first wrote about this project more than two years ago, when it became clear to those of us living near the intersections that they needed to be remodeled.

I am familiar with the intersections, both as a motorist and as a cyclist. For a motorist, El Monte has become a bottleneck in all directions, and I empathize with the people living off of El Monte near the intersection, who must feel trapped at home during rush hour. For a cyclist, that intersection is probably the most dangerous along Foothill/Junipero Serra between Cupertino and Menlo Park. It’s long, narrow and poorly marked, and the slightly uphill merge lane southbound on Foothill practically invites motorists wanting to turn right to cut cyclists off. Once the person in front of a line does that, those who follow have to make a snap judgment as to whether they are going to do the same.

The other intersection is not as dangerous from a bicycling perspective, but it is also a bottleneck and, at times, rather than two small bottlenecks, it becomes one large bottleneck.

When the project was proposed, I responded to the public invitation for comments and met with the staff liaison to the Los Altos Complete Streets Commission, who advises the city council on such matters. From the commission’s website: “Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are planned, designed and operated for safe mobility for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit users of all ages and abilities.”

I met with the county project manager and researched the history of bicycles on county expressways and learned that though cycling on the shoulder is legal, the county’s Roads and Airports Department has a policy against any signage that might encourage a cyclist to use the expressway, regardless of whether it makes it safer. It seemed to me that it was a shame to waste this opportunity to make needed improvements to the signage and lane markings on behalf of the thousands of people who traverse these intersections by bike daily.

I found that the only way that something could be done to improve bicycle safety during this upgrade was if the city council requested the route be designated as a bike lane (most locals think it already is). I wrote to the Complete Streets Commission and the council, and publicly requested that the council do so. I was met by smiles and thank-yous but never received any feedback.

Since then, there has been a complete staff turnover and several new faces on the council, but I was disappointed to learn there was no response to my pleadings. I don’t know whether that is because the council disagreed or whether it was simply inertia and not a priority.

The plans for the project look like an improvement over the current situation to me, but it is hard to tell from the detailed engineering drawings what the reality will be like. I think, however, this represents a lost opportunity to implement safety improvements at virtually no cost.

Switching gears

Several readers have contacted me about the boy killed in March while riding his bike across El Camino Real from the California Avenue crosswalk in Palo Alto.

This is a tragedy, and I am not in a position to comment on whose fault it was, but it illustrates the danger of riding on the sidewalk. Everyone on a bike who has to use the sidewalk, whether it is technically legal or not, has an obligation to themselves and others to slow down, use extreme caution and proceed only when it is safe to do so.

While this may seem like an accident waiting to happen, if appropriate care had been taken by all, it was an avoidable accident.

Let’s pledge to take safety into our own hands and not allow this to happen again.

Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email him at [email protected]

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