A highly dangerous section of Page Mill Road near Interstate 280 for bicyclists will hopefully become safer under a plan to add new striping, signage and flashing beacons.
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Nov. 15 to approve the project, which extends roughly from Old Page Mill Road to west of the Interstate 280 on-ramp. The area has a notorious reputation for accidents and near-collisions between bikes and vehicles.
Silicon Valley executive Jeffrey Donnelly, 52, of Palo Alto, was struck and killed by a motorist as he rode his bicycle west on Page Mill Road near the intersection of Christopher Lane in Los Altos Hills on Nov. 3, 2015. His death sparked plans to add safety measures prior to the county's planned long-term upgrades.
Currently, bicyclists must exit side streets and, with poor visibility, cross the lanes of Page Mill traffic to get to a bike lane that is near the center median.
The interim changes include reduced speed limits, signage, beacons and road markings. The goal is to raise awareness, slow traffic and increase visibility. As part of the project, the county agreed to lower the speed limit from 50 mph to 35 mph along the hilly stretch of Page Mill east of Old Page Mill Road. Flashing beacons and signage will warn drivers and bicyclists they are approaching a bicycle crossing.
Cyclists heading westbound will have a more clearly marked route. An 8-foot-wide space for bicyclists will be cut through a traffic island between Old Page Mill Road and Page Mill. There, bicyclists can wait and watch for a break in traffic before merging onto Page Mill and riding in the bike lane on the interior (leftmost lane) of Page Mill, according to the county Roads & Airports Department.
Eastbound, bicyclists will now be able to move to the center of the road at the far end of the interchange, also reducing the number of conflicts with cars at the freeway ramps. A marked lane for bicyclists who want to turn onto Old Page Mill Road will also be added.
Colin Heyne, deputy director of Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, said the traffic-calming measures going westbound are the most important aspects of the plan.
"The speed limit is currently 50 mph until west of the northbound 280 on-ramp, and vehicles regularly travel in excess of 60 mph. This creates a situation in which there is no safe course of action for a person on a bike who is forced to merge across two lanes of traffic to reach the bike lane," he said.
"By reducing speeds to 35 mph and improving sight lines through the creation of a new bicyclist cut-through, the new design puts bicyclists in a much better position to be able to leave Old Page Mill and reach the Page Mill bike lane quickly and safely," he said.
The interchange at Page Mill and I-280 has a dangerous combination of very fast speeds -- given both the high-speed, uncontrolled off-ramp from the south and the downhill approach on Page Mill from the east -- and high popularity with bicyclists riding between Palo Alto and the hills, he added.
"The intersection was clearly not designed with either bicyclists or pedestrians in mind but rather to move large numbers of vehicles quickly," Heyne said.
Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt, who used to ride his bike along that route, stopped going there about three or four years ago.
"I felt it was unsafe. It was an area that was never designed for safe bike riding. It permits far too high of speeds where vehicles and bikes converge," he said.
"These improvements are very important. This is an area I've been raising concerns about for three to four years. I'm pleased to see the county come forward -- largely on the impetus of the city, which strongly encouraged the changes," Burt said.
The City of Palo Alto contributed $80,000 to the $525,000 project, which is funded by five agencies: a $250,000 Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) grant; $125,000 from the Transportation Fund for Clean Air grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District; $20,000 from the Town of Los Altos Hills and $50,000 from the County of Santa Clara.
Palo Alto had pushed for the changes, which are considered interim, because it could be years before the county has the funding to do a full and permanent interchange and expressway improvement. The county is planning to improve all of its expressways. But given the dangers, Burt and others felt strongly that something needed to be done soon, and that it was feasible.
After Los Altos Hills bicyclist Lauren Perdriau Ward was struck and killed by a big rig on Alpine Road near Page Mill in 2010, significant improvements were made at relatively little cost, Burt noted.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who worked to secure the interim project, said that he felt it was important to move forward sooner than later.
"This is a heavily traveled and challenging intersection for both cyclists and drivers. We've got to find a way to make it safer -- right now -- even though larger, longer-term improvements are scheduled in the coming years. I didn't think we could afford to wait," he said.
He called the improvements "modest but significant."
Heyne said that in the long term far more substantial improvements are necessary to make Page Mill a "complete street," a street that serves all users, including drivers, people on bikes, and people who are walking.
"But given the urgency of the situation, the relatively minuscule budget, and the extremely challenging built environment, Silicon Valley Bike Coalition is proud of the extensive public outreach and thoughtful work County Roads and Airports put into this redesign," he said.
Simitian also praised the cooperative effort: It's a rarity for so many agencies to get together to solve a problem -- and so quickly. He praised the Bike Coalition for its continuous presence, which helped make a better plan, he said.
"It's been heartening to me to see people come together. This kind of cooperation is what we'd like to see more often. If everybody steps up to do their part, then good things can happen," he said.
Simitian and officials from Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills hosted a community meeting at Los Altos Hills Town Hall in April to incorporate public comments into two concept plans. The meeting filled the room and resulted in the final plan.
The County Roads and Airports Department will begin soliciting bids for the project immediately after receiving a Caltrans permit. The project is expected to be completed in spring 2017.