City officials from Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View have for years been considering bike lanes on a north-south bicycle route through these cities. Now they are seriously discussing it, including talks with Caltrans, and actually decided that a bike lane should be installed through these four cities on both sides of El Camino Real.
I think this is a lousy idea.
Why? Because while the King’s Highway offers the most direct route, it is also one of the most perilous routes between Redwood City and Mountain View. However, El Camino was selected because it offers a "cohesive route" and “has ample right-of-way to facilitate the improvements,” according to a recent study.
Environmentalists say if bikers as well as motorists can ride on El Camino, then we will lessen auto pollution and bikers will be able to go through these communities much faster and in one straight line, rather than zig-zagging through existing, but in some areas, sparse bike paths. Most bikers say it’s the way to go!
I know they will disagree with me, but I wonder how well this idea has been vetted, and how much the safety, rather than the convenience, of bikers of all ages has been considered.
So, hear me out. El Camino is really congested now. Fewer people are using public transportation. One issue that has to be worked out is should parking be allowed or removed on this stretch. If parking will continue along the sides, then bicyclists will have to worry about people getting in and out of their cars, because drivers and passengers may not look out for cyclists when opening their doors. Or they may pull out of their parking spot quickly so they can get into the gap between oncoming cars.
If parking is eliminated along both sides of ECR, then the cyclists will be safer, but retail stores will suffer, because customers will have to park in back of a store if there are spaces to park, or on side roads. Walking a longer distance to get into a store will be harder for those with baby strollers or wheelchairs, or people who don’t enjoy a block-long trek to go into a store.
If parking remains, then the lanes for motorists would be smaller or reduced in each direction. I also worry about younger bicyclists and rambunctious teenagers using the bike lanes on such a busy street because El Camino is snot as safe as a residential street. Parents may tell their kids not to ride on ECR. Bit kids don’t always obey, particularly if their buddies are telling them, “C’mon. It’s okay. Are you afraid or something?”
As an example, let’s look at what happened several years ago when the city the eliminated two of the four lanes of the Charleston-Arastradero corridor in order to allow room for bike lanes.
Subsequently, that area from Middlefield and Charleston to Foothill Expressway -- in both directions during rush hour-- traffic was worse after the lane reductions, and continues to be. Cars are now routinely backed up at Gunn High School.
The whole purpose was to make it more bike friendly, but there was no significant increase in bike usage on these routes.
That makes me wonder if there are any studies to see if these ECR lanes will attract bike users. Maybe not at all, which means that would be a waste of money to install them.
Or are these four cities, each with a cadre of bike enthusiasts, just assuming the lanes will be used safely. More data. Please.
When I asked some bicyclists about bike lanes on 101, many quickly agreed that would be great, but a minority said the traffic speed was much too high for bikes. I totally agree.
So, what to do – if anything? Well, Middlefield Road is an option, but that too is getting more crowded. Palo Alto’s bike-lane corridor. Bryant Street, “Bike Boulevard,” with limited stop signs, gets a lot of kudos from bikers in town.
Can other cities emulate such bike boulevards and have them somehow interconnect and parallel ECR? Unfortunately, that may cost more than having bike lanes installed on El Camino. But cost isn’t the only factor. Safety is more important.
And while I am talking about the safety of bike riders, I wish that some of them would try to keep themselves safer. Bikers: Don’t race through a stop sign without looking at all. At the very least check for oncoming cars in both directions. Don’t ride bikes in evening hours without a reflector and headlight. Don’t wear black clothing -- you simply cannot be seen at night, especially on a black bike.
Perhaps my concern for bikes on El Camino is not needed – the Palo Alto pedestrian-bike bridge over 101 took two decades to be built. Nevertheless, my post is a warning system. We should worry now about the safety of bikes on El Camino –now, and in the near future.