Viewpoint - March 9, 2011

Editorial: Alpine-280 bike lane long overdue

In the wake of the tragic death of cyclist Lauren Ward at the Alpine Road and Interstate 280 intersection, county and state transportation officials are working on four designs for a dedicated bike lane that could improve safety there.

Ms. Ward, of Los Altos Hills, was a veteran cyclist who was run over by the trailer wheels of a tractor-trailer truck that was heading to the southbound I-280 on-ramp. An initial accident investigation found that Ms. Ward somehow turned or fell into the path of the truck. The driver said he never saw the cyclist in his rear-view mirror.

But about a month ago, the California Highway Patrol, citing new evidence that has not been made public, conducted a second investigation at the site, including bringing the truck back, which apparently was needed to help officers recreate the circumstances on the day of the accident. It is our hope that the CHP will release details of this second probe soon.

Just as important as the accident report is the work now under way by the county Public Works Department and the California Transportation Department to design a bike lane that will give drivers and riders a much safer path through the intersection. (One of the four design options under study resembles the bike lane at Sand Hill Road and I-280.)

At the stop sign on westbound Alpine Road and I-280, there is one lane heading into Ladera, one lane that serves Ladera and southbound freeway traffic, and some extra space on the right to commit traffic to the southbound freeway. There is no bike lane; bikes merge from the right at places of the cyclist's choosing while mixing it up between lanes of diverging vehicle traffic.

The proposed bike lane would straddle the two lanes of traffic, but to get to it, cyclists would have to cross in front of one lane, carrying westbound Alpine Road traffic, either before or after the stop sign. There is no easy way to do that so that cyclists can be highly visible and move safely through the intersection.

While this intersection tends to have orderly outcomes as drivers wait their turns, bikes approaching and waiting at the stop sign must watch for traffic heading to the onramp for northbound I-280. After the stop sign, cyclists must ride between the traffic lanes and hope that motorists see them, which can be challenging when a bike is changing lanes in the shadow of the overpass. And regardless of what design emerges from this study, riders will face the essential danger that Lauren Ward faced.

Any of the four designs would greatly improve bicycle safety at this intersection. We prefer Option D2, which has bikes moving left into a bike lane that splits the traffic lanes well before the stop sign. A key advantage to D-2 is that drivers would be conscious of the presence of bikes before leaving the stop sign. And the bike lane would be marked with a thick and highly visible white stripe. The other versions introduce bikes to the merging traffic under the freeway overpass where it is dark and where abbreviated distances leave little time or space for lazy drivers to make split second decisions while at the wheels of potentially deadly machines.

Whatever design is chosen, a new bike lane will serve as a memorial to Lauren Ward, whose tragic death sparked the discussion to make this long-needed improvement a reality.


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