Will San Mateo County Finally Fix a Dangerous Overpass for Cyclists?

The scene shortly after 47-year-old Lauren Ward was killed by a truck driver on November 4, 2010. Photo: Kent Fields for the ##http://menlopark.patch.com/##Menlo Park Patch.##

For the second time in a year, San Mateo County transportation officials are seeking funding for a proposal to improve conditions for bike riders at a dangerous highway interchange where a big-rig driver with a history of fatal collisions killed a 47-year-old Los Altos woman riding her bicycle less than two years ago.

The Interstate 280 and Alpine Road interchange is one of many highway overpasses on the Peninsula that lack bike infrastructure and pose severe hazards to bike riders. A narrow unmarked bike lane on Alpine Road, which looks like nothing more than a shoulder, leads to the interchange, but stops abruptly where the Caltrans right-of-way begins. Bike riders are forced to maneuver around speeding traffic headed to the freeway, and there is no signage or markings.

It was in this area where truck driver Gabriel Manzur Vera struck and killed Lauren Ward on November 4, 2010. According to reports, it was Vera’s third fatal collision, and the second crash resulting in the death of a cyclist. The California Highway Patrol initially blamed Ward for causing the crash, but revised a police report after further investigation. Vera was never charged but Ward’s family has filed a wrongful death suit against him.

Shortly after Ward’s death, the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition (SVBC) launched its Safe Highway Crossings campaign and began working to get conditions improved at that interchange and other freeway crossings. The stumbling block has been funding in a county where there is scant political will to improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Yesterday, however, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution requesting $175,000 from the San Mateo County Transportation Authority (TA) to install bike lanes through the interchange. Caltrans, which is required to sign off on the project, has apparently been supportive.

The bike lane, which is essentially a narrow shoulder, ends where the Caltrans right-of-way begins. Photo: Google Maps

“We’re very pleased to see that the county is still pursuing funding to take care of this troublesome intersection,” said Colin Heyne, deputy director of the SVBC, who attended the supervisors meeting. “They’ve been working with SVBC and others in the area to make it safe and more comfortable for cyclists and motorists by getting rid of the ambiguities.”

Joe Lo Coco, a deputy director for the TA, told Streetsblog four proposed designs have been narrowed to two (D2 and D3), and said it’s possible the bike lanes would be painted green, something bike advocates have been pushing for.

Lo Coco said that the project will be competing with others for funding, and there’s no assurances it will pass. A similar request was rejected last year. This year’s application is being submitted as part of a request for highway project money because it would smooth out the flow of automobile traffic.

“It’s very vague where the bike lane is and it just dissipates into the ether,” said Heyne. “The argument is that that doesn’t promote efficient traffic flow when lanes fade into nothing because it causes confusion and eliminates efficiency.”

The application will undergo an internal evaluation process at the TA, and the agency will announce in early September whether the project makes the first cut. If it makes the recommended list of projects to be funded, it would require approval from the TA Board at its regular meeting September 6.

Proposed redesign. Click for PDF. Image: San Mateo County Transportation Authority

This story is part of Streetsblog San Francisco’s coverage of Silicon Valley. Got a tip or story idea we should be covering in Silicon Valley? Email bryan@sf.streetsblog.org.


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