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Opinion: Bike routes should be safe routes

Bicyclists make a stop at El Palo Alto Park in Palo Alto on Bike to Work Day on May 9, 2019. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

With spring in full swing, lots of us are getting out on bikes. Bike shops have been very busy, running low on inventory as we start to emerge from our pandemic bunkers. Adults and kids are trying new routes to work and school, while people looking to regain their fitness are seeking out new bike loops for exercise.

This is great for our fitness, for air quality and for the climate. But as our bike population grows, it's more important than ever that we make our streets and intersections safe for bikers.

The California Office of Traffic Safety reports that in 2018 cyclists were involved in 99 accidents in Palo Alto in which someone was injured or killed. In 18 of those, the cyclist was under 15 years old. For Mountain View, a somewhat larger city, there were 53 reported accidents, including six that involved children. Menlo Park, a city about half the size of Palo Alto, had 31 cyclists involved in an accident, with five of those involving children on bikes.

The Office of Traffic Safety ranks all of our cities among the worst of comparably sized cities when it comes to accidents involving cyclists. This is in part because we have more cyclists. But it also suggests that, as our ranks of cyclists continue to grow, our numbers will get even worse unless we pay careful attention to road design. Our bike routes need to be safe routes, but today that is not always the case.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to commute by bike throughout my decades of working, but I occasionally thought that the most dangerous thing I did all week was bike to work. It was often dark, and I usually had to cross a busy road, whether it was U.S. Highway 101 or Foothill Expressway or El Camino Real. Although my bicycle was well lit and I had reflective outerwear, I had to watch carefully.

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The other day I re-rode a route I used to take frequently along Rengstorff Avenue to 101. The bike lane on Rengstorff near Middlefield Road was filled with cars parked outside of a recent housing development. At one point, I found it almost impossible to get past a large pickup truck parked in the bike lane without veering into the traffic lane. Even when there is some space, the danger of being "doored" with little room to veer out of the way looms large.

Sherry Listgarten writes frequently about issues related to climate change on her blog, "A New Shade of Green," for Embarcadero Media. Embarcadero Media file photo.

This same setup occurs on San Antonio Road near Leghorn Street. The bike lane heading west is filled with cars outside of The Greenhouse development. Palo Alto has added "sharrows" to the outside traffic lane, indicating that lane should be shared with bikes. But I am not comfortable taking the lane in heavy and fast traffic with my little bicycle.

Both of these officially designated bike routes take riders over 101 — a sketchy journey. On Rengstorff, a bicycle lane goes past on and off ramps for 101. A standard merge sign gives no indication to cars that bicycles are present even though bicycles are common here as they head to Google's campus. The bike route isn't marked on the asphalt with especially visible paint, and it is easy for a driver to get careless, especially during low-light commute hours.

On San Antonio, there is no bike lane marked at all, just a single overgrown sidewalk that bicycles (in both directions) are expected to use. Crosswalks at the 101 on- and off-ramps again have minimal signage and no noticeable paint. I have rarely seen cars slow down or stop for these crossings.

San Antonio also has a particularly dangerous intersection at Charleston Road. Multiple lanes of traffic turn into a pedestrian/bike crossing. Cars can have difficulty seeing the crossing until they are on top of it. Signage is minimal (nothing up by the turn signal), there are no right-turn-only signals and no separate timing for those who are crossing.

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This intersection is an accident waiting to happen. When I am starting into the crosswalk, it is not at all clear to me that the crosswalk is a safe place to be. Just before I wrote this, a large SUV turned right in front of me as I was heading into the crosswalk. We both had "go" signals.

Some routes that are not official bike routes are so dangerous that transportation planners should specifically caution cyclists against riding on them. Alma Street in Palo Alto is particularly problematic for biking, with no shoulders, few exits when heading south and speeding cars. Even though cycling on it is such a terrifying experience that you would probably not make the mistake of getting on it twice, every week there seems to be a new cyclist on it struggling to decide whether to hug the side of the road or take over a lane until they can manage to escape by darting across lanes of traffic. With so many visitors and new arrivals in Palo Alto, we should be helping them more to avoid the worst routes.

Palo Alto has many well-marked routes for bikes, as do our neighboring cities. There also are many safety gaps, ones that could prove injurious or even fatal. Our city governments want us to bike more, and residents and commuters are stepping up. Let's maintain and foster that momentum by making sure that our streets are safe and easy to navigate for our growing bike population.

Sherry Listgarten writes frequently about issues related to climate change on her blog, "A New Shade of Green," for Embarcadero Media. Email her at [email protected].

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Opinion: Bike routes should be safe routes

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 23, 2021, 6:59 am

With spring in full swing, lots of us are getting out on bikes. Bike shops have been very busy, running low on inventory as we start to emerge from our pandemic bunkers. Adults and kids are trying new routes to work and school, while people looking to regain their fitness are seeking out new bike loops for exercise.

This is great for our fitness, for air quality and for the climate. But as our bike population grows, it's more important than ever that we make our streets and intersections safe for bikers.

The California Office of Traffic Safety reports that in 2018 cyclists were involved in 99 accidents in Palo Alto in which someone was injured or killed. In 18 of those, the cyclist was under 15 years old. For Mountain View, a somewhat larger city, there were 53 reported accidents, including six that involved children. Menlo Park, a city about half the size of Palo Alto, had 31 cyclists involved in an accident, with five of those involving children on bikes.

The Office of Traffic Safety ranks all of our cities among the worst of comparably sized cities when it comes to accidents involving cyclists. This is in part because we have more cyclists. But it also suggests that, as our ranks of cyclists continue to grow, our numbers will get even worse unless we pay careful attention to road design. Our bike routes need to be safe routes, but today that is not always the case.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to commute by bike throughout my decades of working, but I occasionally thought that the most dangerous thing I did all week was bike to work. It was often dark, and I usually had to cross a busy road, whether it was U.S. Highway 101 or Foothill Expressway or El Camino Real. Although my bicycle was well lit and I had reflective outerwear, I had to watch carefully.

The other day I re-rode a route I used to take frequently along Rengstorff Avenue to 101. The bike lane on Rengstorff near Middlefield Road was filled with cars parked outside of a recent housing development. At one point, I found it almost impossible to get past a large pickup truck parked in the bike lane without veering into the traffic lane. Even when there is some space, the danger of being "doored" with little room to veer out of the way looms large.

This same setup occurs on San Antonio Road near Leghorn Street. The bike lane heading west is filled with cars outside of The Greenhouse development. Palo Alto has added "sharrows" to the outside traffic lane, indicating that lane should be shared with bikes. But I am not comfortable taking the lane in heavy and fast traffic with my little bicycle.

Both of these officially designated bike routes take riders over 101 — a sketchy journey. On Rengstorff, a bicycle lane goes past on and off ramps for 101. A standard merge sign gives no indication to cars that bicycles are present even though bicycles are common here as they head to Google's campus. The bike route isn't marked on the asphalt with especially visible paint, and it is easy for a driver to get careless, especially during low-light commute hours.

On San Antonio, there is no bike lane marked at all, just a single overgrown sidewalk that bicycles (in both directions) are expected to use. Crosswalks at the 101 on- and off-ramps again have minimal signage and no noticeable paint. I have rarely seen cars slow down or stop for these crossings.

San Antonio also has a particularly dangerous intersection at Charleston Road. Multiple lanes of traffic turn into a pedestrian/bike crossing. Cars can have difficulty seeing the crossing until they are on top of it. Signage is minimal (nothing up by the turn signal), there are no right-turn-only signals and no separate timing for those who are crossing.

This intersection is an accident waiting to happen. When I am starting into the crosswalk, it is not at all clear to me that the crosswalk is a safe place to be. Just before I wrote this, a large SUV turned right in front of me as I was heading into the crosswalk. We both had "go" signals.

Some routes that are not official bike routes are so dangerous that transportation planners should specifically caution cyclists against riding on them. Alma Street in Palo Alto is particularly problematic for biking, with no shoulders, few exits when heading south and speeding cars. Even though cycling on it is such a terrifying experience that you would probably not make the mistake of getting on it twice, every week there seems to be a new cyclist on it struggling to decide whether to hug the side of the road or take over a lane until they can manage to escape by darting across lanes of traffic. With so many visitors and new arrivals in Palo Alto, we should be helping them more to avoid the worst routes.

Palo Alto has many well-marked routes for bikes, as do our neighboring cities. There also are many safety gaps, ones that could prove injurious or even fatal. Our city governments want us to bike more, and residents and commuters are stepping up. Let's maintain and foster that momentum by making sure that our streets are safe and easy to navigate for our growing bike population.

Sherry Listgarten writes frequently about issues related to climate change on her blog, "A New Shade of Green," for Embarcadero Media. Email her at [email protected].

Comments

Palo Alto native
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2021 at 7:38 am
Palo Alto native, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 7:38 am

You may not be aware of how most Paly kids bicycle to school and back. The cross Alma and the railroad crossing to get to school. I have seen hundreds of bikes cross with trepidation as the rent crossing gate comes down for a train to speed by. There is a plan—Churchill closure plus mitigations which provides a bike/ped tunnel which has basically been shelved for years because of some comm members who want the convenience of their short commute over the safety of bikes/peddling. Read the XCAP report to sadly see how our City deals with bike safety for its school children. Dereliction of Duty by CC.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2021 at 8:49 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 8:49 am

Safe bike routes should also mean safe for the pedestrians who often have to share the bike path with a 20mph bike commuter.


Mark Chandler
Registered user
Atherton
on Apr 23, 2021 at 10:52 am
Mark Chandler, Atherton
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 10:52 am

There should be an easy fix to connecting the bike path that passes El Palo Alto to the path that runs along El Camino Park to downtown and continues past Palo to Churchill Ave. Can the El Camino Park path be extended to a new exit from the Park directly across from the El Palo Alto path? The current configuration creates a lot of conflict with traffic.


Anne
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 23, 2021 at 12:34 pm
Anne, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 12:34 pm

Good luck with that. Even on Bryant, our vaunted bicycle boulevard, I have been nearly taken out several times, by motorists running stop signs and motorists turning right, right in front of me. Even someone who rides as defensively as I do can become a victim.


Hulkamania
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 23, 2021 at 4:40 pm
Hulkamania, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 4:40 pm

I ride a lot. I should hit 900 miles this month. Every ride has at least one interaction with a driver that turns left in front of me/cuts me off making a right turn/blowing through an intersection. It's all part of the game.

All a rider can do is stay awake, keep a mindset that every driver is out to kill you, wear fashion risk bright clothing (black may be in fashion but it makes you invisible) and equip your bike with flashing strobe lights front and back to extend your visibility to vehicles. Trek makes some nice ones.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 23, 2021 at 5:30 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 5:30 pm

I'm almost 62 and have been biking for recreation and transportation since my parents gave me my first bike when I was 5. I ride a lot, too. I have never been hit by a car. I have had three falls (my own clumsy fault). My husband bikes to work from PA to his job in San Jose. My 21-year old daughter still doesn't have a driver's license, though that may change this summer. My older daughter tends to drive more because she now lives in another community that doesn't have safe bike facilities.

Yes. there are hazards. However, if you look at traffic data, drivers are not immune to injuries and fatalities due to collisions. From the National Safety Council, "For the second consecutive year, the U.S. experienced a small decline in roadway deaths, according to preliminary estimates released today from the National Safety Council. In 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes – a 2% decline from 2018 (39,404 deaths) ... About 4.4 million people were injured seriously enough to require medical attention in crashes last year – also a 2% decrease over 2018 figures.

We ALL need to behave with more care. Please put your cell phone away. There's a reason they call these folks "phone zombies." Protect your life and others. Pay attention to the road, especially if you are operating a two-ton vehicle on a public street.

Sherry, you'll be glad to know that there are plans for the Churchill/Alma and San Antonio intersections you mentioned. We need to get them funded and built. Safe Routes to School Partnership has been making progress on this for over twenty years in Palo Alto. There is still more to do. If you are interested helping in this effort, join Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition's Palo Alto Local Team or your school site PTA, if you have kids in school. There's lots to do...but there are also good folks working together to make things happen. Join us!


Robert Neff
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 23, 2021 at 8:24 pm
Robert Neff, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 23, 2021 at 8:24 pm

Palo Alto City Council can approve a significant safety improvement for Churchill/Alma on May 3. The recommended option has a 4x larger space to wait on the NW corner, between Alma and the tracks. If you like that, let them know.
That safety survey did not normalize for number of bicycles. So among adults, Palo Alto is number 2, Davis is number 1, because these cities have the most bicyclists. For school kids, we are number 1, Davis is number 2. I think we can do better on safety, but this survey does not measure bicycle safety.
Speaking of safety, if cars turn in front of you, it's probably because the drivers do not see you. Which cyclists do you see best? The ones with flashing lights! I advise getting a flashing front headlight, and using it, even in the daytime. Also, riding out in the middle of the lane on a street like Bryant. You will be seen, and motorists will wait for you with your flashing light. Wave as you pass!


Amie
Registered user
Downtown North
on Apr 24, 2021 at 8:15 am
Amie, Downtown North
Registered user
on Apr 24, 2021 at 8:15 am

Amen. If we want to reduce traffic and GHG emissions, we need more, better, faster, safer places to bike. Sharrows should not even be consider bike routes. They are ridiculously unsafe. If you wouldn't let your 10-year-old bike there, it shouldn't be on the city's map.


chini
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 25, 2021 at 11:55 am
chini, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 25, 2021 at 11:55 am

>> making sure that our streets are safe and easy to navigate for our growing bike population
Yes. Also make bike routes safe jogging routes, too?

>> planners should specifically caution cyclists against riding on them. Alma Street in Palo Alto is particularly problematic for biking

Yes. Bryant St, Bike Boulevard sign made larger?


It.is.what.it.is
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2021 at 3:12 am
It.is.what.it.is, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 26, 2021 at 3:12 am

I grew up here and graduated from Paly in the early 80s. Back then, we skateboarded and biked everywhere because there was very little traffic, much like when we were locked down for COVID last fall; some cars but hardly any on Embarcadero or Middlefield. There wasn’t even a traffic signal between Paly and T&C due to the lack of traffic. We would just wait for a few cars to pass, then walk across Embarcadero Road. That was when it was safe. Palo Alto is now a cut-through city! It’s no longer safe for biking! I am a parent who has volunteered in PTA and schools for years and am constantly hearing of students being injured by hurried drivers cutting through our city. It’s no longer safe out there.

BTW, cars turning right need to pull into the bike lane when the line breaks so they don’t suddenly cut off a biker. Only long-time Palo Alto drivers know this, as they made sure to teach us that in driver’s training.


chini
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 26, 2021 at 12:11 pm
chini, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 26, 2021 at 12:11 pm

>> BTW, cars turning right need to pull into the bike lane when the line breaks

So glad to see the above mentioned!
What part of "broken white lines" do drivers don't understand? Do they seriously think DMV/DoT is trying to trick them by marking broken white lines on roads to mean different things at different places?

Defensive drivers pose a huge danger!

Also, do NOT turn right around parked bicylist(s) in bike lane, regardless of how slow or careful YOU THINK YOU ARE even with blinkers on! Just wait behind the bicyclists! This is basically stating the same: merge into the bike lane when the line breaks just like merging into a lane.

It shouldn't require driver's training to understand "broken white lines" mean "broken white lines" but..


Mark
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2021 at 12:12 pm
Mark, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 28, 2021 at 12:12 pm

I agree with many of the comments above. Bryant can be quite dangerous, as I too have been knocked off my bike by drivers failing to stop until they reach the middle of the intersection or executing a rolling stop right in front of the bike. (Good brakes are required on Bryant.) Other regular risks are cars pulling out right in front of bikes, opening cars doors without looking and no-signal right turns after just passing a bike. Lastly, there are too many places where safe routes suddenly turn into free-for-all zones with cars. These need to be tracked down and dealt with. Also, I too would urge riders to wear bright colors and ugly helmets.

In general, I find cars to be very accomodating, but it only takes one to take a bike out.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2021 at 11:18 pm
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 28, 2021 at 11:18 pm

When bikers stop blowing through stop signs, we can talk.


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on May 2, 2021 at 10:56 am
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on May 2, 2021 at 10:56 am

Yesterday, there was a bicyclist on a cruiser bike enjoying a slow ride northbound on Alma St. She was driving in the middle of the right lane. She had no reflectors or mirrors. She was also not wearing a helmet.

This created a bottleneck in which all of the traffic in the right lane had to change into the single left lane. Since she was in the middle of the lane, drivers had to slow down considerably to change lanes safely. There were several instances with screeching brakes.

The odd thing is that Bryant Street is just a few blocks over and is literally designated for this purpose. I was very afraid for this woman because she seemed oblivious to her own danger or the danger that she created for others around her.

I've said it before: The state should change the law so that bicycles can be restricted from certain busy thoroughfares.

Such bicycle riders are the in-city equivalent of a car driver going 15 mph in the middle of a 65 mph highway. They think that they are safe because of their slow speeds; however, they are actually making a commute less safe for themselves and EVERYONE around them.


Pat Markevitch
Registered user
Downtown North
on May 4, 2021 at 4:50 pm
Pat Markevitch, Downtown North
Registered user
on May 4, 2021 at 4:50 pm

Nayeli, I agree with you regarding Alma. It's not safe for bikes to be on there, especially when there are other safer options. There absolutely needs to be better signage at every intersection along Alma showing bikers the other safer options. There have been a few times where I came upon a cyclist on Alma at a light and directed them to either Park or Bryant. They were very grateful that I pointed out the alternate routes.


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