New Bike Lanes in Sunnyvale Could Be Just the Beginning for El Camino Real

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The first bike lanes installed on El Camino Real, in Sunnyvale, are six feet wide and run unprotected next to 14-foot wide traffic lanes. Photo: Andrew Boone

To build a bike network, you’ve gotta start somewhere, and on El Camino Real, it started in Sunnyvale last month. The first bike lanes on El Camino Real are six feet wide, striped along the curb with no protection from traffic, running half a mile from Sunnyvale Avenue to Fair Oaks Avenue/Remington Drive, near the city’s downtown.

While it may not be all-ages bike infrastructure, the new bike lanes still set an important precedent for the 43-mile-long street-level highway connecting San Francisco and San Jose. James Manitakos, former chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, has called the project “a good first step.”

Now several other towns on the Peninsula are considering safer, better bike infrastructure — including protected lanes — for key segments of El Camino.

Sunnyvale chose to replace car parking with bike lanes on this section of El Camino Real only after commissioning a study [PDF] to ensure that the parking was barely used, so as to not inconvenience drivers. This despite the city’s 2008 Policy for Allocation of Street Space [PDF], which states that “safe accommodation for all transport modes takes priority over non-transport uses,” and that parking “shall not be considered a transport use.”

According to the city’s study, only one of the roughly 134 parking spaces on El Camino’s curbs were used at peak hours on average, and city staff counted 3,337 spaces in the seven parking lots along the street.

Other sections of El Camino Real along the Peninsula could get bike lanes soon, though cities approve them on a piecemeal basis. Mountain View, to the north, approved six-foot wide buffered bike lanes on its 1.2-mile stretch from Calderon/Phyllis Avenue to the border with Sunnyvale at Knickerbocker Drive. That project was approved with the adoption of Mountain View’s El Camino Real Precise Plan in November.

Menlo Park and Atherton are both currently studying ways to redesign El Camino Real as a safer street. The Town of Atherton, where residents are regularly killed by drivers while crossing the street, proposed converting the right-most of three lanes in each direction to a separated path for walking and bicycling in November with the adoption of its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.

San Mateo has proposed protected bike lanes on the section of El Camino Real through its downtown, converting two of the street’s six traffic lanes. Image: City of San Mateo

Menlo Park has commissioned a study of design options for its section of El Camino. Potential designs include buffered or protected bike lanes, though the study will also consider a wider, more dangerous road expansion through downtown. Consultants hired by the city are hosting a third community meeting on the study on February 19, in preparation for its recommendation to the City Council on whether to install bike lanes on El Camino.

San Mateo’s City Council is also expected to endorse a proposal on February 17 for protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks on El Camino Real as part of its Sustainable Streets Project.

  • SFnative74

    That’s easy to improve…add a 3′ buffer between the 6′ bike lane and an 11′ travel lane. 12′ travel lanes are used on freeways with speed limits up to 70 mph. They aren’t needed for a street like El Camino.

  • shotwellian

    Does anyone know if Caltrans needs to approve road striping changes to El Camino because it’s a state highway (CA 82)?

  • thielges

    This is good news. Previously this section of El Camino had a few people parking along the curb, requiring bicyclists to continuously change lanes to share the rightmost lane. Now at least for this stretch it will be smooth sailing.

    Most of the land uses along El Cam include large off-street parking lots. There are a few old legacy parcels though which were built right up to the street and rely totally for on-street parking. Those will be the difficult cases for closing the gaps along El Camino.

  • 94110

    Yup. SB linked to an article a year and a half ago:
    http://sf.streetsblog.org/2013/07/31/todays-headlines-1104/

  • Gezellig

    And that’d be if you were only reducing *one* of the car lanes from 14′ to 11′! If you did it to all three car lanes you’d gain an extra 9′ for wider sidewalks + protected bike lanes + physical buffering.

  • While I applaud this improvement, I think it should be a requirement for every city official involved in planning bike lanes to actually test drive each new bike lane themselves. There are definitely some questionable bike lanes in the south bay. The Lawrence expressway is a perfectly good example of a WTF bike lane! Google map shows the lawrence expressway as a valid bike lane, and there were even signs saying there’s a bike lane. But this is a stunt for course for extreme cyclists, not a serious bike lane for anyone who values their lives! There is zero protection for cyclists and zero margin for error for motorists, and any impact between the two at those highway speed would be certain death any cyclist. The wind load alone from a passing truck could probably topple a cyclist! So please, Sunnyvale officials, be a good chef and taste your own dish before you serve it others! Thank you.

  • crazyvag

    Is this going to make it harder to install the bus-only lanes now that we removed parking for a bike lane? I feel like both should be done at the same time.

  • thielges

    Those might not be official bike lanes but instead shoulders. After stalling on the bike lane question the county decided to basically stripe the shoulders as close as possible to bike lanes without labeling them as such. The idea was if the county ever officially made them lanes then all that was left to do was to put in the “bike lane” stencil because the guide lines were already there.

    This was quite a while ago (10 years?) so things may have changed since.

  • ladyfleur

    No. VTA’s plan for bus-only lanes is to remove travel lanes in the center of the road, not parking lanes on the edges. VTA’s dedicated lane option also offers cities the option of using the parking lane as a bike lane, which is what Sunnyvale is doing now with this stretch.

  • Diana_Draw

    I live in Sunnyvale and agree wholeheartedly with this statement. The lanes on Lawrence are indeed labeled as bike lanes, but cars pass at 40-50MPH, and it’s a major alternate rush hour route for many cars with distracted drivers. Add to that a carpool lane on the right hand side that is also used by buses – it’s a disaster.

  • Diana_Draw

    Ah, but this is suburbia/urban sprawl, and everyone drives huge SUVs, including the police. I don’t see them narrowing lanes any time soon.

  • SFnative74

    SUVs are less than 8 and a half feet wide, so an 11′ wide lane is fine. Even urban areas that have 10′ lanes have many large delivery trucks, so 11′ is ample for urban or suburban speeds.

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