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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Explorer Hybrid’s performance, power come at a cost

By Mike Hagerty

I think most people when they hear the word “hybrid” have expectations of improved fuel economy and possibly sluggish performance.

Mike Hagerty/Special to the Town Crier
The Ford Explorer Hybrid comes with a 318-horsepower engine.

But not all manufacturers take that tack. Some calibrate that additional electric motor combined with the gasoline engine to boost performance rather than cut consumption. And that’s the story of the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid.

The 2020 Explorer Hybrid takes a 3.3-liter V6, adds a modular electric modal system and comes up with 318 horsepower and 322 pounds per foot of torque.

What’s Ford’s motive? It’s not to create a hot-rod Explorer. It already has that in the 400-horsepower, twin-turbo 2020 Ford Explorer ST.

No, this is about maintaining towing-capacity expectations. The other engine available in the Explorer line is the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder. At 300 horsepower and 310 pounds per foot of torque, it would be fine for towing. However, a lot of American SUV owners are still skeptical of a four-cylinder engine – even a powerful one.

Thus, the 3.3-liter V6 hybrid. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency says to expect 27 mpg city/29 highway from the 2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid, but we didn’t see anything close to that. Admittedly, we weren’t able to put our usual couple hundred miles on the Explorer Hybrid, but 18 is a long way from 27 or 29 – especially when more than half of the miles driven were in electric mode.

The only trim level the Hybrid comes in is Limited – second only to Platinum in terms of luxury. The base-price model ($52,280) is so well equipped that the only extra-cost option on our test vehicle was a twin-panel moonroof for $1,795. So, with $1,195 destination fee, the bottom-line price reads $55,270.

That’s a pause-worthy number, especially having recently experienced the Kia Telluride (reviewed in February’s On the Road), which managed to keep its as-tested price on the sane side of 50 large.

The 2020 Ford Explorer Limited Hybrid is a nice automobile, but it’s also in a segment where families have budgets.

Swede emotion

Volvo XC90
Mike Hagerty/Special to the Town Crier
Volvo’s new XC90 SUV comes with a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged.

By Mike Hagerty

There are those who say that other than puns based on the popular Aerosmith song, the words “Swede” and “Emotion” should never be placed next to each other – particularly when it comes to mechanical matters. That’s because Swedish manufacturer Volvo has a reputation for safety, precision and perfection that takes emotion out of the equation.

I can only assume those people have never driven a contemporary Volvo – and certainly not an R-Design Volvo. Case in point: the 2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design. The XC90 SUV has been the quiet choice for affluent families since its introduction in 2003. However, much has changed in those 17 years.

Under the hood, there’s a 2-liter four-cylinder engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged. The end result is 316 horsepower and 295 pounds per foot of torque. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and features all-wheel drive with instant traction; selectable drive modes are standard. Sixty mph happens from a standing start in 6.1 seconds, and fuel economy is a respectable Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 18 mpg city/26 highway.

Accommodations are, as expected, safe, sturdy and luxurious.

Base price for the 2020 Volvo XC90 T6 R-Design is $56,300, and that brings with it a comprehensive list of standard features. They include 20-inch alloy wheels, navigation and a 600-watt, 14-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system.

Our tester also had some extra-cost options – $17,440 worth, to be exact – including R-Design seats and trim, LED headlamps with a pressure cleaning system, a 360-degree surround view camera, a head-up display, air suspension, parking assist, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel plus further upgrades to 22-inch wheels and a 1,400-watt Bowers and Wilkins audio system that accounts for $3,200 all by itself. With $995 destination charge, the bottom line on the window sticker reads $74,735.

That last number is more of a shock than it should be, because of the wide gap between it and the base price. But if Volvo simply went to a one-price option of $74,735 for a loaded XC90 T6 R-Design – call it “Ultra” or “Ultimate,” or something like that – it would be difficult for me to argue that it’s not worth it.

As shocking as it may be if you’ve been out of the SUV market for a while, 74 grand is not-quite-even-loaded Chevy Tahoe money these days, and the Volvo XC90 is a far more refined machine.

Mike Hagerty, vice president of membership for Western Automotive Journalists (, has been writing about cars since 1997. Read more of his reviews on his website ( and follow him on Twitter ( and Facebook (

The conversation I wish I had with a driver during recent ride

By Chris Hoeber

A recent experience did not go well. I am retelling it in the hope that it will help us all pause to reflect on what we can do to make the roads safer.

I was in Los Altos Hills on a long downhill where a bicycle can travel at about the same speed as a motor vehicle. I was familiar with the road and kept a sharp eye out around curves, paying particular attention to the shoulder where it was hard to see detail because of the mottled lighting.

Coming around a curve, I saw a driver at a T intersection on the left. He almost stopped but then took his foot off the brake and rolled forward. I thought he probably saw me, but when he started moving, I called out “Hey” as a rough equivalent to what I hoped was a friendly beep. He hit the brakes but again took his foot off and rolled forward. I called out “Hey” again because I didn’t know if he saw me. Sure enough, he did the same thing a third time.

We were closing in on each other and I was rapidly running out of options if he chose to pull out in front of me. I must not have been speeding, because after I rode through, he pulled in behind me, rapidly accelerated and passed me, yelling from his convertible in what sounded like an angry voice, “I saw you, what’s the problem?” I responded, “Yes, but I had no way of knowing that.” And because we were both yelling to be heard, things went downhill from there.

Why did I call out each time he moved forward? Because he was not driving predictably. My interpretation based on experience was indecision; I have experienced drivers in similar situations decide at the last minute, “I can beat that cyclist if I floor it,” and screech out in front of me. I only have to guess wrong once for a trip to the hospital.

By law, drivers do not have to stop when pulling out of a driveway – they must yield. Under California Vehicle Code 21804, drivers exiting an alley or driveway must yield to all traffic that is close enough to constitute an immediate hazard and continue to yield until they can safely proceed.

So the driver did not break this law. But I did not know what he was going to do when he rolled toward the road. This is the same argument that is used by drivers against the so-called Idaho stop sign for cyclists – if the cyclist does not come to a complete stop, a driver with the right-of-way at an intersection can misunderstand the cyclist’s intention. I have to acknowledge that, in the right circumstances, this argument is valid.

Tricky situation

In several of my columns, I have said cyclists must behave predictably. This rule applies to drivers also. The incident is an example of why simply not breaking the law may not be enough; that is only part of riding and driving safely.

I am sure the driver in this case did not know why I shouted a warning three times. I also do not think he realized he was rolling into the road. Because of the lighting, it was not possible for either of us to make eye contact, and I felt that I had to raise my voice to let him know I was there.

If I were talking to him now, I would tell him I was not angry, but that each time he started moving, I was scared. My wife said I could have tried “Hi” instead of “Hey,” and I’ll try that next time something like this happens. I have lived through similar experiences in which the driver pulled out and I had to make an emergency stop. This is tricky on a bike; if you haven’t practiced it, your weight will move forward when you slam on the brakes and you can easily flip over the handlebars. I’ve had other drivers yell out, “I know you saw me; why didn’t you stop?” or, “It’s not my fault; I didn’t see you.”

If you have any thoughts about how I or the driver could or should have handled it differently, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I hope we can all put ourselves in the other person’s position when we have an encounter like this on the road.

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..

Cabin filters are more vital in new normal

By Matt Pataky

Since the shelter-in-place orders, we have worked diligently to keep our facility as clean as possible. We put floor mats, steering wheel covers and seat covers in cars. We clean contact points when we first get in and when we get out of the car after we are finished. We clean the office, pens, keys, door handles, etc.

The best way to maintain clean air in the car is to properly maintain the cabin filter, which is something we check as part of our vehicle inspections.

Cabin filters have been an integral part of a car’s climate control system for decades. In the late 1950s, an executive chauffeur named Hans Freudenberg noticed that every time he drove a client, his uniform got dirty. He started designing filters that would work in the car’s air ventilation system to stop dust and dirt from getting on his uniform. By 1989, Mercedes-Benz was making large orders with Freudenberg and most German car companies followed suit. Fast forward to 2000 and nearly every car company had cabin filters as a standard feature.

Cabin filters do a lot more than filter out sand, dust, organic matter and soot. The active carbon cabin filters can significantly remove gaseous particles such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and hydrocarbons. The latest cabin filter technology has come a long way, and some manufacturers use HEPA technology. The makers of the Bosch cabin HEPA cabin filter that we use claim that they can provide filtration efficiency of 99.79% of allergens, pollen and dust at 0.3 microns. By using these types of cabin filters, we are doing our best to make sure you and your family are breathing the cleanest air.

Vehicle cabin filters also protect the air-conditioning system’s evaporator. When the AC is running, a large amount of condensation builds up on the evaporator core. Before cabin filters, the dust and dirt mixed with the condensation and created what I’d call a type of mud. This mud would build up at the bottom of the heater box and corrode the evaporator core. Prior to 2000, we had to replace evaporator cores all the time due to this type of corrosion. With the advancements of cabin filter technology, we almost never see evaporator core problems anymore.

Some cabin filters are difficult to replace and others are basic. Either way, we are amazed by how many incorrectly installed cabin filters we see. When a cabin filter is being installed, the technician (or car owner) must follow all steps and make sure the filter is not installed upside down. We pull a lot of cabin filters that have been stuffed into their slots and have become distorted. Once a filter gets distorted, it cannot prevent the dirt from getting into the heater box.

When it comes to car maintenance, the cabin filter usually gets shoved to the end of the priority list. But as we move into the new normal, it’s moving up.

Matt Pataky owns Sunnyvale Foreign Car Service,15 Pioneer Way, Mountain View. For more information, call 960-6988, email
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

New Toyota Prius has a ‘glaring’ problem

Toyota Prius
Mike Hagerty/Special to the Town Crier
The latest Toyota Prius comes with a lot of standard equipment, including an 11.8-inch touchscreen that does a poor job reflecting the sun – no matter the direction.

By Mike Hagerty

Eight years ago, the Toyota Prius was on a roll. Upwards of 200,000 of them sold in 2012.

But last year? Just under 70,000. And that figure is for the “Prius family” that includes the Prius Prime and the now-discontinued Prius C. Oh, yeah – and that sales figure is off 20% from 2018.

What happened? Lots of things. The radical restyle for 2016 came as sales were beginning to cool off and – despite evidence that Prius buyers liked unusual styling, seeing it as a way of announcing to the planet that they were saving the planet – it would appear Toyota went a bridge too far.

Then there were the electrics – cars that needed no gas at all – such as the Chevy Bolt, the Kia Niro EV, the vastly improved second-generation Nissan Leaf and, of course, the Tesla.

And there were people who, come trade-in time, decided they wanted something bigger and nicer, and that fuel economy didn’t matter as much – people who bailed on hybrids and electric vehicles altogether.

But the Prius is still here. And though selling 70,000 of them in a year isn’t setting the world on fire, it’s not extinction, either. In comparison, Ford sold only 3,000 more Mustangs last year. There were several dozen other cars, including the BMW 3-Series and Lexus ES, that had lower sales than the Prius.

Under the hood, the Prius features a 1.8-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor. The combined output is 121 horsepower. There is no Ludicrous mode. Zero to 60 mph will take 10 seconds. Well, maybe 10.5. What you get in return for your patience is an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 54 mpg in the city, 50 on the highway. Your mileage may vary, but my experience is that I always hit the EPA number in a Prius. Can’t say that about every car.

Our tester was the 2020 Toyota Prius Limited. The base price of $32,375 gets you a lot of standard equipment, including Intelligent Park Assist, a premium audio system with navigation and an 11.8-inch touchscreen, a head-up display and wireless phone charging.

And before we go on, a word of warning about the 11.8-inch touchscreen. That word is “glare.” It doesn’t matter what direction the sun is, the glare and reflection on the monitor is a deal-killer. Unless it’s nighttime (when it still reflects any light out the passenger window or approaching from behind), you’ll be fighting reflections constantly.

As for extra-cost options, the tester came with a moonroof, upgraded 15-inch wheels, illuminated door sills and alloy wheel locks. As tested, with $955 handling fee, the bottom line on the window sticker read $34,586.

Regular On the Road readers know that we’re not in the practice of taking shots at cars. However, it is just hard to make a case for the 2020 Toyota Prius Limited. There are more fuel-efficient vehicles that are faster and better looking and, after tax credits, work out to about the same money.

That said, if anyone could develop a compelling next generation of the Prius, it’s Toyota. Until then, though ...

Schools »

Read More

Sports »

Read More

People »

Read More

Special Sections »

Special Sections
Read More

Photos of Los Altos

Browse and buy photos