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Bicycle Safety

Bicyclist Killed by Caltrans Vehicle Driver on 101 Overpass in San Mateo

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A 68-year-old Palo Alto man riding his bicycle was struck and killed by the driver of a Caltrans vehicle heading westbound on the Hillsdale Boulevard overpass of Highway 101 in San Mateo this morning. The Caltrans employee was on duty at the time.

San Mateo Police Department Sgt. Bob Szelenyi said the crash occurred at 6:13 a.m. today. Police were still on the scene hours later conducting a collision investigation, as was the San Mateo County Coroner's Office. Caltrans was not available to offer comment since the agency's public affairs office is closed today because of a cost-saving furlough.

The Hillsdale Boulevard overpass carries six lanes of traffic and has highway entrances at each end, as well as extremely narrow sidewalks. Streetsblog reader John Murphy said he rides the overpass often and dreads doing so. "My preference for any overpass with dual onramps is to take the lane to the left of the onramps, but it's a very bold move to do that on Hillsdale," Murphy wrote in an email to Streetsblog. "You do this and you are guaranteed to be buzzed by some turkey.

Murphy's full description of riding on the Hillsdale overpass is after the break.

Hillsdale is bad.

The first thing you have to deal with going East to West is a freeway onramp. The onramp is just after the intersection with Norfolk where there are three lanes of traffic that are allowed to cross Norfolk straight onto the overpass - sign that plenty of cars use this road and will want to cross the path of the cyclist to get to that onramp, AND a lot of cars going straight so it is difficult to simply take the lane way ahead of time and let the cars go around me like I would on Holly, you'd be in a swarm. So I decided to just hug the shoulder and then dart across the 101 NB onramp when clear.

After that the road from the NB onramp to the SB onramp is very long - much longer than Whipple/Holly/etc... Now there are only 2 lanes (the far right lane becomes the onramp) so it's more difficult to take the lane with the increasing traffic because you will have to take the lane for a much longer period of time. Also the overpass is very flat. A more vertical overpass like Whipple allows you to better assert your position over the top because your speed increases. On Hillsdale you are just stuck on this long long bridge. That's where the cyclist was hit if the pictures seem right. And at this spot you are really pinned against a barrier with no real shoulder.

Then you can't really see the 101S onramp until you are right upon it. This is true for cars, and their focus is on trying to figure out where that offramp is rather than looking for bikes. The worst part is the right lane is exit only but the middle lane is exit or onramp. So you need to merge across a lane that is definitely exiting into fast speed traffic, and you don't know if that traffic is exiting right or going straight. This is really the hardest part.

One thing that makes Hillsdale special compared to a lot of 101 overpasses is that the traffic is headed to random places - split between 101N, 101S, and straight into San Mateo, from a dense residential area. For example on Millbrae from Caltrain to the Bayshore, it is very easy to take the left hand lane because 95% of traffic is going to enter the freeway, giving you the left hand lane.

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