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East Palo Alto’s Highway 101 Ped/Bike Bridge Almost Fully Funded

Walking across Highway 101 in East Palo Alto requires crossing wide six-lane intersections, and using a narrow sidewalk on University Avenue’s north side (far left). Photo: Andrew Boone

East Palo Alto’s decades-long dream to reconnect its east and west sides via a pedestrian/bicycle bridge has taken a huge leap forward. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) approved the city’s $8.6 million application to construct a 12-foot wide bridge over Highway 101 between Newell Road and Clarke Avenue, following East Palo Alto’s City Council’s June allocation of $600,000 for environmental review and design.

The bridge is the second-most expensive project recommended for Caltrans funding statewide, out of 145 ped/bike projects that will receive $221 million over the next two years from the state’s new consolidated Active Transportation Program. (The top-dollar project is $10.9 million for environmental studies and land acquisition for the Coachella Valley Link, a 50-mile long “mostly continuous” multi-use path in Riverside County.)

University Avenue, which runs roughly north-south across the center of East Palo Alto, crosses Highway 101 and continues as Palm Drive through downtown Palo Alto and Stanford University. University Avenue’s 1950′s-era, auto-centric highway interchange design, complete with high-speed loop ramps and six-lane intersections on both sides, practically ensures danger for pedestrians and bicyclists. Anyone on foot or bike must cram into one narrow sidewalk, on the north side of the bridge over Highway 101, since no sidewalk was ever built on the bridge’s south side, and no bike lanes have never been striped within the street.

East Palo Alto’s Woodland neighborhood (foreground) and major shopping center and schools (background) are divided by Highway 101. The curving black line in the center shows the bridge’s planned alignment. Image: Alta Planning + Design

The East Palo Alto Highway 101 Ped/Bike Overcrossing, to use its official name, will provide a safe alternative one third of a mile to the southeast, and shorten the distance between the densely populated Woodland neighborhood west of the highway and the Ravenswood 101 Shopping Center on the east. Shopping trips to Mi Pueblo, the city’s only grocery store, will be faster for many residents by bicycle or even on foot than in a car, since drivers will still have to pass through a total of seven heavily trafficked signals to make the one-mile trip.

Several schools located on nearby Clarke Avenue will suddenly become accessible on foot or by bike for the many children living west of the highway. And Newell Road, running due south from the shopping center and the future ped/bike bridge, connects directly to Palo Alto’s high-quality network of bike lanes and bicycle boulevards.

The bridge “will enhance public safety, promote walking and bicycling, and reduce vehicular trips on University Avenue and other congested roadways,” stated the introduction to the bridge project’s $300,000 feasibility study, completed last year by Alta Planning + Design. “The project will also improve community health by providing recreational opportunities and linkages to the Bay Trail and City of Palo Alto.”

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East San Jose Bikeway Plan Scrutinized, Park Avenue Parking Debate Begins

Bicyclists in the East Side San Jose Ride navigate a variety of hazards to access Sunset Avenue’s existing ped bridge over Highway 280, including bollards and vertical curbs. Photo: Justin Triano

About two dozen residents attended a San Jose Department of Transportation (SJDOT) community meeting last Wednesday, where staff gathered public input on four upcoming bike lane and sharrow projects planned for east San Jose streets. Five other projects, which will add bike lanes and sharrows to streets west of downtown — and, to the chagrin of some, replace some parking along Park and Lincoln avenues with continuous bike lanes — will be presented at a community meeting this Wednesday at Gardner Community Center, 520 West Virginia Street, at 6 pm.

Improvements planned for Jackson Avenue, Madden Avenue, Sunset Avenue/Hopkins Drive, and Ocala Avenue will add or upgrade three miles of bike lanes, sharrows, and signage. These will connect to San Antonio Street, one of the Primary Bikeways identified by the city’s Bike Plan 2020 as a core network of high-quality bikeways.

“The Primary Bikeway Network is designed in a similar way for biking as our highway system is for moving cars,” explained Deputy Director of Transportation Paul Smith. “To go all the way across the city, there need to be routes that everyone can use safely and conveniently — routes that have some type of enhanced treatment, like the green buffered bike lanes on Hedding Street.”

Existing (solid) and planned (dashed) Primary Bikeways in central San Jose. Paths (green), bike lanes (blue), and bike routes (orange) are all included in the network. Image: City of San Jose

The four bike lane and sharrow projects proposed at the community meeting last week will connect bicyclists in many east San Jose neighborhoods to San Antonio Street, and then across town via San Fernando and Park. San Antonio itself could be upgraded to a bicycle boulevard, by minimizing stop signs and adding traffic calming features. These new bike routes, marked with sharrows and signage, will guide cyclists over Highway 280 via existing pedestrian bridges at Madden Avenue and at Sunset Avenue.

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Another Death on El Camino, While Atherton Bike/Ped Plan Stays Tabled

The “enhanced crosswalk signing and striping” installed last year on El Camino Real at Almendral Avenue, where resident Shahriar Rahimzadeh was killed while crossing the street two weeks ago. Image: Google Maps

32-year-old Shahriar Rahimzadeh was struck and killed by the driver of a red 2000 Volvo S40 sedan while walking across El Camino Real at Almendral Avenue near his home in Atherton two weeks ago. It was exactly the type of high-speed, fatal collision that could have been prevented either by crosswalk improvements that Caltrans is dragging its feet on, or by the comprehensive redesign of El Camino proposed by the town’s draft bicycle and pedestrian plan. That plan still awaits approval from the Town Council, more than four months after its review in April.

“Mr. Rahimzadeh was struck hard enough to be thrown some distance from the site of the collision,” Atherton Police Sergeant Sherman Hall told The Almanac. Hall also noted that “we’re not able to place him in the crosswalk,” despite one eyewitness who described seeing both a puddle of blood in the crosswalk, and the Volvo stopped just a few feet past the crosswalk. Shahriar Rahimzadeh survived five hours before dying at Stanford Hospital at 8:40 p.m.

Shahriar Rahimzadeh (left) died on July 23, five hours after being struck by a car driver while walking across El Camino Real in Atherton. Photo: Reza Iranmanesh, via The Almanac

The 1.6-mile stretch of El Camino Real that cuts through the low-density residential town presents an ongoing hazard to residents walking or bicycling — especially for anyone crossing the six-lane arterial street anywhere other than at the sole traffic signal, at Atherton Avenue and Fair Oaks Lane. In October 2012, two women were seriously injured by an SUV driver while walking together across El Camino, in the crosswalk at Isabella Avenue. Two years earlier, 55-year-old Honofre Mendoza and 62-year-old Christopher Chandler were killed by drivers in separate crashes at the same intersection.

After the October 2012 injuries, Atherton officials began lobbying a reluctant California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to implement safety improvements, resulting in “enhanced crosswalk signing and striping” at the town’s five existing crosswalks on El Camino — including Almendral Avenue, where Shahriar Rahimzadeh was killed on July 23.

Caltrans also agreed to install pedestrian hybrid beacons on El Camino at Almendral Avenue and Isabella Avenue, but only after Atherton town staff insisted on a solution that would require drivers to come to a complete stop for pedestrians crossing the street. Pedestrian hybrid beacons are similar to standard traffic signals: They display yellow, then red, lights to stop vehicle traffic after being activated via a push-button by a person wishing to cross the street on foot or by bike. Caltrans agreed to pay for, and install, the beacons at a cost up to $150,000 for each intersection — but not until 2017. Caltrans engineers initially proposed using much cheaper rectangular rapid flashing beacons, which flash yellow lights from a roadside sign but do not require drivers to stop.

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San Jose Proposes Better Bikeways East and West of Downtown

Door-zone bike lanes on Park Avenue, San Jose. Image: Google Maps.

On August 6 and 13, San Jose Department of Transportation officials will present plans to improve traffic safety on ten streets that its Bike Plan 2020 identifies as key links in the city’s proposed 500-mile bikeway network. The improvements include new striping for both conventional and buffered bike lanes, bike detection for traffic signals, sharrows, sidewalks and curb ramps, and the removal of some turn lanes and curbside auto parking.

The streets included are mostly located west of and east of downtown. Several connect to the city’s critical east-west “Primary Bikeway” through downtown, which stretches from the Santa Clara/San Jose city border east, past Highway 680, to Capitol Expressway, via Park Avenue, San Fernando Street, and San Antonio Street. The city’s Primary Bikeways comprise a core network of higher-quality bike lanes and bicycle boulevards, which “serve as key cross-town facilities and support higher numbers of bicyclists of various skill levels” on streets with lower traffic volumes and speeds.

“These projects were chosen because they’re key connections,” said SJDOT Active Transportation Program Manager John Brazil. “We’re focusing our three-year work plan on central San Jose, [within] a four-mile radius from the downtown core, because trips by bike tend to be shorter trips, and are also supported by better transit in the denser urban core,” he said.

Caption. Image: Andrew Boone / Google Maps

Bike lanes (blue) and sharrows (red) are proposed for ten streets east and west of downtown San Jose. The Park-San Fernando-San Antonio Primary Bikeway is shown in light green.

“The central parts of San Jose have the greatest densities of employment and population,” said SJDOT Deputy Director Paul Smith. “This is the area that should move first towards a greater use of bicycles.” San Jose’s Envision 2040 General Plan set a goal to gradually increase walking and bicycling trips over the next 30 years. Doing so will support several of the plan’s key community values, such as an interconnected city, healthy neighborhoods, and environmental leadership.

“Expanding San José’s comprehensive bicycle network outward from the downtown area will give more residents, workers, and customers safe and comfortable access by bike,” wrote the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) on the proposed improvements.
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Santa Clara County Still Plans to Widen Expressways, Despite Lower Traffic

Traffic congestion has worsened on Lawrence Expressway over the past decade, but has remained steady or lessened along Santa Clara County’s other urban expressways. Photo: Santa Clara County

Santa Clara County is still operating under plans that assume it can build its way out of traffic congestion by adding more lanes of traffic, plus new overpasses and underpasses, to the county’s 62 miles of expressways — dangerous arterial roadways that were “upgraded” decades ago with freeway-like ramps and overpasses. This is in stark contrast to the 21st-century approach taken by other cities and transit agencies in the region, which are planning for reduced traffic volumes by centering future urban growth around transit corridors and high-quality networks for walking and bicycling.

The county is still in the preliminary stages of its Expressways Plan 2040 — a long-term plan to “improve” the county’s system of eight 1960′s-era expressways, which “were designed to relieve local streets and supplement the freeway system.” The current expressways plan is a 2008 update of a 2003 planning study, which identified and prioritized among a long list of highway expansion projects that could meet “expressway needs.” Those “needs,” of course, consisted of reducing traffic delays at intersections for drivers.

“The Santa Clara County Expressway Master Plan has historically promoted additional auto capacity and grade separations (separating cars from local cross-traffic to increase their throughput), with limited accommodation for other types of travelers,” SPUR stated in its July report on strategies to improve transportation in the South Bay. “Future expressway master plans should aim for a multi-modal expressways system that is integrated with local efforts to grow sustainable, multi-modal communities.”

Santa Clara County maintains a network of eight expressways, and is coordinating plans to widen and extend Santa Teresa Boulevard and Hale Avenue to Gilroy. Image: Santa Clara County

“Going back to the 1960′s, the expressways were built with the intention of carrying automobiles,” said Santa Clara County Transportation Planner Dawn Cameron. “For over two decades, we’ve been working at what is basically retrofitting an expressway system that was built fifty years ago.”

The 2003 and 2008 plans did recommend new sidewalks, better crosswalks, improved signal timing, and striping changes, all of which would reduce hazards for walking and biking across or along the expressways. Long crossing distances and high speed traffic make the expressways inherently dangerous to walk or bicycle along, or even just to cross.

Twenty-six-year-old Daniel Campbell was killed in April while walking across Capitol Expressway at Seven Trees Boulevard in south San Jose, in what KTVU called a “hit and run accident.” In June, 51-year-old Richard Yanis was severely injured after being struck by a hit-and-run driver just two miles away, on Capitol Expressway at Silver Creek Road.

Despite this clear danger, projects to reduce hazards for people walking or bicycling remain a low funding priority for the expressways, comprising three percent of the estimated $2.5 to $2.8 billion in capital program funding needs identified by the 2008 plan.

In comparison, sound walls and landscaping would receive four percent of funds, and the remaining 93 percent of funds would be spent on increasing vehicle capacity.

Meanwhile, traffic congestion seems to be going away on its own, without billions of dollars in new construction.

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San Jose Candidates Campaign, Pitch Public Safety at SJ Bike Party

Mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo greets voters just before the start of San Jose Bike Party’s “Stars and Stripes Ride” on July 18. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Jose Mayor or City Council candidates Sam Liccardo, Raul Peralez, and Don Gagliardi all made appearances at last Friday’s San Jose Bike Party, pitching improvements to bicycling conditions on the city’s streets as integral to public safety. An estimated 2,500 Bike Partiers rolled out from Arena Green Park in downtown San Jose on the 18-mile, patriotically-themed “Stars & Stripes Ride” through the city’s East Side.

The June 3 primary election narrowed the field of 30 candidates down to eight candidates, competing for four seats on San Jose’s City Council: Mayor and Districts 1, 3, and, 7. Council races for Districts 5 and 9 were determined on June 3: Challenger Magdalenda Carrasco received 53 percent of the votes cast in District 5 (eastern San Jose), and incumbent Donald Rocha won 74 percent of the votes cast in District 9 (south San Jose), each above the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff election on November 4.

“I look forward to bringing back our public services that we’ve lost over the years — bring back our public safety,” announced Peralez, the District 3 Council candidate who finished first in the June 3 primary with 28 percent of the votes cast. Peralez touted his position as a San Jose police officer, and his work “with our youth at Juvenile Hall to try to help better them.”

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Initiative to Slow Downtown Menlo Park Growth Lands on Ballot

Stanford University has proposed to build this residential building and a public plaza at El Camino Real and Middle Avenue. Image: Stanford University

On Tuesday evening, Menlo Park’s City Council reluctantly forwarded to the November 4 ballot an initiative that would reject two proposed developments that would replace largely-vacant auto dealerships with walkable offices, retail space, and apartments, and slow or stop future development along El Camino Real.

The proposed developments would boost transit ridership by bringing thousands more people within a ten-minute walk of the city’s downtown Caltrain station. They would improve the city’s pedestrian and bicycle networks with new, 15-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of El Camino, safer pedestrian crossings for El Camino, and a new ped/bike tunnel under the Caltrain tracks at Middle Avenue.

The anti-growth initiative, titled the “El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan Area Livable, Walking Community Development Standards Act”, was drafted by the volunteer group Save Menlo and qualified for the city-wide ballot by collecting nearly 2,400 voter signatures by mid-May, more than 1,780 signature requirement. 65 percent of the signature-gathering campaign’s $30,000 budget was donated by Atherton resident Gary Lauder, who serves on the neighboring town’s Transportation Committee and fears ”congestion, urban canyons, and related unintended consequences” from continued development in Atherton’s vicinity.

If approved, the initiative would make significant changes to the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan that the city adopted in June 2012, which guides downtown Menlo Park’s development over the next 20 to 30 years. The plan envisions a mix of office, retail, hotel, housing, and open space, with a maximum of 680 units of residential and 474,000 square feet of non-residential development. The initiative would introduce additional caps on commercial development, including 100,000 square feet of office space per project and 240,820 square feet of office space in total. It would also require voter approval to override those caps.
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Will San Mateo County Make Real Changes for a Safer Middlefield Road?

Pedestrians face long crossing distances everywhere along Middlefield Road in North Fair Oaks. Photo: Google Maps

Residents of North Fair Oaks have made it clear that they want a safer Middlefield Road with wider sidewalks, but San Mateo County has yet to commit to a redesign that could make a real difference on this important commercial street.

On Tuesday, county officials presented the results of a community survey on the $12.5 million streetscape project for Middlefield Road between Fifth Avenue and Pacific Avenue in North Fair Oaks. The wide, four-lane street is home to most of the local businesses serving this densely-populated, 1.25-square-mile unincorporated area east of El Camino Real and south of downtown Redwood City.

“The common themes found in the survey’s results, how residents and workers want Middlefield Road to be… were safety, accessibility, attractiveness, and a more active and vibrant urban area,” said Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen.

A summary of the Middlefield Road Redesign survey results. Image: County of San Mateo

More than 2,100 people responded to the survey, conducted in April and May. Despite strong support for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, the county has still not committed to a road diet on Middlefield Road that’s needed to create space for them. Planners are instead opting to keep the street’s current four-lane configuration on the table, awaiting a recommendation on the street’s design from the North Fair Oaks Community Council expected at their August 28 meeting.

Middlefield Road’s outdated design presents serious hazards for anyone walking across or bicycling on the street, and it even poses difficulties for car access and parking. The long crossing distances for pedestrians prevent many children and seniors from walking across the street at all, especially at unsignalized intersections. With angled parking in most places, drivers’ view of pedestrians stepping from the sidewalk into the street is often blocked by parked vehicles, and drivers can’t see approaching traffic while backing out of a parking space.

The street’s five-foot-wide sidewalks, narrowed even further by power line poles, make walking in groups uncomfortable and don’t allow restaurants and cafes to provide outdoor seating as in the neighboring downtowns of Redwood City, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. Utilities were placed underground and sidewalks widened in the downtown retail districts of those cities long ago to attract shoppers and diners.

A four-to-three lane conversion would open up room for wider sidewalks and bike lanes. Since the center lanes are often used by left-turning vehicles in the current design, converting them into one center left-turn lane should actually help traffic flow more smoothly, since drivers won’t have to weave as much.

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San Jose Candidates Seek Bike Votes in Tomorrow’s Primaries

An estimated 1,800 people participated in the most recent San Jose Bike Party, seen here on Hedding Street’s buffered bike lanes, on May 16. Photo: Andrew Boone

Tomorrow, San Jose voters will choose which of the candidates running for mayor, or for five of the city’s ten council seats, will proceed to run-off elections in November. San Jose’s growing bicycle advocacy community has put the spotlight on which candidates have made commitments to a bike-friendlier city, and many candidates have responded by courting the increasingly influential “bike vote.”

Six candidates, or their representatives, spoke to the crowd at the San Jose Bike Party on May 16 to tout their pro-bike credentials: Don Gagliardi, Sam Liccardo, Dave Cortese, Pierluigi Oliverio, Kathy Sutherland, and Susan Marsland. The San Jose Bike Party, the Bay Area’s first Bike Party, rolls out on the third Friday of every month and attracts about 1,000 to 4,000 participants.

To help voters determine which candidates would do the most to improve conditions for walking and bicycling in San Jose, I helped to moderate a volunteer initiative called I Walk I Bike I Vote, which used a questionnaire to evaluate and endorse candidates. Richard Masoner at Cyclelicious has also published endorsements based on traffic safety and bicycling issues and includes his own predictions for the June 3 primary election.

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Clipper Card Upgrade Could Bring Seamless Regional Travel, Or Not

Transit riders can transfer between BART, Caltrain, and SamTrans bus services at the Millbrae Transit Center, but riders must pay each transit agency’s full fare. Photo: BART

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission will soon renew its contract for Clipper, the Bay Area’s “all-in-one transit card.” Transit advocates are urging MTC to use the opportunity to create a more seamless fare system, and remove barriers that could allow Clipper payments on both the region’s transit agencies and “first-and-last-mile” trip services.

Transit riders can currently use the Clipper card to pay fares on the Bay Area’s seven largest transit agencies (Muni, BART, AC Transit, VTA, Caltrain, SamTrans, Golden Gate) and the San Francisco Bay Ferry, and it’s set to include several other smaller transit agencies by 2016. While using a single card is certainly more convenient for customers whose trips take them across seemingly arbitrary transit agency service boundaries, it hasn’t made those trips faster or more affordable.

“Take the trip from U.C. Berkeley to Stanford: important destinations that are both inherently walkable places with daytime populations in the tens of thousands,” SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin wrote in a blog post last week. “It’s logical to think they’d be linked by high-quality transit connections. But even during the morning rush hour, this trip takes nearly two hours.” It also costs $10.10, or about $400/month for a weekday commuter.

Clipper transit card reader

Clipper transit card reader. Photo: Dan Honda/San Jose Mercury News

“In other regions where transit works better, you don’t have to think about what brand of transit you’re taking or who operates it,” said Adina Levin, co-founder of Friends of Caltrain. “And you don’t pay a lot extra to take different brands.”

Even many shorter trips are either cost-prohibitive or time-prohibitive on transit. A one-way trip during rush hour between Daly City and Menlo Park, located 25 miles apart in San Mateo County, takes under an hour via BART and Caltrain, but costs $8.80. SamTrans’ ECR route is available for just $2, but takes about 2.5 hours. By car it takes just 45 minutes during rush hour, and for less than half the BART + Caltrain fare in gas money. Residents who can’t afford $17.60/day in transit fare and also can’t afford five hours of travel time drive instead for such trips, adding significantly to traffic congestion on the Bay Area’s highways.

“The Bay Area needs a regional transit fare policy… that doesn’t penalize customers who transfer between systems,” wrote Egon Terplan, SPUR’s regional planning director, as part of the urban think tank’s “Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit.”

One proposal by MTC that would at least reduce the transfer penalty is a standard 50-cent fare discount that transit riders would receive when transferring between transit agencies. Although such a small discount won’t boost transit ridership, it would at least remove one barrier to regional fare integration by making discounts the default type of fare agreement between transit agencies in the Bay Area. Another MTC proposal is to enable future Clipper cards to charge passengers daily and/or monthly fare maximums. This would be similar to existing daily and monthly passes, except that riders wouldn’t have to “commit” to any minimum number of trips, or even sign up to receive a discount for heavy transit use. This concept could be expanded to apply to trips between transit agencies, thus creating creating daily and monthly regional transit passes.

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