Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Peninsula Bikeway

I talk a lot on this blog about my "GoTo Ride", a 23 mile ride through the Santa Cruz mountains. The name I use for that ride in my training notes is the Alpine ride, because it goes south from my house to Alpine Road, and then back home again. That ride is actually my goto ride only when I want a workout. When I want an easy, recovery ride, I have another goto ride, listed as the Neighborhood ride in my notes. This 5 mile long ride is so named because it goes around my neighborhood, mostly in the town of San Carlos. but dipping into the neighboring city of Redwood City at its southern end. It was while crossing into Redwood City that I encountered this sign:

(This is the kind of notice that must, by law, be placed before any kind of road construction or repair is begun.) I was intrigued! Would Bayside Stripe & Seal be painting new bike lanes? Something more? Why was this limited to Redwood City? Can't San Carlos get a little bike lane love? Shortly thereafter, Facebook supplied the beginnings of an answer:

So I went. It turns out, all that Bayside Stripe & Seal was doing was "sign toppers", a little sign that attaches to the top of an existing street sign, in this case, the sign shown at the top of this post. The long term plan is a high quality commuter bike path running north-south between the cities of Redwood City and Mountain View. The city workers championing this project felt that having something in place Right Now would help move things along, so they took advantage of bike paths where they found them, quiet neighborhood streets, when bike paths were lacking, and whatever was there when all else failed, to create an "interim" bikeway. All that interim bikeway required was the aforementioned sign toppers to mark the way, and voila. The purpose of the "launch event" announced on Facebook was two-fold: the lesser goal was to run group rides along this interim bike route, to introduce it to the community, and the greater goal was to get that community together to discuss the long term plan:

The cities of Redwood City, Menlo Park (where the event was held), Palo Alto, and Mountain View had clearly put a lot of effort into the event. Note the custom sheets of paper for collecting longer suggestions, in the foreground, and the giant map and sticky notes in the center of the picture, for collecting quick comments on particular parts of the route. If you look closely at the above picture, you will see different color lines weaving their way along the map in the center of the picture. These represent the three long term and the existing interim routes for the ride. The three proposed long term routes are along the railroad right of way (too noisy and ugly!), along El Camino Real (too busy and ugly!) and along Middlefield Road (hmmm...) The Middlefield Road route is the one farthest to the east, and thus farthest to the left on the map in the above picture, in red. Note the bright orange sticky note in the middle of the map. That one's mine, advocating for the Middlefield route. In addition, the city workers had created something like a dozen posters describing every aspect of the project, which they set up around the park. Here's just one:

Finally, there was an array of other activities, as is shown on this "Welcome" poster:

(For the city workers, this bikeway is part of a larger effort to get people moving around their cities using anything but cars, thus the Caltrain schedule.) For me, one of the highpoints of the event was the opportunity to chat with the city employees who are doing the hard work and making the decisions needed to make cycling infrastructure happen. They were available for conversation both on the ride and during the event. The specifics of how they were thinking about the project and how they reacted to the thoughts from the experienced cyclists in the group were of interest, but so was their explanation of the realpolitik that they have to navigate as they try to get something done. I learned that the current city council of Redwood City is expected to be turned out en masse this November as a reaction to traffic problems in the city and residents' hostility to the introduction of more cycling infrastructure, for example. They also talked about the complexity of funding sources, the long time that it takes to go from an idea to its fruition ("ten years"), and the difficulties of building a collaboration between the different cities needed to create a useful bike route. The City of Atherton, smack in the middle of this project, is not yet on board, nor is my home town of San Carlos. I was encouraged to attend the planning meetings of my city government to show them that there are voters in favor of cycling infrastructure, a suggestion I hope to take.

But this is a biking blog, what about the ride? The original start site in San Carlos was revised to join an existing group, so we started at the high school in Redwood City. This is our group at the start:

I decided that the appropriate bike for this ride was my Public commuter bike with the step-through frame I inherited from my late wife, in the lower left corner of the picture. There were a variety of bike and rider styles represented, from lycra and carbon fiber to heavy duty police bikes and electric bikes. Electric bikes were especially popular. Among bike brands, Public was a popular choice. We picked up riders along the route, and our group got larger and larger as we went along. When we got to the event, we were joined by another group which had traveled from Mountain View in the south. An idea of the group size can be gotten from the Bike Valet parking station:

(This represents maybe half the bikes, the other half were parked at other locations around the park.)

The ride to the event along the interim bikeway was a twisty little maze of passages, all different. Some parts were delightful, winding through interesting neighborhoods. Others were terrifying, weaving in and out of heavy traffic. The city workers on the ride were the first to acknowledge that the existing signage, the street toppers, were just a start, that more and better signage would be highly desirable. Using just the existing signs, I doubt I could follow the route again, even having ridden it once. My bottom line is that I gain little or nothing from this interim route. There was no organized ride back, so I opted to try the proposed Middlefield Road route, to give it a look-see. I knew from Google Maps that part of that route already had bike lanes, but that other parts did not. It turned out, that made a big difference. Middlefield Road is fairly busy, so even where there was bike lines, I might not ride it recreationally, but would be comfortable riding it for transportation. Where the bike lanes vanished, I felt sufficiently insecure that I probably would avoid riding it in the future. Of course, choosing the Middlefield Road route for the final bikeway would mean adding the missing bike lanes, so this route should be judged in that context. Here is my final route there and back, courtesy of Strava:

I'm really glad I attended this event! I learned a lot about the process by which the cycling infrastructure I use and love is created, and enjoyed hanging out with my fellow cyclists. I am definitely going to keep my eyes open for other group rides.