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.