Burlingame is moving forward on a project to give its downtown boulevard a much-needed facelift, and planning a number of citywide bike improvements.
Key features of the four-block Burlingame Avenue Streetscape Project include a gateway, wider sidewalks, shorter crossings, street furniture, large bulb-outs, “play areas” with public chess sets and parklets. The project was approved earlier this year by the city council, which got an update on the design at last week’s meeting.
“We have been looking at how to make the street more pedestrian-friendly and less vehicular oriented…and encourage more bike riding and walking,” said Jane Gomery, program manager for the Burlingame Public Works Department. The city hired San Francisco-based RHAA Architects to come up with the design, based on feedback from residents and merchants.
Burlingame, population 29,000, has a charming and historic downtown, across from the Caltrain station, but the streets are often congested with automobiles. Downtown Burlingame Avenue — billed as the liveliest part of the city with hundreds of stores and restaurants — is surrounded by a number of surface parking lots, and narrow sidewalks are cluttered and uneven, creating an unpleasant environment for pedestrians. Angled parking also creates conflicts between autos, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Under the streetscape plan, angled parking will be replaced with parallel parking and about 10-percent of parking spaces will be removed to make room for pedestrian amenities. Gomery said the city plans to purchase smart parking meters, and set demand-based rates that will discourage long-term parking, and more turn around.
James Engels of RHAA Architects said the bulb-outs will be 80 to 100 feet wide, and the at-grade intersections and sidewalks will be comprised of pavers and concrete. “The material palate will promote a richer experience,” he said, adding that the parking stalls can be used as parklets, allowing restaurants to spill out into the street.
The remade boulevard will also be ideal for weekend events — such as farmers markets and fairs — when the street can be closed to cars, and opened to pedestrians and bicyclists, said Gomery.
Parking revenue will be used to help fund the improvements. The rest of the nearly $16 million price tag is being funded by merchants through a special assessment district, property owners, a grant from the City/County Association of Governments and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2013, after the public works department finishes a sewer system upgrade that includes replacing 100-year-old storm drain lines.
The city’s goal is to get more residents biking and walking to downtown, but to do that, it will need to make getting there safer and more convenient. Just last week, a 75-year-old man was killed while riding his bicycle on Cortez Avenue, the first reported bicyclist fatality in Burlingame in several years, according to Gomery, who couldn’t recall the last one.
“I’m seeing a lot more kids on bikes, and a lot more older adults than I have in years past. And this has been in the last 18 months,” said Pat Giorni, a local bike advocate.
The city currently has one corridor with bike lanes, Howard Avenue, and other bike routes, including California Drive — a four-lane arterial — feature sharrows. Giorni said most of Burlingame’s pre-World War II-designed streets were left in tact, which means they’re narrow, and can’t always accommodate bike lanes.
“We are trying to put in as much bike-friendly facilities and infrastructure as possible in an old city that doesn’t really have a lot of wide roads, but we have major corridors. We’re doing what we can with the funding,” said Giorni, who added that she thinks the sharrows on California have slowed traffic a bit, and drivers are getting used to seeing bicyclists on the streets.
The city recently won a $372,000 grant from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority to install more bike lanes, and those improvements will be happening in the next year, and timed with resurfacing projects, said Gomery. The Burlingame Bicycle Improvements Project calls for new bike lanes on Hillside Drive, Grove Avenue, Rollins Road and Airport Boulevard.
The four-lane Old Bayshore Highway is a popular street for bike commuters but is only slated to get sharrows. It’s a staple among SF2G riders, a “loosely organized and tightly knit” group of Bay Area cyclists that commutes from the city down the Peninsula to Mountain View (Google headquarters), Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and “all parts in between.”
John Murphy, a bike advocate named the San Francisco Bike Coalition’s 2010 “Commuter of the Year,” has traveled frequently on Bayshore, which has a posted speed limit of 35 mph, and said it’s ripe for a road diet with bike lanes.
“Bayshore is a road with not too much traffic, but two narrow lanes in each direction – so drivers go very fast – above the posted limit, and frequently we are passed at very close proximity despite an empty left hand lane,” he said. “This is complicated by some very bad potholes that are tricky to go around with traffic. The vehicles include a lot of big trucks and hotel guests unfamiliar with the area.”
Gomery said the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) felt sharrows were sufficient: “The BPAC reviewed this route and felt the type of bicycle rider along this route, primarily commuters and the width of the vehicle lanes were too restrictive to add bicycle lanes. There is a bicycle path along the Bayfront for recreational riders and the on street riders will be commuters who are used to sharrows.”
However, Gomery said the design is “not a done deal” and welcomed suggestions. Augustine Chou, the city’s traffic engineer who oversees the BPAC, described the Bayfront path as “more for families and casual recreational cyclists,” and said Bayshore is “for more seasoned cyclists.” He said giving Bayshore a road diet would require a thorough review, and that the city would have to be cautious because it’s a truck route, “and we wouldn’t want to put cyclists close to trucks.”
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