South Bay Cities Build Region’s First Separated Bike Lanes

A 15-foot wide path marked for walking and bicycling is under construction on the north side of Chilco Street in Menlo Park. Photo: Andrew Boone
A 15-foot wide path marked for walking and bicycling is under construction on the north side of Chilco Street in Menlo Park. Photo: Andrew Boone

New on-street bike lanes separated from auto traffic are nearing completion in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and a handful of neighboring cities have plans to install them too. Separated bike infrastructure gained traction among local planners after Caltrans approved Class IV Separated Bikeway design standards [PDF] in December 2015. The first protected intersections were built last year in a handful of North American cities.

A new traffic-separated paved path is nearing completion along Chilco Street in Menlo Park, where a speeding drunk driver hit Balbir and Kamal Singh from behind while they were walking their dog in October 2013, killing them. With no curbs or sidewalks, two 90-degree curves, and poor nighttime lighting, the street’s former design encouraged speeding and crashes involving drivers exiting the roadway.

“I am elated to see how quickly this project has moved forward. The design looks fabulous,” said resident Sheryl Bims of the new Chilco Street when it was approved by the City Council in February.

The new paved path, 15 feet wide and separated from the street’s two traffic lanes by a one-foot concrete curb topped with yellow soft-hit posts, is marked for two-way bike and pedestrian traffic. It will extend for one half mile on the north side of Chilco Street from the Dumbarton Rail tracks to Constitution Drive, where the path will transition to existing standard bike lanes. A standard bike lane, but no sidewalk, was installed on the south side of Chilco Street.

That said, in early May Menlo Park’s City Council backed away from ambitious plans to replace parallel parking for vehicles with protected bike lanes on both sides of El Camino Real. A one-year pilot project would have created continuous bike lanes separated from auto traffic by curbs or planters–that would have allowed the city to test a consultant’s prediction that such bike lanes would help cut both traffic congestion and traffic collisions.

Palo Alto's new two-way separated bike lane connects two entrances to Jordan Middle School, which see major bicycle traffic on school days. Photos: Andrew Boone
Palo Alto’s new two-way separated bike lane connects two entrances to Jordan Middle School, which see major bicycle traffic on school days. Photos: Andrew Boone

Palo Alto is now installing the city’s first two-way buffered bike lane near Jordan Middle School “to help students and others safety negotiate the North California Avenue/Middlefield Road dogleg intersection.” The new bike lane, which will be separated from auto traffic with white bollards when finished, is intended to accommodate the crush of bicycle traffic during school commute times.

The city installed the two-way bike lanes along with narrower 10-foot wide traffic lanes on Middlefield Road and other safety enhancements after repaving the street in July. But bicyclists will face the same hazardous door-zone bike lanes in both directions in this segment because the city chose to continue allowing parked cars on both sides of the street. California Avenue west of Middlefield Road similarly received smoother pavement and new door-zone bike lanes in July.

Palo Alto is also considering adding separated bike lanes to Embarcadero Road from El Camino Real to Emerson Street just east of the Caltrain underpass. The Planning and Transportation Commission reviewed the plans on August 10, recommending a version with separated bike lanes on both sides of Embarcadero Road that would use the existing sidewalks in the Caltrain underpass, and would connect to a protected intersection at El Camino Real. The city’s report [PDF] cautiously notes that “this would be the first protected intersection on El Camino Real which Caltrans may or may not approve.”

“The key feature here is the fully protected intersection with the cycle tracks on both sides,” noted BKF Engineers Project Manager James Mansfield at the August 10 meeting. “The bike areas are raised and separated from vehicles, and are also separated from pedestrians.” The Embarcadero design is scheduled for review by Palo Alto’s City Council on September 19.

Palo Alto has installed one other separated bike lane before, a one-block contraflow curb-separated bike lane on Homer Avenue, in 2013.

Palo Alto's proposal for separated bike lanes along Embarcadero Road includes a protected intersection at El Camino Real. Image: City of Palo Alto
Palo Alto’s proposal for separated bike lanes along Embarcadero Road includes a protected intersection at El Camino Real. Image: City of Palo Alto

Neighboring Mountain View has also approved plans to install separated bike lanes on city streets. The four-lane Castro Street from El Camino Real to Miramonte Avenue (one third mile) will be rebuilt in 2017 with two traffic lanes and parking protected bike lanes modeled on those installed by San Jose on Fourth Street in 2012.

Mountain View’s 2014 Shoreline Boulevard Corridor Study recommends a median bus-only lane and separated bike lanes, along with a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Highway 101 on the west side of Shoreline Boulevard. The plan also proposes a protected intersection at Shoreline Boulevard and Middlefield Road. The city plans to begin building the improvements in late 2017, except for the Highway 101 ped/bike bridge, which awaits the redevelopment of land at Shoreline Boulevard and Pear Avenue.

  • joechoj

    “Region’s First Separated Bike Lanes”

    Sounds like you’re not aware of Shoreline Drive in Alameda.

    Aside from the overly-bold headline, I’m glad to hear of the progress in the South Bay

  • RichLL

    A bike lane separated from a side-walk by a paint line is open to rather obvious problems. If this was done on a crowded street like Valencia in SF then people would quickly expand into the bike lane, and cyclists would then be back in the traffic. Or there would be bike-pedestrian accidents.

    But in a suburban area like this such a design could work, because there won’t be many pedestrians. And taking the lateral space from a side-walk rather than from vehicular lanes avoids the disadvantage of causing more traffic congestion.

    Otherwise I tend to agree with you that if it’s important for cyclists to be physically separated from vehicles, then it’s important for vulnerable pedestrians to be physically segregated from cyclists. Problems in SF’s mixed-use path in the Panhandle have shown that, absent cars, cyclists can be the danger.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    There are also the protected lanes on Cargo Way in SF, which was reported on here: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2012/08/20/two-way-protected-bikeway-on-cargo-way-nearly-complete/

    The walkway does seem kind of narrow, especially with the fence on one side. The Bay Bridge path is laid out in a similar fashion, but it feels more open.

  • farazs

    > taking the lateral space from a side-walk rather than
    > from vehicular lanes
    There was never a side-walk here, just two broken shoulders which drivers often didn’t respect. Now the shoulder is narrowed on one side and eliminated from the other. The space was carved mostly out of the shoulders and partly out of the main travel lanes.

  • Flatlander

    Also, there are protected bike lanes on Telegraph in Oakland, Fulton in Berkeley, Polk and JFK in SF, etc. I just assumed that the article was talking about the “South Bay” as a distinct region from the more central Bay Area cities.

  • RichLL

    In this case, yes, I’m sure you’re right.

    I was speaking more generally. There are opportunities to carve bike lanes out of lesser-used side-walks, such as are routinely seen in Europe, as an alternative to removing parking or congesting traffic, both of which typically garner populist opposition.

  • RobertN

    Good article. Actually the lines on Middlefield in Palo Alto are meant to slow traffic, and define a narrower travel lane, but they don’t mark a Bike Lane. Cyclists are not legally confined to the right side of that line. Middlefield from Loma Verde to Palo Alto Ave. is a stressful place to ride a bicycle.

  • Also, San Jose installed (a very short length of) parking protected bike lane on South 4th Street in 2011.

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