By Chris Hoeber
I first saw Los Altos in 1961 – moving with my family from Illinois – and I fell in love with the laid-back environment and smell of dried apricots in the summer. If I had fallen asleep and came back today as Rip Van Winkle, I would still recognize the downtown area and many of the streets – but not the traffic.
To put it simply, the current roadway infrastructure is not adequate for today’s traffic volumes, and there are significant obstacles to pedestrians and cyclists getting to where they want to go. Ironically, even with the reduced traffic prompted by the pandemic, I see conflicts due to the increased pedestrian/cyclist volume in my neighborhood.
As background research for this column, I read the Los Altos Bicycle Transportation Plan (2012) and the Pedestrian Master Plan (2015). They are both beautiful, thoughtful documents, with many pretty pictures. They address how roads should be designed and local incremental improvements, but they don’t clearly address these needs:
• How do people safely get from home to where they are going within the city – to schools, stores, the library, etc. – without getting in their car and adding to traffic?
• How do people get in, out or through the city – to work, visit grandma, etc.?
Despite good intentions, little or no pedestrian or cycling progress has been made since these plans were written. I’ve spoken to people who have tried to address these issues, and they are frustrated. It will take a long time to tackle the problems, and the local political process does not seem to have that kind of staying power. I contrast this with Palo Alto, which is implementing its second crosstown bicycle boulevard (Louis Road will complement Bryant Street on the opposite side of Middlefield Road, with several cross-connections).
Solutions for Los Altos
Typical Los Altos streets have unmarked shoulders that double as parking spaces and have no sidewalks. If they do have sidewalks, they often start/stop arbitrarily on opposite sides of the street at random intervals. Even major thoroughfares through the city such as Fremont Road and Miramonte Avenue have no provisions for pedestrians and inconsistent provisions for cyclists. Getting into and out of commercial areas is problematic.
As an example, I have been walking to Loyola Corners recently and just discovered the crosswalk on Fremont that crosses the northbound Foothill Expressway exit. It is completely blind – people in the crosswalk cannot see oncoming cars, and drivers cannot see the crosswalk until it is directly in front of them after rounding a curve. To put it mildly, none of the routes across Foothill south of downtown is pedestrian- or child-friendly.
What is needed:
• One or more safe east-to-west pedestrian routes and cycling routes to complement Foothill (for example, Fremont Avenue, Cuesta Drive and Covington Road).
• One or more safe north-to-south pedestrian and cycling routes (for example, Grant Road, Miramonte Avenue and Springer Road).
• Safe pedestrian and cycling interconnections from these routes to all schools.
• Safe pedestrian and cycling interconnections to all commercial and government districts (for example, downtown, Rancho Shopping Center, Loyola Corners and the Los Altos Civic Center).
Although I used major street names above to illustrate the need, separate parallel pedestrian and cycling solutions certainly need to be considered.
I left out north Los Altos and the part of Los Altos on the southwest side of Foothill, including unincorporated Santa Clara County, due to space limitations.