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East Palo Alto Bay Trail Will Be Built. Will Current Residents Benefit From It?

Ravenswood Bay Trail Map

The missing 0.6-mile segment of San Francisco Bay Trail through East Palo Alto requires crossing SFPUC property and protected wetlands. Image: Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

The pieces are in place to build a key link in the San Francisco Bay Trail, providing a continuous bike route through East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Given the trail’s proximity to Facebook and the lack of housing close to the company’s campus, East Palo is also looking to strengthen its affordable housing policies to ensure that current residents can afford to stay in the city and benefit from the new path.

Local officials from five different agencies met on Monday to iron out the details of an agreement that fully funds the San Francisco Bay Trail through East Palo Alto, filling in the 100-mile network of off-street trails connecting Redwood City and Union City with downtown San Jose, Mountain View, and central Santa Clara.

“This is one of the most difficult gaps in the Bay Trail to complete,” said San Mateo County Parks Director Marlene Finley, whose department will manage funds for the project. “It’s wonderful that all the project partners are able to come together and get this done.”

The missing section lies within both East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and is subject to a number of regulatory agencies where the trail will cross protected wetlands in the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve. The multi-jurisdictional nature of the project and complex political environment has delayed it for decades while every other section of the San Francisco Bay Trail in the mid-Peninsula region has been built or improved. The network of continuous off-street trails now stretches nearly from the Union City BART Station to downtown San Jose, except for this remaining gap.

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Design of High-Speed Trains Threatens to Diminish Caltrain Capacity

When High Speed Rail begins operating in 2029, passengers will access Caltrain via the upper set of doors (blue) at stations shared with high speed trains, and via the lower set of doors (yellow) at all other stations. Image: Clem Tillier

When High Speed Rail begins operating in 2029, passengers will access Caltrain via the upper set of doors (yellow) at stations shared with high speed trains, and via the lower set of doors (blue) at all other stations. Image: Clem Tillier

The insistence of California High Speed Rail officials on running trains with floors 50 inches above the tracks threatens to reduce the capacity of Caltrain and hamper the benefits of level boarding for the commuter rail agency.

Last Tuesday, Caltrain officials gave an update on the electric trains the agency plans to purchase next year, which will begin operating in 2021 [PDF]. To enable level boarding for Caltrain passengers before and after CAHSR raises platforms to be compatible with its 50-inch floor trains, the new design has two sets of doors at different heights. This way, both Caltrain and high-speed trains will have level boarding at every station.

High Speed Rail Authority officials insist on the high-speed train industry standard floor height of 50 inches above the tracks. Building trains compatible with this specification, however, will diminish both the speed of Caltrain service and its capacity, though the scale of these effects has yet to be determined.

In order to achieve level boarding fully compatible with High Speed Rail, Caltrain will need to allow passengers to board at the 50-inch height. But a lower 25-inch floor height above the tracks is needed for the main section of each car in order for the trains to have both a lower and upper level, like today’s newer Bombardier models, without being too tall to operate.

This will require passengers to navigate sets of internal stairs on the lower level. This will increase the length of time people spend boarding and alighting, especially people carrying bicycles or luggage. Mechanical lifts will also be needed for passengers in wheelchairs to get between the 25-inch and 50-inch levels. The overall effect will be to lengthen the amount of time trains spend at each station (the “dwell time”) compared to trains with a single lower-level floor height.

That delay hasn’t yet been estimated by either agency, but it will affect Caltrain’s schedules. “The reason to go to level boarding for Caltrain is dwell time,” said Friends of Caltrain Director Adina Levin. “So the question of how much the internal stairs extend dwell time is a very important question about the benefits of level boarding.”

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San Jose to Adopt Vision Zero But No Target Date to End Traffic Deaths

Vision Zero San Jose As Soon As Possible Logo

San Jose’s Vision Zero plan doesn’t set a target date to eliminate traffic fatalities, only declaring a goal of “ASAP” — as soon as possible. Image: City of San Jose

The San Jose City Council is expected to adopt a Vision Zero plan [PDF] tomorrow, making it the third major city in the Bay Area and the tenth in the nation to commit to ending traffic deaths. But San Jose isn’t setting a timeline to achieve this goal.

“For years, San Jose created a roadway system exclusively for cars — not for people on bikes, pedestrians, or transit,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in a statement. “Vision Zero is San Jose’s commitment to prioritize street safety and ensure all road users – whether you walk, bike, drive, or ride transit – are safe.”

Unlike San Francisco and New York City, which adopted ten-years goals, San Jose’s version of Vision Zero doesn’t include a target date. Instead the plan calls for an end to traffic fatalities “ASAP”:

Vision Zero San Jose purposely has avoided setting a particular timeline as a practical matter and has instead chosen to pursue Vision Zero goals, as soon as possible (ASAP). The history of change particularly with regards to state and federal policy makes 10-years seem “unrealistic.” However, the urgency for safe streets makes a 10-year goal seem “too slow.” For now, our goal is to continue to make progress with advocacy, action and results, ASAP!

“While we understand concerns that a 10-year timeline may be too ambitious,” said California Walks Planning and Policy Manager Jaime Fearer, “we need to commit to a date for our goal, even if it is 15 or 20 years.”

Elijah Alvitre, 3, was killed in a crosswalk at Vine and Oak streets. The driver who struck him faced no legal penalties. Photo: Legacy.com

Dozens of supporters, including friends and relatives of people killed by reckless drivers, packed a committee meeting last week to plead for an end to the city’s traffic violence.

“Anything that can be done to improve safety should not only be considered but embraced, to help prevent this from happening to anyone else,” said Jenny Alvitre, whose 3-year-old grandson Elijah was killed in November 2013 by the driver of a pickup truck. The driver was not cited or charged for failing to yield to the 13-year-old girl pushing Elijah’s stroller in a crosswalk, hitting both of them, as well as a six-year-old girl holding the older girl’s hand.

Just hours later, 14-year-old Bianca Valdez was killed by a driver while walking across White Road near Hyland Avenue in east San Jose. A week later, 17-year-old Anthony Garcia was killed by an SUV driver while riding his bicycle on Branham Lane in south San Jose.

The death toll on San Jose’s dangerously-designed streets has risen in recent years, and a growing proportion of victims are killed by drivers while walking and biking. In 2013, 44 people were killed on San Jose streets, and 42 in 2014. In both years, 21 of the victims were killed while walking. Most fatal crash victims in SJ are now people walking or biking. That wasn’t the case between 2008 and 2012, when an average of 31 people were killed each year, 46 percent of whom were pedestrians or cyclists.

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Money Abounds for Highways, Not Safe Crossings, at San Mateo County TA

The proposed expansion of the Highway 101 interchange at Holly Street will make a dangerous area more hazardous, but the SMCTA won’t use highway funds to provide a safer crossing. Image: City of San Carlos

The San Mateo County Transportation Authority is still throwing tens of millions of dollars at freeway widenings in a futile attempt to build its way out of traffic congestion. But when it comes to building a safe passage for people to cross a frightening interchange, don’t expect the agency to spend a dime.

The planned expansion of the Highway 101 interchange at Holly Street is San Carlos will cost $11 million, most of which is slated to come from the SMCTA’s $60 million-a-year Highway Program. But the agency won’t use that pot of money to fund a $5 million bridge for people to walk and bike safely across the wider interchange. If the money for the bridge isn’t secured by late next year, the freeway expansion could be built by mid-2017 without a safe crossing.

To design the bridge, San Carlos plans to spend scarce “active transportation” funds from another county agency. But the bridge wouldn’t be necessary without the dangerous cloverleaf interchange, which was built 28 years ago — and city planners know it.

“There’s a very small sidewalk on one side of the interchange, it’s a very dangerous situation for bicycles,” explained San Carlos Associate Engineer Kaveh Forouhi in a February review of the bike/ped bridge design [PDF]. “People don’t use the interchange because they’re fearful of it.”

“Even experienced, skilled cyclists are intimidated by the combination of multiple turn lanes, short merge sections, high automobile speeds, and poor sight lines,” wrote San Carlos Public Works Director Jay Walter. The proposed bridge “directly addresses inadequate sidewalks, lack of bicycle facilities, and an overall lack of pedestrian/bicycle connectivity.”

Because the SMCTA keeps its money in “silos” for limited purposes, the agency has repeatedly rejected highway-related projects that would encourage walking and bicycling, even though those projects can help reduce congestion by making driving less necessary.

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Santa Clara OKs Road Diet, Bike Lanes on “Ludicrously Overbuilt” Tasman Dr.

Even with two fewer auto traffic lanes, Santa Clara’s Tasman Drive could still carry more than twice the number of cars it handles during rush hour. Image: Google Maps

Santa Clara’s City Council unanimously approved a road diet last week on the city’s 1.5-mile section of Tasman Drive. Tasman, east of Great America Parkway, will have two of its six traffic lanes re-purposed for wide buffered bike lanes and permanent median fences to protect Valley Transportation Authority (VTA)’s light-rail tracks. West of Great American Parkway, where Tasman was has four lanes, only striped bike lanes would be added.

Tasman is “ludicrously overbuilt,” Cyclelicious author Richard Masoner wrote in a blog post the day before the vote. Masoner wrote at the time that the council seemed “reluctant” to approve the project at a meeting in late March. “There is literally no downside for this project no matter which mode of transportation you use, so what’s the problem?,” he wrote.

The council approved the project unanimously and without discussion last Tuesday.

At the March meeting, Council Member Patrick Kolstad asked if transportation planners would consider removing the Tasman bike lanes in 10 years if there are more cars to move. Council Member Lisa Gillmor claimed the road diet is “going to be a nightmare during traffic hour,” pointing to Pruneridge Avenue, where one of four traffic lanes was removed to add bike lanes in late 2011.

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Daly City Police’s Idea of Vision Zero: Ticketing “Jaywalkers” at BART

Daly City police officers recently targeted people crossing against the walk signal on John Daly Boulevard to reach the Daly City BART Station, just south of the San Francisco border, as seen in a KRON 4 “People Behaving Badly” segment last week.

Commuters crossing against the light when John Daly is clear of traffic are not known to be a major cause of pedestrian crashes. But DCPD’s traffic sergeant told Streetsblog these types of operations are common and driven by collision data, though the data wasn’t on hand.

Officer Rey Asuncion was seen in the segment apparently trying to scare violators into not running into a driver’s path by describing a recent hit-and-run crash that killed an elderly man.

There was no evidence the victim in that crash crossed against a signal, and Asuncion’s description contained several inaccurate details.

“About a month ago, we had a Chinese gentleman who got hit at an intersection in Daly City,” Asuncion said in the segment. “He got struck at that intersection. The vehicle got away, and we have not found the driver, but unfortunately for that gentleman, he died right there at the scene.”

Here are the known facts of the crash he was referring to, according to media reports and DCPD’s traffic sergeant. On Highway 35 near Westridge Avenue on December 14 (four months ago), a driver hit and killed 77-year-old Daly City resident Jose Rosel in a crosswalk. The driver, 40-year-old Joro Petrovmoray, was arrested in February and charged with felony hit-and-run causing death. His vehicle was found an auto body shop where he allegedly sold it after the crash. He has plead not guilty.

DCPD Traffic Division Sergeant Matthew Fox acknowledged that Asuncion “might not be apprised of what detectives have done with that case… maybe he misspoke, but the message was to be safe along these corridors.”

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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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