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Is It Time To Consider Physically Separated Bicycle Lanes in Palo Alto?

Original post made by Winslow Arbenaugh, Barron Park, on Nov 5, 2007

Here's an informative video.
Web Link

This seems a a good idea - on that would not cost a whole lot, and might further encourage those who are somewhat hesitant to use bicycles, to reconsider their choices.

Comments (36)

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Yes please

For the cost, we can use the $10,000 for renaming City Hall Plazas' plaque as a start.

If our mayor really wants to do something about traffic, global warming and cycling, then this would be the thing to do.

Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 1:36 pm

I support the idea for routes to middle and high schools, imagine the greenhouse gas savings if parents felt their children were truly safe.

These lanes could be patrolled by officers on bikes for extra protection
in these times

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2007 at 4:41 pm

At the risk of jinxing the suggestion I heartily agree.

Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 5, 2007 at 4:57 pm

Sounds good to me, especially that guy from the Netherlands who said that sidewalks and bikes share the same space (why not?). Whatever the mix is, and it should be a real mix, we should move forward. Long overdue. Cars and bikes don't mix, period. Start with striping the sidewalks for mixed bicycle and pedestrian use...then move out from there.

Posted by Parent of a Gunn student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 5, 2007 at 7:05 pm

Yes, please.

That would be a far more useful benefit to our town than some of the things money has been spent on. (I remember the extravagant council chamber renovation, when I had seen for myself that the old one had seemed to be in practically new-looking condition. Parent mentioned City Hall Square's arbitrary name change, and I can't even begin to imagine how changing the name of City Hall can possibly cost any money beyond the price of a plaque in the square somewhere noting the name.)

Posted by Mr. BBQ
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:58 am

Mr. BBQ is a registered user.

How about just closing our streets to cars during the hours children travel to and from school. This won't cost the city a dime. This would save lives and money! Gee I wonder how I survived my childhood? Back then they didn't even invent bicycle helments or bike lanes. Bad Idea!

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 8:38 am

Maybe they could get rid of the big center dividers on Charleston and make bigger separated bicycle lanes on the side. I think the center of this street looks ridiculous and landscaping will make it worse.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 9:18 am

Streets were dedicated to traffic. If they are closed, legally they revert to the original grantor.

Posted by dude
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 10:26 am

Mr. BBQ, back in your day there were not as many cars, and pedestrians actually knew what on you left/right is. I am a cyclist, and you have no idea how annoying pedestrians are, after I say on your let they bloody just sit there and you have to dart out into the street to freaking get past. Personally I prefer cars over pedestrians. If we did make separate bike paths we really need to start educating pedestrians and bikers how to get along.

Posted by PA parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 10:27 am

Thank you for the GREAT video! Yes! Look, even Walter agrees! (No jinx Walter, glad to hear your voice chiming in.)

It would take a lot of thought and planning, but this is probably the best place in the world to turn into a bike haven.

I don't just want to bike to school, but to the grocery store, church, the dentist, etc. I would LOVE to have the safe routes so my kids can bike with me. I do not now bike at all, it's just too dangerous.

Intersections have to be really well thought out, but it's not like those problems haven't been dealt with in other bike-friendly cities. (Skeptics love to cite stats on how dangerous separating bikes from traffic can be at intersections, but those are studies of our existing screwed up arrangement - not of systems that have been planned for bikes as equal traffic in its own lanes.)

Cities that encourage bike traffic, foot traffic, also tend to encourage community and even tourism. Yes, yes, yes!

Posted by Andrew
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 6, 2007 at 10:31 am

I much prefer biking on the road than the sidewalk and prefer bike lanes as they can go faster, you don't have the constant bumps from going up and down on sidewalks, the common traffic (cars on roads, pedestrians on sidewalks) is much more aware of you, bikers in the road are more likely to follow stop signs etc on the road than sidewalk, etc etc etc.

Posted by John
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2007 at 10:39 am

One interesting idea I saw on the video was to have the bike lane next to the sidewalk, then have a parking lane for cars next to that...thus providing a barrier between moving cars and moving bikes. It wouldn't involve any more physical space than already exists...just changes the order. There would need to be delivery zones, as usual, but those zones could have a small barrier (cones, curbs, etc.) to prevent the trucks from intruding on the bike lane.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 10:41 am

The consequences of a bike-pedestrian collision are usually milder than the consequences of an auto-bike collision.

Posted by Don
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 11:39 am

What about maintenance? Street sweepers would not be able to get to these paths, so we would have to pay someone to clean them separately. How many flat tires would one broken bottle cause before it got cleaned up? Sidewalks and bike paths get minimal cleaning compared to streets these days, and this would just make it more expensive.

Posted by Winslow Arbenaugh
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2007 at 11:46 am

The city has automatic sidewalk sweepers that are used throughout town; we could use those to clean the bike paths.

Posted by biker bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 1:35 pm

Great idea! However, the biggest difference I see between the video and Palo Alto streets is our trees. We can't swap bike lanes and parking space so easily with all the trees in the middle strip, and our sidewalks are in constant need of repair from the tree roots. They're not bike-friendly.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Planning bike affirmative rather than auto negative would be a step in the right direction.

Posted by Alex
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 4:51 pm

No. The dutch are smarter than we are. Can you say Woonerf?

Web Link

Posted by Grad Student
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 5:10 pm

This is a great idea for a big city like New York, but I really can't see the utility for Palo Alto. In a big city, you have streets with high traffic flow and taxis/delivery trucks constantly pulling over. In Palo Alto, the traffic problem isn't even remotely as bad and only downtown do people pull in and out.

I like Palo Alto's current solution of diverting bike traffic to sacrificial 'bike boulevards' along major commute routes with car barriers to deter traffic. There is good infrastructure running up and down the peninsula--Bryant is an excellent alternative to Alma, Park for El Camino, etc. I commute on these streets daily and have never seen a collision or had any close calls.

The city could easily improve its biking infrastructure without encroaching on car or pedestrian space by extending the bike path next to Paly all the way down the railroad tracks from Menlo Park to Mountain View and by taking advantage of the many creeks which cross the city. These already have narrow roadways built into them and could be modified at a minimum expense. These creeks pass very close to several schools, meaning they could be used as safe access routes for kids to bike to school and avoid getting smashed by the Soccer Mom SUV Motorcade (schools are the most dangerous parts of my commute...). These would of course have to be patrolled, especially during peak hours.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 5:17 pm

Just because these facilities exist in other places does NOT mean that they are safe, popular, or a good idea. Here are excerpts from an email I received a few weeks ago from a colleague in PA, reporting on the situation in Germany.
Andy, a 12-year old girl in Berlin, Germany died last Tuesday (26.Sept.) when a right-turning truck overran her while she was cycling in a separated bike path through an intersection. Here's what Benno Koch, the head of the Berlin section of the ADFC (Allgemeine Deutsche Fahrrad-Club, the major cycling club in Germany), had to say:

"Traurig, dass es wieder passiert ist. Radverkehr gehört nicht auf den Bürgersteig, sondern ins Sichtfeld der Autofahrer – also auf die Fahrbahn"
("Sad, that it has happened again. Cycling traffic belongs not on the sidewalk, but within the visual field of the motorists - thus on the street.")

Web Link

"That it happened again" - Koch here was referring to the similar death of a 9-year old in Berlin that caused a similar uproar a few years ago. Here are satellite shots of the intersections where these fatal crashes occurred:

Web Link
Web Link

The first link shows a separated path (painted red) that runs on the other side of parked cars.

I frequently lurk on several German cycling newsgroups, and my impression is that Germany is finally moving away from these types of facilities, especially in the last couple of years. They now have a name for the problem created by separated bike paths - "Toter Winkel" (Dead Angle) - and the perjorative play on words "rad weg!" seems to be rapidly gaining wide acceptance ("Radweg" means "bike path", whereas "rad weg" can mean "bike out of the way"). If you think some of the comments here are harsh, go read the vitriol that many German cyclists reserve for their bike paths (and the planners who install them).

Cyclists there are finally winning legal battles - facility by facility - to remove the mandatory use signs. The ADFC is trying to get this rectified at the national level and recently presented a petition with 17,000 signatures to the German parliament. Here's a quote out of the press release:
Web Link

"Untersuchungen der Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen besagen, dass die Unfallgefahr auf einem von der Fahrbahn abgetrennten erheblich höher ist als auf der Fahrbahn".
("Investigations of the Federal Institution for Streets show that the crash risk when separated from the roadway is substantially higher than when in the street.")

Please don't call such facilities "creative". This type of facility has been around for years (they were certainly in abundance when I lived in Germany), and as others have pointed out, we've known about these problems for years. The Germans get it now. I don't understand how this can be so difficult to accept. Certainly LAB should not be praising such monstrosities.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 5:28 pm

I love the idea of opening up the paths beside the creeks. They would make idea bike paths, jogging paths, alternative school routes, etc. I am not sure why it has been decided that these ideal paths should be out of the public's domain, but lets have them opened and put to use.

From a safety point of view, I am sure that a high fence beside the creek wall would be just as safe as keeping the paths blocked from the public.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 6:12 pm

My kids use Bryant to ride their bikes to school. They have to cross Oregon and to me it seems wise. Their main complaint - if there are no cars approaching the lights, they do not change and sometimes this makes a long wait for the lights to change.

If this is the case, a button to change the lights is necessary.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 6:29 pm

Paly Parent,
You are partly correct. The only sensors to detect traffic on cross streets of Oregon are in the middle of the lane, where cars stop. There are bike logos painted there to tell bicyclists where to stop in order to get a green light. I cross Oregon on Bryant all the time early in the morning and am able to get green lights with my bike even in the absence of cars. Going up onto the sidewalk or to the curb to push the button puts you at risk for the right-turn cutoff maneuver by car drivers, and is not recommended. All the intersections along Oregon are slated for upgrades in the next year or two. The County may go to video detection, which will detect bicyclists over a wider range of positions.

Posted by Grad Student
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2007 at 6:44 pm

The intersection of Bryant and Oregon has a sensor but it's in the middle of the lane so that's where your bike has to be if you want to trigger it. I think there's also a pedestrian button on the sidewalk. I find that the light responds reasonably quickly if traffic on Oregon is light, but during rush hour I often end up sitting there for quite a long time.

One thing I would appreciate is if the city could extend the time that the yellow light is on before it turns red on streets with heavy bike traffic. Because bikes travel slower than cars, it takes longer to get from the point where you commit to crossing to the other side of the intersection.

Richard brings up an excellent point about bikes remaining in the vehicle's field of view. On Stanford campus, where there are some physically separated bike lanes, many problems arrise when cars make right turns into bikes. Cars either don't see or don't look for bikes, and cyclists don't always stop or check before proceeding. On ordinary streets, cars are supposed to check for bikes and *merge into the bike lane* before making right turns--this act of merging makes it more likely that they will actually look over and check for bikes/pedestrians and it notifies cyclists behind them that they are in fact going to turn and not just driving around with their signal stuck on, or making a turn in traffic where their turn signal is obstructed by cars behind them so that a bike passing on the right can't see it. Having bikes in a seperate lane means this interchange won't happen, so people will get smashed. For example, if a light is green, bikes will be going through without slowing down, and if you add traffic trying to turn right across the bike lane, you get problems. Hang around the intersection of Palm Drive and Arboretum if you want to see this in action.

Posted by Kir
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:29 pm

Yes yes yes,
Potential positives-
It would help with Global Warming
It would help air quality- which contributes to asthma, and other respiratory illness and disease
It would help with childhood, (and motherhood) obesity
It would help with traffic congestion

Potential negatives:
It would cost money (Perhaps offset by less obesity and respiratory illness.)
the accident potential at intersections might by greater. (this is the top location for accidents even in the current system.)

Change is very possible, even in a "built out" city. Read this article about changes in transportation patterns. However there needs to be a strong and consistent agreement that this is a priority!

"As a result of half a century of planning, Copenhagen has achieved a fabulous cycling goal - during the morning rush hour more bikes and mopeds pound the inner city streets than personal cars and buses. Just a bit more than a third of inhabitants get to work by bike every day"
Web Link

Posted by Kir
a resident of Fletcher Middle School
on Nov 6, 2007 at 7:43 pm

Web Link

"From 1981 to 1990, one of the authors, Diana Lewiston, analyzed all police reports of bicycle accidents in Palo Alto. This study considers only the period from July 1985 through June 1989.

The large fraction of accidents that occurred at intersections indicates that these are the major points of conflict between bicyclists and motor ists. Overtaking accidents, in which a bicyclist in the roadway was struck from behind by a motorist traveling in the same direction, accounted for only 5 of 314 bicycle-motor vehicle collisions, and sideswipes for 8. The remaining non-intersection collisions included those in which a bicyclist overtook a parked or parking motor vehicle, a motorist opened the door of a parked car into the bicyclist's path, or a motorist or bicyclist changed lanes improperly."

Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2007 at 8:45 pm

Beijing in the '80s had safe biking intersections - bikes had the main thoroughfares, and cars a one-lane sequestered-by-traffic-barriers corridor.

Intersections are a problem where bicycles (and pedestrians) are unequal vehicles. If the traffic infrastructure treated them more equally - where cars had to take the bikes more seriously, and believe it or not, bikes had to take themselves more seriously (more consistent vehicular behavior, if you will) the intersections would be less dangerous. This is a problem that deserves the utmost attention, so it's good to bring it up, but not unsolvable.

Posted by Boris
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 6, 2007 at 8:57 pm


As a daily cyclist who has also lived and commuted in traffic in places like Berlin (mentioned in above post) with physically seperated bike lanes, I can say that visibility is significantly impaired. Both mine and drivers ability to see me. All the parked cars between us are make the drivers blind to bikes on right turns. Plus, there's the ability to travel longer distances at higher speeds, which is better if you're on the road. Trips are longer in the US!

This is the best place I've lived for cycling. For us to be as good as the Netherlands, more people would have to give up driving. That would help. I'm not holding my breath, just riding and breathing, in spite of the fumes.


Posted by Brian
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2007 at 9:33 am

I live and work in Palo Alto, and am a regular biker. I welcome this great idea!

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2007 at 4:18 pm

I have just checked the signs for the lights sensor at Bryant, I had never noticed it before and certainly would not have realised what it was for. I see they have them on Louis also. My son says that they still don't "notice" him and he hates waiting in the middle of the road in case cars honk him. I as his parent, would not like him waiting in the middle of the road there either.

Posted by Ann
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 11, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Another bike accident yesterday at the "bike blvd," at the corner of Bryant and Lincoln. I personally think that Bryant Street is everything, but a bike boulevard.

Have you noticed that children are most likely to be riding their bikes at the sidewalk on Middlefield Road than to ride on Bryant? There is no children riding on Bryant to go to school... I don't know the right solution for the situation, but I know that our bike boulevard does not work... it is unsafe and not used as much as streets with the basic bike lane.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 12, 2007 at 10:31 pm

I love the creekside idea. What city agency would be able to act on such feedback from the community?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2007 at 11:50 am

I hear there is some talk about opening Wilkie Way as a bike blvd. but it seems it may cause too many cars parking on the road. I think it would be a great idea to open it both sides of Charleston so that it will be a long corridor with easy access to San Antonio center..

Posted by car/bike guy
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 14, 2007 at 5:03 pm

I've been on both sides of this. Maybe if everyone would hang up their phones while driving and motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists alike just PAY ATTENTION - then maybe the situation wouldn't be so dire.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2007 at 10:32 pm

Car/bike guy is so right. Too many drivers, bikers and pedestrians just aren't paying attention.

I also urge bikers and pedestrians to please make yourselves visible with reflective clothing and bright lights. In parts of town where there aren't many street lights and no lighted store fronts, it's hard to see you when you're wearing dark clothes.

Last night I saw someone on a bike with no lights, riding against traffic, wearing a dark hoodie (hood up). Coming home on Alma tonight, a pedestrian was crossing near Churchill. He or she was almost invisible, weaving between two lanes of cars going 35 mph.

With the time change, people seem to forget that it's darker earlier. Make sure you're visible!

Posted by Driver
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 9:07 am

Twice lately at dusk I have come eastbound down Charleston and wanted to turn left on Alma after crossing the traintracks. Both times I have been waiting about car no. 2 or 3 when the lights changed. At these two times I have seen (possibly the same bicyclist) a bike on the left side of the street crossing with the green lights going straight across oblivious to the fact that there is traffic wanting to turn across his path. He has no lights, is on the wrong side of the street, and if I can't see him and don't expect him to be there because he is in the wrong and I hit him, he will be seriously injured and I will be in the wrong for hitting a cyclist.

The left side of the street is the wrong place for anyone to ride a bike, with no lights, and with dark clothes, day or night unless they happen to be in Australia, Japan or the UK. Period.

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