Four planned bicycle boulevards in Palo Alto could have roundabouts, speed humps and other raised surfaces and roadway markings to slow traffic and alert motorists and bicyclists, but perhaps the most important change needed is education on how to navigate the new devices, some residents said at a community meeting on Tuesday night.
The city has done extensive work to educate students in lower grades, but high school students and adults have been left out of the picture. And since they are most likely to be motorists encountering bicyclists, their awareness is crucial to calming traffic and improving safety, the participants said.
City staff and consultants presented the concept plans on Tuesday at Ohlone Elementary School to more than 70 people. The plans are for improvements to roadways along four designated bikeways: Amarillo and Moreno avenues, Bryant Street, Louis Road and Meadow Drive, and Ross Road.
The Amarillo project is near the existing U.S. Highway 101 bicycle bridge at Oregon Expressway and it would make improvements from West Bayshore Road to beyond Ross Road. That route would link to improvement projects along Ross Road from Jordan Middle School to Louis Road, and Louis and Meadow Drive. The Bryant Street project would make improvements along the existing bike boulevard.
The city has a goal to double bicycling by 2020, and it is targeting the 60 percent of people who are interested in biking but who are too concerned about dangerous conditions to get on a bike, said Hugh Louch, who is in charge of the project for consultants Alta Planning and Design.
The chief concerns involve speeding traffic and vehicles cutting through neighborhoods, Louch said.
Slowing cars can dramatically effect the outcome of an accident, Louch said. Studies have shown that a pedestrian struck by a car at 25 mph has an 89 percent chance of survival; but at 35 mph, that survival rate drops to 68 percent, and at 45 mph, there is only a 35 percent, he said.
The city is considering installing humps, curb extensions, raised intersections, chicanes (landscaped areas that narrow the street in places), median islands and mini roundabouts, which force traffic around a circular island at a four-way intersection.
But plans to add a roundabout at Bryant and North California Avenue has elicited concern from residents, who said at the meeting that the change would remove parking from already packed side streets and would cause traffic delays and endanger bicyclists.
City Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello replied that many studies have proven that mini roundabouts in low-traffic areas virtually eliminate head-on collisions between bikes and vehicles.
Four-way stops, on the other hand, create 16 points of potential conflicts for vehicles and other cars or bicycles. Add in crosswalks, and the conflict points rise to 32 and include pedestrians. Mini roundabouts, however, greatly reduce the number of conflict points, and collisions that do occur tend to be sideswipes instead of angled, head-on or T-bone crashes, he said.
The roundabouts are also designed to accommodate fire and construction trucks, Mello added.
But residents pointed to the dangerous reality of drivers and bicyclists who already ignore stop signs or ride their bikes three abreast to school, endangering themselves and others. One high school student said he has seen many close calls and near collisions because people don't know how to navigate new traffic-calming devices.
Mello said there has been discussion about extending education to high school students and adults. The city sponsors a Safe Routes to School program, which teaches bike and traffic safety to elementary school children. The program also creates Walk and Roll maps for safe routes to and from each of the city's 17 schools, evaluates traffic and safety conditions and makes engineering recommendations, as well as developing curricula for student transportation safety.
Penny Ellson, a member of the PTA Traffic Committee, said any time a new device or facility is introduced there is a need to educate the public. When the city introduced sharrows, it created a document to explain what a sharrow is.
The traffic committee publicizes changes along routes through the PTA enews, outreach flyers, poster boards and bike and pedestrian education programs that children receive in the K-6 grades. But as in the past, the Palo Alto Police Department will probably have to do spot enforcement for the first few times when a new device or road marking is added, Ellson said.
She said that at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools, which do not have bike-safety education, there are 800 students biking each day at each of the schools. On certain streets, bikes are significantly outnumbering cars.
"I never thought we'd get the kinds of numbers we have today. I'm happy, but it does create a need to have more education," she said.
The Safe Routes to Schools program is working on a pilot program at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School with rising freshmen -- students who will go to high school in the coming year -- by showing them new Walk and Roll maps to their destinations, how to use smart phones to access transportation alternatives and directions, and sponsoring an assembly-style bike-safety program, Ellson said.
The traffic committee is also developing a new flyer to teach kids how to ride safely and legally in large packs, she said.
"They will collect on collector streets behind a light and move forward in a pack of 50 bikes," that confuse drivers," Ellson said.
While programs could move forward into the high schools, educating adults is another conundrum. There has been some talk about including high school and adult bike-vehicle safety education as part of the transportation element in the city's Comprehensive Plan, Ellson said.
The California Department of Transportation has also taken a role in adding bike-safety education as part of driver education, and tests for licenses now incorporate understanding and negotiating traffic-calming devices and right-of-way ordinances, she said. And on the state level, there is ongoing work to mandate integrating bike education into secondary gym classes, Ellson added.