On The Road

Reimagining roads in Los Altos for the sake of safety

Marked shoulder
Chris Hoeber/Special to the Town Crier
The shoulder on Covington Road near Riverside Drive in Los Altos is clearly marked, improving safety for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

Cycling through Los Altos has been a different experience since March, raising the question: What would we like Los Altos roads to look like after the COVID-19 pandemic?

The quiet, rural roads can be wonderful for riding, running and walking on a Sunday morning, but not so much during rush hour on a winter’s day.

So, as I asked readers in a recent column: How can we make routes that allow people to ride from one side of town to the other safely and pleasantly – regardless of the age, skill and fitness of the cyclist?
Covington Road from Grant Road to El Monte Avenue is probably the best example of a through route east-west via a large part of town. When I commuted by bike from Cupertino to Palo Alto, I varied my route to keep it interesting, and this was often a pleasant part of the journey. Today, with the traffic around El Camino Hospital and Blach Intermediate School, it wouldn’t be so pleasant.

Covington was recently repaved from Miramonte to El Monte avenues, with the intent of striping it as a Class II bike lane both ways. Residents objected, however, afraid they would lose street parking. Although the shoulder is currently striped in a way that it meets the requirements for a bike lane, it is not actually designated as such. And markings intended to increase safety at selected intersections and the entrances to Covington School have not been completed.

Compromise solutions

Is there a way to have our cake and eat it, too? I think so. My concern is for children and leisure adult cyclists; experienced and skilled adults will probably be fine with the current situation. But the purpose of this column is to look at cycling from the perspective of everyone who uses this road.

I have surveyed Covington several times recently and discovered there is an occasional need for someone to park on the shoulder (in many places, people can actually park far enough off the road to leave the shoulder free).
I think a compromise solution would likely require the following:

• Designate the road as a version of a bicycle boulevard; keep the shoulders the way they are but also clearly mark intersections with green paint, dashed lines, etc., to guide cars and bikes through the conflict zones where their paths cross.

• Allow parking but also use sharrows to alert motorists to the fact that bicyclists may have to take the lane if the shoulder is blocked.

• Add an occasional speed table (longer, flatter and less jarring than a speed bump, but effective).

• Effectively communicate the intent with signage and announcements, etc., before the official opening. Make sure residents know the rules of the road and understand their parking is not going away and nobody else’s rights are being compromised. It may be slightly slower to drive, but it will be safer and more pleasant to walk, run or cycle.

• At the crossing of El Monte toward downtown – which becomes Giffin Road – continue with appropriate marking on Giffin and one of the three cross streets to Cuesta Drive and then to downtown (and/or El Monte to Foothill Expressway and points beyond). I am still waiting to see what the redesigned intersection of El Monte and Foothill looks like. It was fine during the recent construction because traffic was light. However, traffic is now starting to back up at the light and more than one car has pulled alongside me at the intersection, forgot I was there and tried to make a right turn directly through me.

This is a modest proposal intended to show what can be done (for little cost) as the first step in creating a cycling network to interconnect all parts of Los Altos. The next steps will be harder. I make this proposal as Los Altos prepares to kick off its updated pedestrian and bicycle plans and as neighboring cities announce plans for their roads in a post-COVID world.

Chris Hoeber is a local resident, avid cyclist and founder of a cycling club. Email questions and comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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