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Belmont Police Blame Cyclist for Getting in the Way of Driver’s Left Turn

An emergency crew treats an injured 29-year-old man who was hit on his bike by a driver who turned left into his path. Police blamed the victim for carrying bags and talking on a phone. Photo: Belmont Police Department

When a 90-year-old driver turned left into the path of a man bicycling on Ralston Avenue, the Belmont Police Department blamed the victim for talking on a cell phone and not wearing a helmet. The department also warned people on bikes against “carrying packages and bags” in its press release.

None of those behaviors are illegal, nor would they have stopped the driver from turning left into the victim’s path — which, by the way, she didn’t receive a citation for.

The crash on Saturday afternoon occurred on Ralston, where city officials refused to include bike lanes and a road diet in a plan for safety improvements last year.

“Cars come first,” Belmont City Council Member Coralin Feierbach declared in 2013. Feierbach acknowledged that “when you ride your bike on Ralston you take your life into your own hands,” but concluded that there is nothing to be done about it. She deemed it “impossible” to reduce speeding, ignoring the evidence that road diets do just that [PDF].

Victims of Belmont’s failure to implement proven safety measures won’t get any help from the local police department, which issued its statement on Monday to “remind cyclists to drive defensively.”

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Menlo Park’s Plan to Ruin Downtown With Parking Garages

Menlo Park's popular Parking Plaza 3, one of three sites proposed for a new public parking garage. Photo: Andrew Boone

Menlo Park’s Parking Plaza 3, one of three sites proposed for a new public parking garage. Photo: Andrew Boone

Building new parking garages in downtown Menlo Park will cost tens of millions of dollars while clogging streets with more traffic. But that’s what municipal leaders are seriously considering in an attempt to boost business, apparently oblivious to modern parking policies that have paid off for other Peninsula cities.

Last month, the Menlo Park City Council voiced support for building a new five-level parking garage on top of one of the city’s surface parking lots, called “parking plazas.” The project is estimated to cost between $29,000 and $43,000 per parking space — adding up to several million dollars. The council is also considering extending time limits for downtown parking spaces, having concluded that the current time limits on free parking discourage shoppers from visiting businesses on Santa Cruz Avenue.

Menlo Park maintains 1,595 free parking spaces in its downtown core (the area bounded by El Camino Real, University Drive, Oak Grove Avenue, and Menlo Avenue). The current time limits, set in 2011, are 15 minutes, one hour, or two hours, depending on location. In some spaces, drivers can exceed the two-hour limit by paying $1 per hour after it expires. Also available are $10 daily permits and $592 annual permits.

The council proposed doubling the time limits on the 15-minute and one-hour spaces and extending the two-hour spaces to a three hour limit, with the intention of giving customers arriving by car more time to spend at Santa Cruz Avenue businesses.

“We have the foot traffic, and then we take a stick and chase [customers] away as soon as they finish lunch,” said Mayor Catherine Carlton of the current time limits.

“I just want to make it as easy as possible for families and our seniors to patronize our local business and our restaurants downtown,” said Council Member Ray Mueller, who described the current time limits as outdated, based on parking data collected in 2009 during an economic recession.

But what’s really outdated is the idea that giving away more free parking will be good for downtown. Time limits are a blunt and ineffective means to ration access to parking. For years, UCLA professor Donald Shoup, the nation’s leading expert on parking policy, has counseled cities to instead manage parking by pricing it properly, so that some spaces are always available.

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Better Bike Parking Options Can Alleviate Crowding On-Board Caltrain

Caltrain bike cars frequently fill up on rush hour trains, bumping passengers wishing to board with bikes to the next train.

Facing a continuing surge of nearly 5,000 additional weekday passengers each year, Caltrain is looking into better bike parking to alleviate overcrowding on the trains while improving access to its stations. The agency was awarded a $150,000 state grant in early April to write a bicycle parking management plan that aims to prioritize the next phase of bike improvements at stations.

Current bike parking facilities include standard bike racks at 29 stations, bike lockers that can only be rented out by a single person at 26 stations, shared bike lockers at 10 stations, and indoor bike parking areas at three stations, including attended bike parking at San Francisco’s Fourth and King Station. The addition of more bike parking has lagged behind demand, with the number of passengers with bikes more than doubling from 2010 to 2015. Caltrain now logs over 6,000 bike boardings on an average weekday, accounting for between 11 and 13 percent of the agency’s total weekday ridership, which has grown by 60 percent in the same five-year period.

In a survey Caltrain conducted last year [PDF], 49 percent of passengers who bring a bike on-board said they would consider using “secure bike parking in a self-serve locker,” 39 percent would consider “convenient bike sharing kiosks,” and 47 percent would consider “a shuttle or other means of transit.”

Last December, Caltrain’s Bike Plan Implementation Strategy [PDF] reported “mixed progress” on bike parking improvements since 2008, citing inadequate funds and the ad-hoc nature of the many small city-led projects that are completed only as grant money and staff time become available. The new plan recommends investing $2 million in 500 new electronic bike lockers at Caltrain’s nine busiest stations, and $1 million on various access improvements, including new ramps and stairs at a few stations.

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To Expand Bike-Share on the Peninsula, Cities Will Have to Support It

One of two Bay Area Bike Share stations located within two blocks of Palo Alto’s University Avenue Caltrain Station. Photo: Andrew Boone

Bay Area Bike Share’s ten-fold expansion announced last Thursday will vastly increase the usefulness of bike-share in SF, the East Bay, and San Jose at no cost to the public. Peninsula cities, however, won’t be sharing in the bounty unless they chip in some of their own funds. Without public support, the 20 existing stations in Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Redwood City are in jeopardy of being relocated.

None of the Peninsula cities which received bike-share stations as part of the initial pilot program are slated to get new bikes under the terms of the draft contract with Motivate, the bike-share operator [PDF]. However, the contract does keep the door open for those cities to negotiate expansions with Motivate.

Motivate plans to expand the current Bay Area allotment of 700 bikes to 7,000 by November 2017, with 4,500 bikes in San Francisco, 1,000 in San Jose, 850 in Oakland, 400 in Berkeley, and 100 in Emeryville. The contract says those cities were selected because that’s where ridership is expected to be highest. An additional 150 bikes will be sited somewhere in the system, according to the same criteria, with 50 of those reserved for the East Bay.

It will be up to Motivate to decide what to do with the existing bike-share stations on the Peninsula. “The proposal does not call for the removal of any bikes from the Peninsula cities,” said John Goodwin, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which took over public administration of the program last year from the Bay Area Quality Management District. “Upon the execution of an agreement however, Motivate could choose to remove bikes from those cities.”

The new Motivate proposal will also render moot a plan to expand in San Mateo, which was previously included in a 2,500-bike system envisioned under a now-defunct MTC agreement last year. According to an MTC staff report [PDF], that plan included Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, and San Mateo.

Advocates see the value in expanding elsewhere in the region but hope the Peninsula cities don’t get left behind. “We’re excited for the expansion in San Jose, the East Bay gets the expansion they’ve long deserved, and San Francisco’s high demand warrants a major expansion there,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Deputy Director Colin Heyne. “But we regret that the Peninsula cities are not included, especially since it could end up undoing what is now a low-cost first-and-last-mile commuting solution.”

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StreetFilms
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Exploring the Streets of Stockholm

In 2014, I got the chance to visit Stockholm near the end of an incredibly hot summer. It’s a charming and walkable place with a downtown buzzing with people. There’s an easygoing rhythm to the city. After dark the pedestrian streets fill with both residents and tourists out for a walk, even after most stores and restaurants close.

I met up with a great mix of advocates, residents, and transportation experts to discuss what’s going on in Stockholm. Sweden is well-known as the birthplace of Vision Zero, the country’s goal to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries by 2020. Several American cities have now made it their explicit goal to reduce traffic deaths to zero in the next 10 years..

There’s much more worth taking away from Stockholm, which in the last decade has implemented congestion pricing, expanded its bike network, and adopted a plan called “The Walkable City” to create streets that work better for public life.

In tandem with the release of this film, I have great news to share: Since some Streetfilms, including this one, can get a bit long, we’ve decided to break them up into bite-size pieces, for those times when you want to show a great idea but may not be able to hold people’s attention for 12 minutes. These shorter segments will be available on Vimeo. Below are the four slices of Stockholm video you can mix and match to reach the masses.

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Facebook Expansions Could Spur Dumbarton Rail in Menlo Park

Facebook wants to develop new housing, office, and retail within walking distance of two potential Dumbarton Rail stations. Image: City of Menlo Park

Long-delayed efforts to restore train service on the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, which links the mid-Peninsula to the East Bay, could get a boost as Facebook looks to add housing and offices along the tracks in Menlo Park.

This spring, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority will study how to bring service to a 4.5-mile segment of the Dumbarton tracks between the Redwood City Caltrain Station and Willow Road in Menlo Park, as recommended by the Dumbarton Policy Advisory Committee. Restoring service to that segment would not require the replacement of sections of the Dumbarton Rail Bridge or major track reconstructions. (Both would be needed to restore service on the full 20.5-mile Dumbarton corridor between the Redwood City Caltrain and Union City BART stations.)

Facebook is rapidly expanding its “East Campus” headquarters in Menlo Park, where roughly 4,600 employees now work. The campus is located within walking distance of a proposed Dumbarton Rail station at Willow Road, a source of potential ridership unforeseen in a 2011 study of the project [PDF]. The company still has room to grow to 6,600 employees at the East Campus and add another 2,800 at its nearby West Campus. One parcel over, Facebook plans to add another 1,500 employees at a refurbished warehouse on a ten-building, 59-acre site purchased in September.

Facebook wants to develop up to 3,500 housing units on its East Campus parking lots and at the adjacent 56-acre Menlo Science and Technology Center, a sprawling 21-building commercial site purchased from Prologis in February. The company sees these sites, as well as another another site owned by developer David Bohannon near Marsh Road to the west, an opportunity to create mixed-use neighborhoods within a half-mile walk of potential Dumbarton Rail stations.

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Streetsblog NYC
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Just in From London: Congestion Charging’s Street Safety Bonus

Figure-4-from-London-paper-by-Green-et-al.-_-10-March-2015

After London’s congestion charge took effect in 2003, traffic crashes dropped much more sharply than in other U.K. cities. “Treatment” line denotes the charging zone. Control line is weighted average of 20 other urban areas, with data normalized to match pre-2003 crash data for charging zone. Graph: “Traffic Accidents and the London Congestion Charge”

Add street safety to the list of benefits from congestion pricing. That’s the takeaway from a new “working paper” analyzing traffic crash rates in and around the London congestion charging zone by three economists associated with the Management School at Lancaster University.

Traffic Accidents and the London Congestion Charge” slices and dices the monthly changes in crash frequencies since the 2003 startup of London’s congestion charge in nearly every way imaginable: daytime vs. nighttime (the charge is in effect 7 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.); weekdays vs. weekends (no charge during the latter); within both the 8-square-mile charging zone and each of two “spillover regions” two and four kilometers outside the zone; for charged and exempt road users; for fatal and serious injury crashes and all crashes; and vis-à-vis a control group of 20 other British urban areas. (The comparison group is necessary to control for declining crash rates throughout the U.K.)

The bottom line: Traffic crashes are significantly lower with congestion charging — by as much as 40 percent within the cordon zone. Crashes are down in the spillover regions as well; they declined not only for autos and trucks but for “uncharged” vehicles like taxis, buses, motorbikes and bicycles; and the improvement registered during non-charge times as well as the hours when the congestion charge is collected.

Here are key findings:

  • Traffic crashes within the charging zone are down by approximately 400 per year, relative to ongoing trends, corresponding to a 38-40 percent decrease — a reduction several times greater than the drop in vehicle miles traveled.
  • Within both spillover zones, crashes are 13-14 percent less than in the control cities, belying fears that rerouting of journeys and/or destinations would merely relocate traffic conflict and danger to areas outside the zone.
  • Even with considerable mode-shifting from cars to bicycles, motorcycles and taxis, crash rates for “uncharged” vehicles within the zone are 12 percent below those for the same vehicle classes in the control cities.
  • Crash rates inside the zone during non-charge hours are also significantly less than in the control cities, i.e., gains in safety haven’t been confined to the 55-60 hours a week in which congestion is charged but are spread across all 168 hours per week.
  • The congestion charge has led to an estimated 46 fewer serious and fatal crashes within the charging zone each year, including 4-5 fewer fatalities per year.

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Fantasizing About Self-Driving Cars, Sunnyvale Opposes El Camino Bus Lanes

Between Palo Alto and San Jose, traffic congestion delays trips on VTA’s “Rapid 522″ skip-stop express up to 30 minutes, making bus trips twice as long as driving during rush hour. Photo: Andrew Boone

The Sunnyvale City Council voted 4-3 last month to oppose dedicated bus lanes that could cut transit riders’ trips nearly in half along the length of El Camino Real, making bus trips almost as quick as driving. More than one council member said the city shouldn’t invest in transit because self-driving cars are going to make it irrelevant.

The city’s “officially preferred alternative” for the Valley Transportation Authority’s future El Camino Real bus service would include new bus stations on sidewalk bulb-outs, but not bus lanes anywhere between Palo Alto and San Jose.

This “mixed flow” option, which would leave buses stuck in traffic, would shave just 4 to 5 minutes off the current 70- to 85-minute bus trip during morning and evening rush hours. By comparison, bus-only lanes on El Camino Real would slash rush-hour trip times by 25 to 35 minutes, according to the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Converting two of the street’s six traffic lanes to exclusive bus lanes would bring 6,000 new weekday passengers to VTA’s El Camino Real buses in 2018, and another 12,000 on top of that by 2040. The Bus Rapid Transit project is the longest of three BRT lines planned by VTA to span Santa Clara County, converging in downtown San Jose.

“The travel time savings from a bus today to a dedicated lane bus would be so significant that it would make it an alternative for people who don’t see it as an alternative today,” Sunnyvale Public Works Director Manuel Pineta testified at the City Council meeting.

VTA expects weekday traffic volumes on El Camino Real to drop by up to 4,500 vehicles in Sunnyvale and 5,600 vehicles in Mountain View if the dedicated bus lanes are built, as some drivers shift to transit, bicycling, or walking, and others choose different routes. Car congestion on the redesigned El Camino would increase only slightly, with rush-hour driving trips from Palo Alto to San Jose taking 37 to 44 minutes instead of today’s 36 to 40 minutes.

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Widening El Camino Real in Menlo Park Won’t Cut Traffic, But Bike Lanes Will

El Camino Real facing south at Middle Avenue. Widening the street to six continuous lanes through downtown Menlo Park will attract more traffic and worsen congestion, according to a W-Trans study. Photo: Google Maps

Redesigning El Camino Real to squeeze in more cars will cause more cars to squeeze into El Camino Real, warned the consultant working on a redesign of the street in downtown Menlo Park last week. But creating a safe street for people to get around without a car can actually cut traffic.

At a community meeting last Thursday about the design options for Menlo Park’s stretch of El Camino Real W-Trans Principal Mark Spencer said that widening the street from four to six traffic lanes through downtown would increase traffic volumes dramatically and worsen congestion. Adding buffered or curb-protected bike lanes instead, as recommended by the city’s Transportation Commission in November, would reduce both traffic volumes and congestion slightly, according to the study.

With the six lane option, “traffic volumes on El Camino would go up because it would open up that pipeline to push more traffic through,” Spencer said. “Because of that induced demand, we’re seeing travel times [for car drivers] getting longer.”

A 2008 community-led Vision Plan for El Camino Real in Menlo Park set several goals that street safety advocates say should disqualify the four-to-six lane expansion from consideration. Among those objectives are “maintain a village character,” “provide greater east-west, town-wide connectivity,” and “provide an integrated, safe, and well-designed pedestrian and bicycle network.”

To help meet these community goals, planners recommended maintaining the existing four-lane cross-section for vehicle traffic while adding buffered or protected bike lanes. But with the adoption of the El Camino Real / Downtown Specific Plan in 2012, the City Council also ordered that a six-lane expansion of El Camino be analyzed as well, in the belief that the city might be able to build its way out of congestion.

W-Trans estimates that due to induced demand, widening El Camino Real to a continuous six lanes through downtown Menlo Park would add between 10 and 45 percent more traffic at Ravenswood Avenue, the city’s most congestion intersection. Most of that traffic would be pulled from parallel routes, including Highway 101 and Middlefield Road.

“This option worsens the pedestrian environment as it places fast moving traffic near pedestrians,” wrote Fehr & Peers Principal Jane Bierstedt in a March 2012 report [PDF]. Even without the effect of induced demand, which its preliminary traffic study did not account for, Fehr & Peers found that the maximum travel time savings for car drivers would be 17 seconds at Ravenswood Avenue.

“With induced demand, the delay reduction would be less and operations would likely mimic the four-lane alternative,” concluded Bierstedt.

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San Mateo Adopts Vision Zero and LOS Reform With Sustainable Streets Plan

A future four-lane El Camino Real through downtown San Mateo with wider sidewalks and raised bike lanes, as envisioned by the city’s new Sustainable Streets Plan. Image: City of San Mateo

With the adoption of its Sustainable Streets Plan on Tuesday, San Mateo’s City Council has embraced several major transportation policy reforms, including Vision Zero and reforming car-oriented street design and development practices.

The Sustainable Streets Plan lays out detailed design guidelines for complete streets, envisioning “a transportation system that is sustainable, safe, and healthy and supports a sense of community and active living, where walking, bicycling, and transit are integral parts of daily life.”

San Mateo is now the third city in California to adopt a Vision Zero policy (after San Francisco and Los Angeles), committing to eliminating traffic deaths in near future.

Typically, between two and four people are killed and 40 people are injured by car drivers while walking in San Mateo each year. Most collisions occur in “hot spots” at major intersections downtown and along El Camino Real.

“No loss of life is acceptable,” said City Council Member Joe Goethals. “We can do better, and this plan is the road to doing better… My biggest criticism is the talk about this taking decades and decades. It can happen faster than that.”

Under Vision Zero, San Mateo staff are instructed to review the locations and causes of traffic collisions every year, and propose street and/or sidewalk modifications “to improve walking and bicycling conditions at intersections with the highest rates of collisions.”

The plan also calls for some specific street redesigns, including a sweeping overhaul of El Camino Real from 2nd Avenue to 9th Avenue through downtown San Mateo.

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