Caltrans Comes up with Safety Fix for Dangerous Interchange: Ban Bikes

Image, via the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition: Caltrans District 4’s proposal to close Highway 35 to bicyclists from Westmoor Avenue to Hickey Boulevard.
Image, via the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition: Caltrans District 4’s proposal to close Highway 35 to bicyclists from Westmoor Avenue to Hickey Boulevard.

There’s no denying that the State Route 35 freeway interchange with State Route 1 is not the most comfortable place to ride a bike. Two lanes in both directions, barely a shoulder in places, and automobiles continually speeding. A cyclists was killed in the area two years ago, although it is unclear who was at fault.

Caltrans wants to make this intersection safer. So did they propose protected bicycle lanes? Some kind of ramp complex to separate bikes from cars, such as San Francisco did with the hairball?

Their solution was relayed to Streetsblog’s tips email by reader and bike commuter Brian Coyne, who commutes a couple of times a week by bike from San Francisco to Palo Alto, via Skyline:

Caltrans District 4 is considering banning bikes from a section of Skyline Boulevard (CA-35) in Daly City, through the CA-1 interchange. Yesterday Sergio Ruiz, D4’s bike coordinator, announced, through a rather casual email sent to various bike forums, that the ban was already a done deal and that signs banning bikes would be posted within a few weeks. There was no public outreach or opportunity for public comment.

Skyline is a busy road with fast traffic, and this stretch in particular I wouldn’t take a novice rider through, but it’s lots of people’s commutes to work, and alternate routes involve extra distance and steep hills. And, of course, a ban on bikes as a “solution” to a bike safety issue is just totally unacceptable.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) created a Strava “heat map” to give a sense of where people ride in the area. In other words, hard data–and it shows that cyclists do indeed use this part of Skyline. Closing it to cyclists as a safety solution makes about as much sense as closing it to cars and making automobiles take a diversion.

Google Streetsview of Skyline. Notice even the Google mapping car managed to capture a cyclist.
Google Streetsview of Skyline. Notice even the Google mapping car managed to capture a cyclist.

In fact, perhaps it makes more sense to divert cars, since hills are less of a problem if you’re propelled by an engine instead of your legs. From an SVBC blog post that included a list of objections from its members to the diversion, which they say is:

  • very steep and requires a lot of climbing
  • includes some tricky left turns from multilane roads and intersections
  • out of the way
  • includes several turns requiring a lot of signs for people to follow

For more on the diversion, check out this post on the Cyclelicious blog.

Meanwhile, the SVBC and others are asking bicycle advocates to email Sergio Ruiz, Sergio.ruiz [at] dot.ca.gov to request the following:

  1. A reversal of the decision to prohibit bicyclists on this segment of Highway 35.
  2. Interim improvements that would make the SR 35/SR 1 interchange safer for people biking, including maintenance of the existing shoulder.
  3. A longer-term design process looking at bicyclist access and safety on Highway 35.

SVBC also wants people to take the Caltrans District 4 bike survey.

That survey is part of a Caltrans policy objective to triple bicycle use on state highways by 2020. Please forgive Streetsblog for stating the screamingly obvious, but it’s hard to reconcile this policy goal with banning biking on one of the more popular state-highway bicycle routes. Despite many livability initiatives in recent years, Caltrans remains an organization with serious pockets of bureaucratic contradiction and inertia.

“I’d like to emphasize that the proposed ban is just an option we are examining,” said Robert Haus, Public Information Branch Chief for Caltrans District 4. “We are always looking for new ways to improve safety. No decision has yet been made. ”

But it seems clear from sources inside and outside Caltrans that this is only the case because of the warning Ruiz posted that the ban was coming. “Ruiz is just a really good liaison,” said Emma Shlaes, policy manager for the SVBC, “whenever something’s going on I reach out to him.”

For now, between Ruiz, other sympathetic people at Caltrans, and the advocates writing in, the bike-ban is now in stasis, awaiting more discussion, explained Shlaes. She’s hoping that, if Caltrans can come around, a process will start for developing a truly safe interchange that will accommodate and protect bicycles.

As to Coyne, he’s just annoyed at the whole attitude exemplified by Caltrans’ approach. “What would you do if you’re banning cars on a road? You’d do years of outreach and meetings. But a bike ban, staff does it, with no outreach, no public output…they already sent the order for bike ban signs.”

Fortunately, the word got out before the signs got installed. Let’s hope advocates can do more than just reverse this ridiculous ban proposal and start working on making this a high-quality, safe route for cars and bikes.

  • Maurice

    I can attest to this stretch of roadway being terrifying to ride on a bicycle next to speeding traffic.

    I wonder why are 4 lanes of automobile traffic required for that stretch of highway in the first place? I don’t have the sense that it is a high capacity roadway. Why not make it 3 lanes of traffic and a protected bike lane.

  • djconnel

    I identified 40 thousand bike trips over that portion of road on Strava alone: obviously it’s an important transportation link. Interestingly to ban pedestrians from an expressway by my reading of code requires a safety case to be presented. Until recently it was illegal to ban cyclists from expressways but now local authorities have that power even without justification. Despite this it’s clear a quantitative safety argument, along with a reasonable case that improvements in vehicle safety aren’t available, should be provided before denying cyclists right of access. If one fatality was enough to prove unreasonable risk than we should ban vehicles from accessing any of the major freeways or expressways in the Bay Area, sites of regular motorist carnage.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    According to http://www.dot.ca.gov/trafficops/census/volumes2015/Route34-43.html the peak hour demand is nearly 3000 vehicles per hour. Since that’s the total for both directions, that could fit in a single lane in each direction.

  • jonobate

    A two-way protected bike lane in the center of the road for the section that Caltrans want to close would be great. That way you avoid all conflicts with traffic interchanging with CA-1. You’d need two-stage left turns at Hickey Blvd and Westmore Ave in order to provide access to it.

    You could probably even maintain two traffic lanes in each direction for the entire stretch. At the intersection with Hickey Blvd, drop one of the four (!) southbound lanes. From just north of that intersection to roughly where Grandview Ave is, there are three northbound lanes pretty much the entire time; you can easily lose one of those, realigning the two remaining lanes to provide space for the cycle track where necessary. And for the last half mile from Grandview Ave up to Westmore Ave, there’s plenty of median space that could be paved if Caltrans really don’t want to give up a lane.

  • gneiss

    It’s easy to forget that Caltrans is a large organization with many moving parts that are not always in agreement with each other. Despite the happy talk about complete streets that is coming from the state leadership, it’s clear that there are still a significant number of engineers in District 4 who would like nothing more than to ban cyclists (and pedestrians) from roads under their jurisdiction, as it would just make their jobs “easier” to not have to worry about litigation related to unsafe conditions for non-motorized modes.

    Let’s also keep in mind that this is same group that continues to resist making changes to El Camino Real on the Peninsula to improve conditions for pedestrians despite the fact that it’s a high injury corridor. https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2012/10/01/two-pedestrians-seriously-injured-on-el-camino

    It would also not surprise me in the least to discover that the crackerjack team of engineers who came up with this plan to ban cyclists from the road are also the same ones who believe they can “relieve congestion” on 101 by spending huge amounts of money to widen the roads and rebuild interchanges to make them harder to cross on foot.

  • saimin

    At the same time Caltrans announced their new statewide bicycle plan? WTF?
    If the problem is cars drifting into the too narrow shoulders or bike lanes, why not just make the bike lanes wider?

  • Christopher Childs

    Most of Highway 35 is a terrible road if you’re not in a car. The segment they want to ban bicycles on is a freeway, which means the shoulder isn’t going to save them. You have to cross ramps eventually. For example, someone driving to the Pacifica exit on Skyline southbound will be in a car going 5-15 times faster than the bicycles trying to climb the hill and cross the ramp.

    The rest of it isn’t much prettier. It’s mostly a divided highway with intersections and a remarkably variable width shoulder, and it typically has a 55mph speed limit. Further south it returns to being a freeway with the I-280 concurrency, and bicycles are actually allowed to travel a couple exits on the shoulder, because there’s literally no good alternative.

    The typical person commuting, if it’s not someone doing a training ride, on Skyline is doing the SF2G (riding to Google from Golden Gate Park) route — in other words, they’re doing the bicycle equivalent of a super commute in one direction once or twice a week. Banning bicycle travel on this segment doesn’t impact the local Daly City residents. Additionally, the proposed detours are _much_ less bad than the ones you would have to take to avoid the 280 concurrency. So, that’s how they can get away with banning bicycles.

  • Aikyu999

    “I’d like to emphasize that the proposed ban is just an option we are examining,” said Robert Haus, Public Information Branch Chief for Caltrans District 4. “We are always looking for new ways to improve safety. No decision has yet been made.”

    Yet Sergio Ruiz, D4’s bike coordinator, announced, through a rather casual email sent to various bike forums, that the ban was already a done deal and that signs banning bikes would be posted within a few weeks. There was no public outreach or opportunity for public comment.

    Fortunately, the word got out before the signs got installed. Thanks Sergio! 👍

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