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Super Bowl Blocks Bikes

Santa Clara Police close a one-mile section of the San Tomas Aquino Trail during events at Levi's Stadium

Santa Clara Police close a one-mile section of the San Tomas Aquino Trail during events at Levi’s Stadium, forcing the public to use a two-mile on-street detour. During the stadium’s construction, city officials promised that the trail would remain open at all times. Photo: Andrew Boone

Want to walk or bike to Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium this Sunday? It won’t be easy. The big game’s organizers have banned the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) from providing free valet bike parking at the stadium. The City of Santa Clara also agreed on a ten-day closure, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, of the San Tomas Aquino Trail for the construction of an entertainment area on the surface parking lot next to the stadium.

“Many of us were hoping to see Super Bowl 50 be the most bike-friendly big game yet. Instead, attendees will apparently have no place to park a bike, even if they are able to navigate past the closed bike path and double detour on surrounding streets,” wrote SVBC in an online petition to the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee that has gathered 280 signatures. “In a region with soaring traffic and a country where transportation accounts for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, ignoring people-powered transportation seems both irresponsible and antiquated.”

Valet bike parking and quality pedestrian and bike infrastructure cut both car traffic and reduce demand for car parking on event days, direct benefits to both Levi’s Stadium and those living or working in the area.

“The largest bike parking area takes up about 4000 square feet for up to 285 bikes,” wrote SVBC Bike Parking Coordinator Alison Pauline in an email. “We are parking up to 285 bikes in an area that could fit 13 cars.” Paluine said volunteers typically park between 100 and 200 bikes at 49ers games, depending on how many fans show up to watch the team play. Record turnout to date was over 700 bikes for a two-day Grateful Dead concert in June of 2015.

SVBC Bike Parking Volunteers at Levis Stadium

Volunteers park hundreds of bicycles at every Levi’s Stadium event, except Super Bowl 50, for which organizers have banned valet bike parking and closed the San Tomas Aquino Trail. Photo: SVBC

A network of over 100 miles of continuous off-street walking and bicycling paths stretching from Mountain View to San Jose connect directly to the football stadium’s main entrances along the San Tomas Aquino Trail in northern Santa Clara. “Our publicly funded San Tomas Aquino Trail has been taken over by a private corporation with the complicit support of the City of Santa Clara,” said former SVBC Board of Directors member Scott Lane. “This world-class network of off-street trails is intended for everyone to enjoy, not only those wealthy enough to afford 49ers football tickets.” Lane led successful negotiations in October 2014 between active transportation advocates and Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers to allow trail access for people walking or bicycling to stadium events.

“While there will likely be a sizable increase in pedestrians on the San Tomas Aquino Creek
trail before and after NFL events, the creek trail is open to both pedestrians and cyclists and there are no restrictions on use,” promised Santa Clara city officials in the stadium’s Environmental Impact Report. “Anyone at anytime can access and use the trail.”

Additionally, the Super Bowl will cost Caltrain an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 to operate extra trains to shuttle fans to and from Mountain View, where they can transfer to Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail trains – operating for the exclusive use of Super Bowl ticket-holders. VTA rail ridership to the stadium is capped at 12,000, and even at $20 a ticket the agency said it will not recover Super Bowl costs either. SamTrans is paying 12 bus drivers to remain on call so that bus bridges can be set up in case Caltrain breaks down. None of the transit agencies will be compensated by the National Football League or Levi’s Stadium.

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Bigger Intersections and More Traffic Planned for Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station

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El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue

Millbrae Avenue at El Camino Real in Millbrae, slated for expansion with even more traffic lanes despite its location at San Mateo County’s busiest transit hub. Photo: Google Maps

As the City of Millbrae inches closer to final approval of plans for new construction at the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station, officials have quietly proposed adding new traffic lanes and traffic signals to intersections near the station. The traffic expansions aim to cram even more auto traffic through the area, worsening already hazardous conditions for people walking or bicycling to and from the station.

The draft Millbrae Station Area Specific Plan to construct two major mixed-use developments on the Millbrae Station’s surface parking lots and along El Camino Real west of the station was released last June. The draft proposed only two new traffic signals and no lane additions be considered to support additional auto traffic, and envisioned a redeveloped station area that would boost both transit use and retail sales by making major safety improvements for pedestrians.

“Streets and intersections in the Plan Area will be reconfigured to provide a safer and more pleasant walking and biking environment that can be enjoyed by children, the elderly, and people with disabilities,” states the station area plan.

But last Tuesday Millbrae’s City Council approved a set of General Plan amendments allowing city engineers to add new traffic lanes to El Camino Real and Millbrae Avenue – already eight lanes across, including turn lanes – as well as lane additions or new traffic signals to three other intersections. This despite the fact that the project’s Environmental Impact Report, adopted by the city on January 12, recommended against these traffic lane additions, calling them “legally infeasible.”

“The plan as laid out in text and drawings prioritizes the convenience of auto traffic and parking at the expense of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit,” wrote Sierra Club representatives in a January 22 letter to the City Council. They also wrote that it contradicts “the concept of a Transit Oriented Development.”

Intersection Expansions

Traffic lane additions planned for two El Camino Real intersections adjacent to the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station. Image: City of Millbrae


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San Mateo County TA Rejects Ped Safety Projects But Not Highway Expansions

San Mateo County TA awarded $108 million on October 1 to eight highway expansion projects, still believing we can "build our way out of congestion" on Highway 101. Photo: Andrew Boone

San Mateo County TA awarded $108 million on October 1 to eight highway expansion projects, still believing we can “build our way out of congestion” on Highway 101. Photo: Andrew Boone

With $125 million to lavish on it’s Highway Program this year, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA) has decided to spend $108 million on highway expansion projects while denying funds for major pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements [PDF].

On October 1, the TA Board approved $11 million to reconstruct the Holly/101 Interchange in San Carlos as a partial cloverleaf to accommodate higher traffic volumes, but rejected the city’s $3 million request to include a ped/bike bridge. Scheduled for completion in 2018, the interchange will force people crossing the highway on foot or by bicycle to navigate a series of hazards.

“With the new design of Holly/101, people on bikes still must cross and weave with [auto traffic from] high-speed on and off ramps, and it won’t make people safe and comfortable enough to use walking and bicycling,” Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Policy Manager Emma Shlaes told the board. “If a true Complete Streets design cannot achieved on the interchange itself, then funding should be provided to alternatives, in this case, the bike and pedestrian overcrossing.”

The pedestrian bridge was declared “not eligible to be funded from the Highway Program” by TA staff, even though the Highway Program has funded many safety improvements included in other projects.

“I certainly would not go so far as to say it would be illegal,” said TA Legal Council Joan Cassman at the board meeting. “But I would say that given the confines of this call for projects, and the rules we established in seeking proposals from sponsor cities to submit requests for grants from this agency for highway projects, we were quite clear that the requests for the projects we were seeking would not include separate bicycle overpass facilities.”

TA staff also defended their decision to deny funds on grounds that several ped/bike-specific funding sources could be used instead [PDF]. But those grant programs are tiny — dwarfed by sums heaped on highway expansions — so most critical safety projects remain unfunded for years or even decades.

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Peninsula Advocates Push For Vision Zero

Safe streets advocates and local government officials met at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit in Palo Alto. Photo: Andrew Boone

A coalition of advocacy groups, local government agencies, and cycling clubs called on cities across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to adopt Vision Zero goals to eliminate traffic fatalities at the recent Silicon Valley Bike Summit in Palo Alto.

In the ten years from 2004 through 2013, 1,236 people lost their lives in car crashes in the two counties, according to the California Highway Patrol. Every year, more than 1,800 people are injured by drivers while walking or biking. In San Jose, the region’s largest city, 44 people were killed in car crashes in 2014, and another 30 people were killed in the first eight months of 2015 – with pedestrians accounting for more than half the victims.

“No fatality and no major life-altering injury on our roadways is acceptable,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Deputy Director Colin Heyne.

SVBC and California Walks released their Vision Zero Toolkit [PDF] at the summit, a how-to guide for advocates and city officials based on the “Five E’s” – Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation. The guide describes how cities can prevent serious traffic injuries and deaths resulting from car crashes, based on current best practices in other cities and US Department of Transportation recommendations.

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San Mateo County to Appoint Five-Member Bike/Ped Advisory Committee

Bike commuters heading south along San Mateo County's popular SF Bay Trail route. The new bike/ped committee will be tasked with improving such regional bike routes. Photo: Andrew Boone

Bike commuters head south along San Mateo County’s popular SF Bay Trail route on Bike to Work Day, May 8, 2014. The new County BPAC will be tasked with improving such regional bike routes. Photo: Andrew Boone

Last week, San Mateo County established a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). Its stated mission: to improve public health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and extend mobility for children, seniors, people with disabilities, and those who live in disadvantaged communities.

The committee’s five volunteer members will be charged with providing recommendations not only to the county’s Board of Supervisors, but also to “committees, commissions, and departments on issues related to bicycling, walking, and complete streets,” including funding priorities.

“We applaud the County for taking this positive step in ensuring that the needs of all roadway users are considered when determining projects and priorities,” wrote Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Policy Manager Emma Shlaes in an e-mail to the Board. “This committee will contribute to transparency and accountability in policy decisions, ease the decision making process and ensure community support.”

San Mateo County’s 2011 bike/ped plan [PDF] points out that major roadways such as El Camino Real, Highway 92, Highway 1, and Woodside Road “prioritize motor vehicle traffic flow with minimal consideration of impacts on bicyclists and pedestrians,” and that Highways 101, 280, and 380 also create barriers to active transportation, with most interchanges remaining hazardous for people walking and bicycling.

The new committee is expected to help guide investments and recommend infrastructure projects that address these barriers and “increase rates of active transportation and to improve the quality of facilities that serve people making daily trips by walking and bicycling,” according to last week’s resolution establishing the advisory group [PDF].

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Menlo Park Fire District Opposes Protected Bike Lanes on El Camino Real

Menlo Park’s Fire District is fighting a trial project to install protected or buffered bike lanes on El Camino Real. Image: City of Menlo Park

Menlo Park’s proposal for protected bike lanes on El Camino Real is meeting resistance from the top brass at the city’s Fire Protection District, who would rather see the road become wider and more dangerous.

In a recent letter to the Menlo Park City Council, Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman completely missed the point of installing protected bike lanes — to make making bicycling safer and more attractive. “I cannot recommend the use of El Camino Real in Menlo Park to bicyclists because it is a fairly dangerous route,” he wrote. “In my 35-year career, bicyclists almost always ‘lose’ when they are involved with an accident involving a vehicle, no matter who is at fault or to blame.”

Instead, Schapelhouman said it would be “interesting” to expand the street-level highway to six lanes and synchronize traffic signals to let drivers speed through downtown Menlo Park.

Three city advisory commissions have endorsed the conceptual plan to install bike lanes, either physically protected from motor traffic by curbs and landscaped traffic islands, or an alternative with just a painted buffer zone.

At an August 25 meeting, Menlo Park City Council members refrained from voting on those proposals but did say they favor a trial version of the protected bike lanes, which would replace 156 parking spaces along all 1.3 miles of El Camino Real within the city.

“Until we as a city envision transportation differently and implement actually very simple infrastructure… it’s just going to always be easier to jump in your car,” said Cindy Walton, vice chair of the Menlo Park Bicycle Commission, told the City Council. “We have to do things that are transformative in order to enable people to ride their bikes, or take buses, or walk.”

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Menlo Park Gets One Step Closer to Protected Bike Lanes on El Camino Real

A report from Menlo Park planners recommends a Dutch-inspired “protected intersection” design at three El Camino Real intersections. Image: City of Menlo Park

A report released by Menlo Park’s Public Works Department last week [PDF] recommends protected bike lanes and Dutch-style “protected intersections” on El Camino Real.

The two-year El Camino Real Corridor Study, led by transportation consulting firm W-Trans, said building bike lanes protected from car traffic by a curb would provide “the most optimum safety conditions for bicycling” and walking while reducing car traffic on the city’s 1.3-mile section of the highway.

The study looked at three bike lane options on El Camino Real, any of which would replace the 156 on-street car parking spaces that currently line the curb on the segment. Only one-third of those parking spaces are used, at most, according to a counts taken last September.

Menlo Park joins San Mateo as the second city in San Mateo County to envision physically protected bike lanes on El Camino Real, the deadly street-level highway owned by Caltrans that runs up the Peninsula.

Menlo Park’s Public Works Department would take it a step further with a “protected intersection” design at three intersections: Santa Cruz, Valparaiso/Glenwood, and Oak Grove Avenues. That design, common in the Netherlands, minimizes potential conflicts between people biking, driving, and walking and makes cyclists more visible to motorists.

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Should Caltrain Add Bathrooms On-Board or at Its Stations?

The great controversy roils on. Photo: Yelp/Michael W.

On-board restrooms could be cut from Caltrain’s electric trains after the agency’s Board of Directors rejected a proposal to include one bathroom on every six-car train last month. The agency is exploring the costs of adding bathrooms, and while some riders say they’re crucial, there’s little support from board members or disability advocates.

The Americans with Disabilities Act “is a very important part of this,” said Tom Nolan, a Caltrain board member and chair of the SFMTA Board, at the July meeting. “If somebody’s in a wheelchair in the back of the train and they have to go through five cars, that’s not really equal access.”

Malia Cohen, also a Caltrain board member and San Francisco supervisor, agreed with Nolan, noting that Carla Johnson, director of the SF Mayor’s Office on Disability, favors adding bathrooms at stations — which are currently scarce — rather than on trains.

“If there are bathrooms on the train, then we want the passengers with mobility issues to have the convenience of using those bathrooms just like everybody else,” Johnson told Streetsblog. “If some passengers can only travel between train cars with a lift, then it actually makes more sense to have the bathrooms at the stations so that everyone has equal access.”

“I think that it’s not uncommon for trains of this kind that are doing relatively short regional trips to not have bathrooms, because it is a rather dramatic loss of seats,” said Ash Karla, a Caltrain board member who sits on the San Jose City Council.

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Millbrae’s Transit Hub Plans: Lots of Parking, Same Car-Dominated Streets

Housing for about 850 new residents and offices for 868 workers are slated to rise where these Millbrae Station parking lots currently stand — but so are more than 2,000 new parking spaces. Photo: City of Millbrae

BART and the City of Millbrae are moving ahead with plans for two major mixed-use developments on the Millbrae BART/Caltrain Station’s surface parking lots and along El Camino Real just west of the station.

The projects are expected to bring over 2,000 new residents and 2,000 jobs within walking distance of San Mateo County’s busiest transit hub. The developer in the running for one of the sites promises it would become an urban center friendly for walking and biking.

But without a bolder vision from Millbrae officials, the plan has fundamental flaws that could undermine the purpose of transit-oriented development: to make it easier for people to get around without cars. The development, as proposed, would add about 2,200 car parking spots and make no substantial changes to the surrounding car-dominated streets to allow people to safely get around the area by foot and bike.

New residents and workers are expected to drive for 69 percent of trips, according to the environmental review for a proposed update to the Millbrae Station Area Precise Plan, which must be approved by the City Council.

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SMCTA: East Palo Alto Can’t Use Highway Money for Safe Crossing at Less Cost

East Palo Alto wants to save money and build a ped/bike bridge over Highway 101 at the University Avenue interchange, but the SMCTA says it can’t use its highway grant for that. Image: AECOM

East Palo Alto is the latest city to be prohibited by the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA) from using highway funds to build a bike and pedestrian bridge across a highway.

In this case, city planners actually found a way to cut costs on a planned ramp expansion at the Highway 101 interchange at University Avenue and use the savings to build an overcrossing for people on foot and bike. But according to East Palo Alto officials, the TA insists that its $5 million Highway Program grant must be spent primarily on highway lanes — not safe highway crossings.

Rather than build a new off-ramp, the city wants to add a second right turn lane to its existing off-ramp, which would move cars at least as quickly, according to a 2014 traffic study. (A note of clarification: This project is separate from the bike/ped bridge planned to the south of the University interchange, at Newell Road and Clarke Avenue.)

“The TA feels that the funding for Measure A highway operations is not flexible and cannot be used towards ped/bike improvements,” East Palo Alto Senior Engineer Maziar Bozorginia wrote in an email to Streetsblog. “The City believes that by providing a safer ped/bike route through this section, it would help to reduce conflicts and congestion on the highway system.”

With the money saved from forgoing construction of a new highway ramp, East Palo Alto could build a new bike/ped bridge. The rest of the funds for the interchange project would come from a $1.8 million federal grant awarded to the city in 2003.

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