A permanent fix to the hazardous Page Mill Road/Interstate 280 interchange could be a decade away, but transportation officials plan to make some alterations to make the road safer for bicyclists as soon as this fall, Santa Clara County Roads and Airports officials said during a community meeting on Wednesday, April 20.
Long considered dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, the roadway, and in particular the stretch approaching the I-280 interchange, has been on the county's list of expressway system upgrades. Previous public meetings have looked at potential long-term fixes, including the possibility of adding a roundabout and traffic signals, widening Page Mill through the Foothill Expressway intersection, and making grade separations (an under- or overpass) for Page Mill and Foothill.
But the Nov. 3, 2015 death of bicyclist Jeffrey Donnelly on Page Mill near Christopher Lane is spurring a quicker, if only partial, solution to the problem.
During Wednesday's meeting at the Los Altos Hills Town Hall, there was universal agreement that speed is the primary culprit. Safety modifications would include pushing the 35 mph speed-reduction zone for traffic going west back about 1,100 feet toward Old Page Mill Road. Signage currently sits just prior to the interchange on-ramp. "Optical" road striping along some stretches would create the effect of a narrowing road to slow traffic down, and amber flashing-light beacons would warn drivers they are entering a reduced-speed zone and the presence of bicyclists.
Of two concepts presented on Wednesday, the first concept puts cyclists traveling west on a green-colored bikeway to the right of vehicle traffic prior to Christopher Lane. The bike lane shifts to the left and crosses one traffic lane as it approaches the interchange, then shifts back to the right after passing the freeway access point. This concept puts the bikes where cars expect them to be, but there are multiple conflicts for cars and bikes at the merging zone at Christopher Lane, said Hugh Louch of consultants Alta Planning + Design.
The second westbound concept reduces many of the conflicts with traffic, but bikes must cross two lanes to access a bike lane at the median. At some points, vehicle traffic moving through the interchange also crosses the bike lane, Louch said.
Eastbound, the first concept positions bikes on the right where most people expect them to be. But bicyclists would face conflicts with merging traffic, and they would have difficulty with high-speed traffic crossing at the northbound off-ramp, Louch said. The second eastbound concept significantly reduces conflicts at the ramps and interchanges, but the bikes are in an unexpected left-side position, and it is more of a challenge to access the shoulder of Page Mill, he said.
Members of the audience preferred the second concepts for both directions, but they said a traffic signal would still be necessary where bikes merge across the two lanes. Cyclists said they would not mind stopping and waiting for the light, but some motorists are against more traffic signals, which they said would cause traffic to grind to a halt during peak times.
One possible compromise would add push buttons at the merging point, which a bicyclist could use to trigger the stoplight that is to the east at Deer Creek Road. That would halt traffic long enough to create a gap, giving bicyclists time to cross the two traffic lanes to reach the center bikeway without conflicts with vehicles.
Another audience suggestion would add a two-way bikeway on one side of the road instead of having two separate bikeways for either direction.
Long-term fixes, such as adding stoplights, probably won't be in the mix this time around, said Dawn Cameron, deputy director of Santa Clara County Roads and Airports Department.
With a $300,000 budget for capital improvements, transportation officials are looking for the quickest and cheapest fixes at this time. A single stoplight could cost $600,000 to $800,000 and requires additional traffic studies, she added.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who convened the meeting with county officials and the Town of Los Altos Hills, said what the long-term future of Page Mill Road will be is unclear.
There are outstanding funding issues for a long-term fix, but part of the issue is also jurisdictional. There are so many entities involved in the planning that it is challenging, from the cities of Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills to Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, California Department of Transportation and county Roads and Airports, he noted during the meeting.
"It is very clear that we need to take some action sooner than later," he said on Friday. But his concern is that any steps taken will make progress that is real.