Bicyclist Killed by Caltrans Vehicle Driver on 101 Overpass in San Mateo



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A 68-year-old Palo Alto man riding his bicycle was struck and killed by the driver of a Caltrans vehicle heading westbound on the Hillsdale Boulevard overpass of Highway 101 in San Mateo this morning. The Caltrans employee was on duty at the time.

San Mateo Police Department Sgt. Bob Szelenyi said the crash occurred at 6:13 a.m. today. Police were still on the scene hours later conducting a collision investigation, as was the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office. Caltrans was not available to offer comment since the agency’s public affairs office is closed today because of a cost-saving furlough.

The Hillsdale Boulevard overpass carries six lanes of traffic and has highway entrances at each end, as well as extremely narrow sidewalks. Streetsblog reader John Murphy said he rides the overpass often and dreads doing so. "My preference for any overpass with dual onramps is to take the lane to the left of the onramps, but it’s a very bold move to do that on Hillsdale," Murphy wrote in an email to Streetsblog. "You do this and you are guaranteed to be buzzed by some turkey.

Murphy’s full description of riding on the Hillsdale overpass is after the break.

Hillsdale is bad.

The first thing you have to deal with going East to West is a freeway onramp. The onramp is just after the intersection with Norfolk where there are three lanes of traffic that are allowed to cross Norfolk straight onto the overpass – sign that plenty of cars use this road and will want to cross the path of the cyclist to get to that onramp, AND a lot of cars going straight so it is difficult to simply take the lane way ahead of time and let the cars go around me like I would on Holly, you’d be in a swarm. So I decided to just hug the shoulder and then dart across the 101 NB onramp when clear.

After that the road from the NB onramp to the SB onramp is very long – much longer than Whipple/Holly/etc… Now there are only 2 lanes (the far right lane becomes the onramp) so it’s more difficult to take the lane with the increasing traffic because you will have to take the lane for a much longer period of time. Also the overpass is very flat. A more vertical overpass like Whipple allows you to better assert your position over the top because your speed increases. On Hillsdale you are just stuck on this long long bridge. That’s where the cyclist was hit if the pictures seem right. And at this spot you are really pinned against a barrier with no real shoulder.

Then you can’t really see the 101S onramp until you are right upon it. This is true for cars, and their focus is on trying to figure out where that offramp is rather than looking for bikes. The worst part is the right lane is exit only but the middle lane is exit or onramp. So you need to merge across a lane that is definitely exiting into fast speed traffic, and you don’t know if that traffic is exiting right or going straight. This is really the hardest part.

One thing that makes Hillsdale special compared to a lot of 101 overpasses is that the traffic is headed to random places – split between 101N, 101S, and straight into San Mateo, from a dense residential area. For example on Millbrae from Caltrain to the Bayshore, it is very easy to take the left hand lane because 95% of traffic is going to enter the freeway, giving you the left hand lane.

  • Lyle Jantzi III

    I used to go out of my way to use the 3rd/4th st overpass. Two trips and two near misses on Hillsdale were more than enough for me. But this does raise a bigger question: as bicycle friendly as San Francisco is, why is the rest of the peninsula so hostile to cyclists? The drivers themselves seem more aggressive and there’s little to no supporting infrastructure, especially around 101.

  • Peanut Butter

    This description of that overpass is right on. It is extremely hostile to both cyclists and pedestrians. This morning’s event is tragic, and is just the reason I need to completely avoid this route in the future.

    To add to the description, the pedestrian situation here is not all that much better. Going westbound, where pedestrians need to cross traffic heading to 101S, they must do so in what amounts to a sinking hole–where the ramp/overpass points downward. It makes it very easy for cars to speed right through without acknowledging the pedestrian right of way.

    Same thing is true for the eastbound route where cars enter 101N.

  • reminds me to get on a blog post describing the “Degree of difficulty” of various 101 overcrossings between SJ and SF. Hillsdale is way up there.

    I don’t actually use Hillsdale that frequently, but years of crossing 101 at various places have trained me to the point where I can evaluate an overcrossing instantly. Sad that this is a useful skill.

    My preferred crossing of 101 – the Steven’s Creek Trail.

  • Peanut Butter

    That would be a useful post, for sure. I (used to) frequently cross at Hillsdale. More frequently I do Ralston (on the sidewalk) and University Avenue (on the street).

    University Avenue is another terrible one.

  • CBrinkman

    I had a job interview in South City and one look at the Oyster Pt Blvd overpass scared me away from the job. The overpass was widened to five lanes – two left, two straight, one right. Even getting to and from the frontage road to access the train station would have been a nightmare. Cal Trans. Can’t we expect better design? And the SSF train station is *right there*.

  • Marc Jensen

    As of 12:30 pm accident investigators were still on the scene taking measurements. It looked like the crash happened at the onramp for car traffic heading south on 101.

  • Commuter

    During my Caltrain+bike commute, sometimes I came home via Hillsdale station: crossing 101 took forever because I basically walked it (and waited at lights); note that it’s also a frustrating area for drivers. This crossing is also dangerous on foot.

    I normally crossed at Ralston (near Oracle, coming from Belmont station) with easy access to Foster City pedway. There I also walked on the left-hand sidewalk rather than fight the traffic pattern: it’s a shorter walk with a simpler traffic flow.

  • mike the biker

    sorry to hear about the 68 year old biker dude. i just got back from my lunchtime ride and heard about this as i work near this overpass. my coworked has been t-boned twice while trying to ride to work in this area. caltrans, your own guy hit him. so what can we expect from your organization in terms of better safety design? wait, these are the same “engineers” who put an s curve in the middle of the bay bridge freeway. other fine examples is the s curve on 237. first time going thru that one almost killed me. what will it take to make these overpasses safer for cyclists and pedestrians?

  • @Murph: How does Hillsdale compare to Willow Road? And you know about the Ringwood Avenue bridge, don’t you? Oregon Expy also has a bike / ped overpass, although the fence chicanes are a pain.

    @Peanut Butter: I think of University Ave in Palo Alto as a pretty sedate one! There merge zone is much easier to handle than many other interchanges.

  • Matt

    So sad.

    Several years ago, I used to commute through this death trap every day. There is very little consideration for bicycles or pedestrians. This overpass went from bad to worse when they added an additional lane for the 101SB entrance when headed west on Hillsdale.

    Ralston’s overpass is almost just as bad. I take Fashion Island Blvd now, it is far better, but still has its own harrowing sections like an oddly unlit bridge with a bike lane that is replaced by a fast-moving lane that yields into Norfolk.

    There really should be (at least) a pedestrian bridge in this area.

  • David Brower

    There was news earlier this year announcing the start of a long-planned ped/bike bridge N of Ralston before Hillsdale. Too late in this case, unfortunately. I don’t think I’d ever want to ride Hillsdale, especially in dubious light during commute hours.

    I often take the Ralston overpass for rides to/from Oracle, and it is not pleasant, but isn’t fighting two lane onramps. I think it’s better since it was rebuilt, with wider curb lanes. Don’t think I’d want to do it on the sidewalk, though.

    -dB

  • Eric Gebhardt

    Sorry to hear about the misfortune.
    I’ve ridden the Hillsdale overpass, but the Ralston overpass seems safer and is my daily commute by bicycle. The on-ramp and off-ramp sections are always an X factor. I try and go with traffic and as close to “car” speed as possible. I always wear a helmet and feel lucky so far. I heard about the new bridge in the works for cyclists. That would be perfect for me! I bet they build it but it may take a year or two.
    Eric

  • Bob Chan

    I run to work twice a week from San Mateo to Foster City using E Hillsdae Blvd and cross the overpass the same side as the man that got killed today. The drivers most of them are either trying to get on 101 as fast as possible or busy on cell phone. 99% of the drivers don’t even yield to runners like me, they think they have the right of way and I as a pedestrian should stop for them. SAD.

  • JimAtLaw

    As much as I dislike it in most cases, I ride on the sidewalk when crossing the 101 on Hillsdale, stopping and waiting for openings at the entrance & exit ramps.

    In my opinion it is absolutely not possible to ride through this stretch on the street safely. People are constantly trying to get around traffic at the lights by pulling up 3 lanes over to the left and then flooring it and swerving three lanes across to the ramp on the right or crossing the light in the right lane on Hillsdale westbound that drops you onto the on-ramp for 101N after 30 feet or so and then flooring it and changing lanes across the solid white line to pull out of the ramp and then merge back into traffic to take the 101S or continue on Hillsdale west.

    It’s insane and I’m surprised there aren’t *more* accidents here – the design is absurd and the level of stupidly aggressive driving here is also off the charts.

  • zsolt

    @JimAtLaw: “As much as I dislike it in most cases, I ride on the sidewalk when crossing the 101 on Hillsdale, stopping and waiting for openings at the entrance & exit ramps.”

    I never ride there, but I was looking around on the Google street view above, and I figured that this is exactly what I would do. Just looking at this, it would be insanity to bike in the street here.

    There is a stretch in my commute that I ride on the (usually deserted) sidewalk and I don’t feel bad about it. There even a bike lane on that street but to get to it would mean to deal with one of the most dangerous intersections I know of (Powell St. exit in Emeryville). So instead I cross in the crosswalk and stay on the sidewalk for a while. Even the crosswalk is dangerous because cars exit the freeway and drivers still have tunnel vision, and don’t expect pedestrians from where I am coming. They routinely run red lights, so even when you have green, you can only cross after you have made eye contact.

    Bottom line: you can’t be too cautious, and breaking the law is okay in my book if you are dealing with downright criminal street planning.

  • I too am saddened by this tragedy of a fellow ‘senior’ cyclist. I saw that several wrote about other crossings – but one wasn’t mentioned – and it’s the closes one to Hillsdale. Known as 19th Ave, it is convenient to the Hayward Park Caltrain station, and adjacent to the landmark office towers known as The Crossings, I believe (largest buildings in San Mateo, I believe).

    It’s a very ‘tame’ overcrossing/undercrossing. The undercrossing is that of Hwy 92 – you can see the ramps above as you go over 101. It lets you off at Norfolk where the Fish Market is located. Rather easy to get to Foster City from there too.

  • When this crash happens, the first response of most people is “why was he riding on such a busy road before dawn? That’s so dangerous!” But why don’t people instead ask “why was he driving on such a dangerous road before dawn?” It’s taken for granted anyone will drive when he wants, where he wants, no matter what the cost in public safety.

  • Concerned Bicyclist

    Has this poor guy been identified yet? Was he wearing a helmet? My condolences to the family. There are way too many of these accidents/fatalities lately. It seems as if the Peninsula (especially from SM to RWC areas) is not safe for bicyclists or pedestrians these days.

  • Joe

    I think the upcoming Ralston bridge will help, but it doesn’t help much for bikers who commute via Caltrain. The Belmont station only has one train per hour during rush hour due to the inequitable scheduling at Caltrain.

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