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Bicyclists and Alma St.

Original post made by Carol, Palo Verde, on Aug 29, 2006

Now that we have made cycling safer on Charleston and taking into account that we have car barriers to stop motorists using Bryant, isn't it time to let Alma take its true status by not allowing bikes either southbound or northbound. This is one of the few 35 speed limits and rightly so. It is used as a through route to keep faster traffic off neighborhood streets (note I said faster and not speeding), and rightly so. Traffic has to move around Palo Alto in a timely safe fashion and we need to make sure that through traffic goes through in a safe street specifically designed for traffic. As a consequence, our many cyclists need to acknowledge that there are some streets that are just not safe for them and there is no need for them to be there. Ultimately, we should be looking at upgrading Alma into Expressway status continuing Capital Expressway, and living in the real world not in a blinkered Shangrila.

Comments (17)

Posted by David
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 29, 2006 at 12:58 pm

So what alternate route do you suggest for residents who are cyclists?

For cyclists visiting residents and businesses on Alma?

For cyclists who just want to get from one end of town to another quickly?

The reality is that cycling on Alma is safe, and that passing cyclists is easy -- all you have to do is switch to the next lane over.

Posted by Theresa
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 29, 2006 at 1:32 pm

I would not ride a bicycle on Alma, nor would I allow my children to do so. It's dangerous, and bike riders block the road, which gets awful during busy times.

Bryant is a bike boulevard and was designated as such to get bikes off Alma.

I think bicyclists who use Homer, Channing and Alma have death wishes. When I'm on my bike, I try to avoid those busy streets. When I'm driving, I'm annoyed by bicyclists who are ignoring the reality of riding on a busy, narrow street.

Posted by J.L.
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 29, 2006 at 1:57 pm

Alma, Channing, Homer, and a few other one-way thoroughfares are just plaain dangerous for bikers. It's dangerous (and somewhat naive) to assume that all drivers will simply "move over".

What I would like to see is more remote enforcment of streets like Alma, etc. We need speed and red light cameras placed ALL OVER this city. IN addition, we should have surveillance cameras in key places like back alleys, but that's another topic.

Posted by David
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 29, 2006 at 1:58 pm

Theresa: For every road that is out there, there is somebody who thinks that it is too dangerous to cycle on. I've got no problem if you and your children don't ride on it. Just don't ask ME to live the restrictions you impose on yourself.

Bryant isn't a reasonable alternative for the small number of cyclists who want to get from one end of town quickly, as when running errands, and is simply out of the way for a lot of riders.

Lets be honest here: on Alma, you face a much larger delay from other motorists than you do from the small number of cyclists who find it to be their best route. If you're annoyed, why not be annoyed at the other motorists?

Posted by David
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 29, 2006 at 2:01 pm

JL: your comment about danger simply isn't backed by any kind of evidence. The reality is that motorists can and do regularly manage to stop for stop lights along Alma, and have excellent lines of sight, enabling them to avoid cyclists ahead of them.

If you're interested in widening the road to make for faster motoring, I've got no problem with that, but the bogeyman of "safety" on Alma is just that -- a bogeyman.

Posted by Wheeler
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2006 at 9:56 pm

First of all, it is not legally possible to ban bicyclists from any public road in California except for freeways and toll bridges. Talk of banning bicyclists from Alma is therefore a waste of time.

Also, those who claim that road X is too dangerous for bicyclists really mean "Drivers on road X behave in a way that endangers bicyclists". The problem is with the drivers, not the bicyclists. If you want to increase safety on the roads, it would do a lot more good to ban cars instead of bicycles!

Channing and Homer are 25 mph roads that should not be any different than any other small street in Palo Alto. They are one-way, though, so drivers can crowd the centerline and they feel safer while speeding. Converting both to two-way traffic would slow things down and make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. This is on the long-term plans for the city.

Posted by Steve
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 29, 2006 at 10:35 pm

David from Charleston Meadows wrote: "Bryant isn't a reasonable alternative for the small number of cyclists who want to get from one end of town quickly, as when running errands, and is simply out of the way for a lot of riders."

Huh? Bryant ISN'T a reasonable alternative for getting from one end of town to the other???? Ever look at a map?

As for Bryant being "out of the way," it's only two blocks off Alma!! If you feel the need (ie, the death wish) to bike on Alma, David, go right ahead, but you're much safer taking Bryant or-- if you want to stay on the west side of Caltrain-- Palm Blvd. Fewer cars, fewer stoplights, safer ride.

Posted by David
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 29, 2006 at 11:01 pm

Steve: Bryant doesn't got to destinations on Alma, and it has regular stop signs. Its simply not a choice if you want to get to a destination ON Alma, or to travel quickly.

Alma isn't a death wish -- motorists have no harder a time avoiding collisions with same-direction cyclists than the cyclists have avoiding stationary hazards.

Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 29, 2006 at 11:13 pm

I'm a cyclist and I agree that one has to be nuts to ride on Alma, its a narrow 35 MPH street where traffic flows at 45-50. Since it has residential driveways that can be eliminated, it won't ever get a speed limit increase. That said, you cant protect people from their own foolishness, so bikes on Alma are allowed. Also, if you use the homer street tunnel, you have to ride on alma at least one block, the placement of the tunnel at the end of a one way street was problematic.

The planners didnt want to change homer to 2 way because of trucks double parking to deliver at Whole Foods. They did not place the tunnel at Forest because they did not want to pay for a signal at Forest. So there you have it. I never would have advocated the expense for that tunnel, but it sure is safer than riding University or Embarcado on a bike, so I use it a lot.

Homer and Channing are not hard streets to ride for a regular cyclist, traffic is slow and easy to keep up with, but I prefer Addison, because there is no traffic. I agree though, Homer and Channing are not kid friendly.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2006 at 2:39 pm

I have traveled by bike along the brief leg of Alma between Colorado and the pedestrian underpass at Bowden Park virtually every morning and evening since 1990. It is without any doubt a dangerous traverse. At the very least, signage should be upgraded to warn motorists in no uncertain terms that pedestrians and bicyclists, who are forced to use the sidewalk, have the unequivocated right of way. Traveling north in the morning, vehicles exiting to westbound Page Mill (usually at a high rate of speed) can clearly see bicycles and pedestrians in front of them as they are exiting but rarely stop. Coming the opposite way in the evening, drivers that have exited Oregon Expy. to turn northbound onto Alma look only at the traffic flow in the lanes approaching from the south. With their heads turned squarely in that direction, waiting to hit the accellerator as soon as an opening is available, they seldom if ever look to the north for pedestrians and cyclists approaching on the sidewalk from that direction.

I think huge, garish signs threatening fines, or perhaps lighted message boards, should be installed in this area as soon as possible.

Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2006 at 8:27 pm

"unequivocated right of way" NO one has unequivocated right of way. If the traffic is 35 and you are maxed at 20, you are obliged by common courtesy to avoid obstructing the passage of others.
If Bryant is not a good bikeway, then take out the barracades and give back freedom to the motorist.

Posted by Moe
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2006 at 10:31 pm

Ah, here comes Walter E Wallis to save the day for Palo Alto's petroleum-hungry power elite. Fresh from his crusade on the "do bikes have to stop at stop signs" thread, he graces us here with his proclamation of the uncontestable superiority of the automobile.

Walter, did you know that gas is under $3 ???!!! What are you doing at home on the internet?? You should be out cruising in your white Saturn, scouting Palo Alto's roads and avenues and taking note of those nasty cyclists and their no-good pedal-pushing ways. We do look forward to your observations on how Palo Alto can stake its claim as the gas-guzzling capital of Silicon Valley. Let Woodside keep the cyclists, they are not welcome here!!!

Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 31, 2006 at 7:49 am


Chris was talking about his "right of way" to use the sidewalk and possibly crosswalks, not the roadbed. I think he is pointing out that cars on Alma forget to notice bikers and pedestrians when entering driveways and crosswalks. Unless I misunderstood you and you want him out of your way to drive 35 on the sidewalks. ;^)

Just thought this thread could use a little humor. :)

Posted by RS
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 31, 2006 at 12:37 pm


I thought about your route and I think it is problematic.

If you are riding from the tunnel to colorado on Alma on the sidewalk, I think I can assume a couple things. I think you would always have to ride on the bay side, since there is no sidewalk on the non-bayside. This means when you are riding South from the tunnel, you have to ride against traffic and you will encounter street intersections. It is at those intersections that I dont see a good solution for you. You can't ride against traffic in the roadbed and have right of way. You can't ride in the crosswalk and have right of way. This leaves you with 2 choices to maintain right of way, you must either cross Alma, ride in the roadbed with traffic and in my opinion that this also requires that one have a bit of a death wish, or you must dismount your bike at every intersection, which is a pain.

Would it be a bad solution for you to instead ride up California, a couple blocks, then ride a residential street to Colorado? Or do you live on Alma, so this would be a big detour for you?

Anyway just trying to help, hopefully my post comes across that way.

Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2006 at 1:50 pm

I am always amused with the rapidity some debaters devolve to invective when they run out of intellect.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 5, 2006 at 5:15 pm

This is Chris again, the 15-year bike commuter along the short stretch of Alma between Colorado & the Cal. Ave. underpass. I actually came upon this blog while looking for one on the Mayfield soccer fields, but it obviously struck a chord.

To clarify, as one reader has done for me already, I was in fact referring to bicyclists and pedestrians (including joggers) who travel the sidewalk in both directions on the bay side of the street. I realize that it is prudent, safe and practical for us to pause at each cross walk crossing the on and off ramps, which is what I'm sure most of us do. What most I resent is cars approaching from behind traveling northbound on Alma taking the westbound Page Mill off ramp) that just assume this will be done, don't slow down at all and cut right in front of us across the crosswalk (essentially across our lane, which would probably be considered reckless driving and merit a ticket if both parties concerned were motor vehicles and the setting was two parallel traffic lanes instead of a traffic lane and a crosswalk). Signage would be great here telling them to slow the **** down and allow those on the sidewalk the right of way.

The folks who are waiting to enter Alma in the northbound direction who look only for an opening in the traffic approaching from the south without even a perfunctory glance to the north before gunning it are equally dense and dangerous, but their actions are a little more understandable because their primary focus is in the opposite direction of sidewalk users coming from the north. Alma is not unique in this regard - essentially every other intersection in town has the same conditions.

As some others have stated, I personally don't ride in the traffic lanes of Alma ( I can remember doing so once or twice, very early on a Sunday morning with virtually no traffic), but do not begrudge those few I've seen who do. But I say a prayer for them (as I do for those I see riding on Oregon Expressway).

As far as the alternate route is concerned, I live in the 100 block of Colorado, and as I'm sure is the case for biking residents who live in the apartments along Alma, and also in the interior along High and Emerson south of the expressway, it's just too far out of the way to go all the way down to Bryant, wait for the light (which, like the new one at Bryant & Embarcadero, is not really bike friendly unless someone happens to physically push the crossing button), and then head back up to the underpass, especially if your immediate destination the Caltrain, which was mine for 10 years.

Posted by philip ritter
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 25, 2006 at 12:30 pm

Alma is poorly designed for bicyclist, and although they are perfectly legal there (by state law), I would not ride any distance on Alma. However the problem is design not the law or the speed. Central Expressway is a perfectly good bicycle route until you get to Palo Alto. The speed is then reduced which should make Central/Alma safer, but the bike lanes and even shoulders disappear. If you are commuting from Mt. View to downtown Palo Alto and attempt to follow the (poorly signed) bike route you end up going considerably out of your way through the Greenmeadow and Fairmeadow neighborhoods before getting to the straight section of Bryant. I tried to do this yesterday, and decided, as unsafe as it may be, next time I’ll take the sidewalk, at least as far as Charleston. If I had to commute from Mt. View or Sunnyvale, I would probably drive. There is no reason why the first part of Alma could not be reconfigured with bike lanes, at least as far as East Meadow, where signs could direct one to Bryant for downtown or Park for Stanford. Most of the middle lane is unused during the section between Mt. View and E. Meadow (the few left turns going southeast could be accommodated by enlarging the road slightly at those points).

As to Wallis’ comment about going 20 in a 35 zone, it is true that if you have five vehicles behind you, you are obliged to pull over. However a better solution would be to reconfigure the roadway to allow slower moving bicycles to be easily passed, as Mt. View and our other southern neighbors have done with Central Expressway.

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