|The Peninsula Bikeway with my modifications shown in blue.|
[This is the second post in a series. See the first post for background on this one.]
My interest in rides through the flatter neighborhoods on the east* side of the peninsula and thus of this series of blog posts were inspired by a demonstration ride of the preliminary Peninsula Bikeway I attended last September. In this post, I describe how I developed alternatives to the route taken by that preliminary bikeway to make it more to my liking. Do these changes simply reflect the idiosyncratic tastes of a timid old man with too much time on his hands, or do they say something of general interest about the future of the Peninsula Bikeway? What is the purpose of that bikeway anyway? I spent a fair amount of time searching their website for answers that question, and there is a lot to unpack, perhaps even enough for a future post, but for the purposes of this post, I just want to abstract one bit:
"A high-quality bike facility ... [to make] ... possible travel for:
How relevant is the Peninsula Bikeway, does it use the streets cyclists actually prefer? One way to answer that question is to look at the Strava Global Heatmap. To be fair, the Strava dataset is strongly biased towards recreational cyclists, whereas the target demographic for the Peninsula Bikeway is more the transportation cyclist (e.g. bicycle commuter) but with that reservation in mind, what does the Heatmap show? It varies. The roads of the Peninsula Bikeway are never the most popular north-south route in a given area, but over some stretches the the roads of the Peninsula Bikeway are fairly popular, while in others they are barely used at all. In some cases, I agree with Strava Heatmap, in others, I most definitely do not. Another way to look at the question is to ask the cyclists who commute from San Francisco to Google in Mountain View, who have formed a club, SF2G. They go beyond the scope of the Peninsula Bikeway by starting much farther north, but do ride its entire length. What route do they recommend? They recommend seven, three of which are in scope for the Peninsula Bikeway, and none of these overlap with it at all. Next, the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) recommends a north-south route that runs through Redwood City, Atherton, and Menlo Park. Again, there is no overlap except at the very end where this route terminates onto the Peninsula Bikeway as it enters Palo Alto. Finally, there were the comments from experienced local cyclists on the demonstration ride which I will refer to below. (Briefly, they agreed with some parts of the bikeway and disagreed with others.) One last point: The SVBC route is different from all the SF2G routes, and all of these show up on Strava Global Heat Map but none dominates it. In summary, there are lots of ways to bike north-south on the peninsula and little consensus as to which is best. I have ridden many parts of the SF2G and SVBC routes, and I personally prefer the customized route described here.
One issue I struggled with while writing this post is that the bikeway I am improving is the "interim bikeway." The final bikeway will apparently not consist of quiet neighborhood streets as the interim bikeway does, but rather travel along less attractive routes, such as El Camino Real, Middlefield Road, or the Caltrain right of way. The Peninsula Bikeway website promises that "the design concept will consider how to improve intersections, driveway crossings, and other features" in order to produce a design that is "safe, comfortable and efficient." Depending on how successfully these goals are met, it is possible that I would prefer this new route to the current interim route, but it is also possible I might continue to prefer the interim route. In any case, it is estimated that it will be ten years before the permanent route is ready, so I think my remapping is not in vain.
The Peninsula Bikeway goes completely across the cities of Redwood City, Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Mountain View in a North-South direction, starting at the northern edge of Redwood City and ending at the southern edge of Mountain View. I will discuss this route city by city.
The Peninsula Bikeway starts in Redwood City where I would have it start and finishes in Redwood City where I would have it finish, but I prefer other streets for almost everything in between. The Peninsula Bikeway jogs back and forth as it goes through Redwood City, ending up on Cleveland Street just before it gets to Jefferson Avenue. Jefferson Avenue is sufficiently busy that I prefer not to cross it without a light, and there is no light at Cleveland Street. The experienced cyclists on the Peninsula demonstration ride threw up their hands in exasperation and asked the ride organizers, "Why not Hudson Street?", so I tried Hudson Street and found it to be much better than the Bikeway route; it even has a bike lane along part of it (which the Peninsula Bikeway route does not), and there is a light at Jefferson and Hudson. My preference becomes even stronger when we reach Highway 84/Woodside Road, which I definitely would not cross without a light. The Bikeway crosses at Hess Road and then jogs east, riding on the very busy Highway 84 for one block before continuing south on Cypress Street. This is barely acceptable heading towards Mountain View, as there is a light at Hess, but unacceptable heading towards Redwood City, as there is no light at Cypress. In contrast, there is a light at Hudson, so again I agree with the experienced cyclists. Shortly thereafter, my route merges back with that of the Bikeway just before it exits Redwood City and enters Atherton.
The Peninsula Bikeway does go through Atherton on a previously developed network of bike routes. These bike routes do not feature dedicated bike lanes, merely signs and sharrows. Because none of the streets used continue uninterrupted through Atherton, there is a lot of weaving east to west when one north-south street ends to get to the next. That said, I made no changes in the part of the Peninsula Bikeway that goes through Atherton. It is not so much that I carefully tried other alternatives and decided that the bikeway was the best, it was mostly because, unlike in the case of Redwood City, the experienced cyclists suggested no alternatives, and because I found the route used by the bikeway to be just fine. One alternative I did try is Middlefield Road, mostly because it had been suggested as a possible route for the final bikeway. I found it unpleasantly busy even on the stretch through Atherton that has a bike lane, and I doubt I would ever chose to take Middlefield instead of the bikeway. Another alternative I tried, one perhaps out of scope for the bikeway, is Alameda de las Pulgas. I ride this road regularly when I am out for a workout on my road bike, and when I tested it on my Public city bike, I found that it was not at all too hilly for this bike, though it was a bit hillier than the bikeway. Nine times out of ten, I will chose the bikeway when I am out for an easy ride, but occasionally I will take Alameda for variety.
The somewhat busy but generally bike friendly street of Valparaiso defines the border between Atherton and Menlo Park, and the bikeway rides that border. The left turn onto Valparaiso can be a little tense, but I have found no better alternative. Once on Valparaiso, the bike lane is excellent, making for a safe and comfortable ride. For no reason I can imagine, the Bikeway does a weird jog just before crossing El Camino, a jog I ignore. Continuing straight seems perfectly comfortable to me, so that is what I do. Other than that, I follow the Bikeway exactly through Menlo Park.
There is no part of the Palo Alto stretch of the Peninsula Bikeway that I would not be happy to ride, though as I discuss below, I deviate from the posted route to enter Mountain View at a different point than the Bikeway does. The first part of the Peninsula Bikeway goes along the Ellen Fletcher Bicycle Boulevard, which goes down Briant Avenue. With the irrelevant exception of a half a block of bike lane at the beginning of downtown, riding Briant Avenue mostly means riding with traffic protected only by signage. Downtown Palo Alto has more the feel of a small town than a city, but there is more that enough traffic even so. At first, I found this street intimidating, but it works better than I had expected. I think part of that is that drivers have become accustomed to heavy bicycle traffic on this road, and simply have learned to deal with it, but another thing that has been done is to prevent cars from using it as a through street by providing barriers to cars which bicycles can pass through, reducing automobile traffic. There are about half a dozen of these over this part of the Bikeway. Bottom line, I really enjoy cycling on Briant Avenue. The Peninsula Bikeway leaves Briant Street and the Ellen Fletcher Bicycle Boulevard and takes a right turn on West Meadow Drive and then a left turn on Wilkie Street. The goal of this jog is to get onto California Street once you enter Mountain View, which I find unrideable, as is discussed below. So, rather than take that right turn onto Meadow, I continue on the Ellen Fletcher Bicycle Boulevard by continuing straight on Briant Street. Between Meadow and the border with Mountain View, this bike boulevard wanders over a number of residential streets, making it less than trivial to follow. It is fairly well marked, but even so, I often end up missing a turn and having to retrace my path. Shortly after crossing into Mountain View, this becomes the Mayfield-Whisman Bike Boulevard.
I don't like the route the Peninsula Bikeway picked through Mountain View, and a lot of my efforts have been devoted to finding a route through Mountain View that I do like. Most of the Peninsula Bikeway through Mountain View goes along California Street. The one time I tried to follow the Peninsula Bikeway route, I found California so uncomfortable that I turned east onto Shoreline Drive and came home on the Mayfield-Whisman Bike Boulevard (described below.) This is in spite of the fact that California Street has a bike lane. The problem is that it is very busy and is lined with shopping centers so there is a lot of traffic crossing the bike lane, making it feel very unsafe, to the extent that I vowed never to ride it again. I had to find an alternative.
One of the discussions I had with the city staffers during the Peninsula Bikeway demonstration ride was about the differences between the cities involved in developing the bikeway. One example of such was that Mountain View favored Middlefield road as the main north-south bike corridor, whereas Palo Alto favored Briant Street, so I thought it made sense to try Middlefield as an alternative. When I rode it, I did not like it either. It had many of the same problems as California Street, so much so that I was unwilling to follow it to the end. I turned west onto the Stephens Creek Hike and Bike trail and again took the Mayfield Whisman Bike Boulevard home.
If I keep taking the Mayfield Whisman Bike Boulevard home, why not make that my route? In fact, I have. This Bike Boulevard is like the Peninsula Bikeway routes through Atherton and Palo Alto, there are no bike lanes, but traffic is light so I find the route very comfortable. The only problem with Mayfield-Whisman Bike Boulevard as an alternative to the Peninsula Bikeway is that has its southern terminus at the Stephens Creek hike and bike trail some distance from the southern border of Mountain View, the end point of the Peninsula Bikeway, and I felt I had to respond to the challenge of making all the way to that border. To that end, I took the Stephens Creek trail to its western end. At that point, there is only a couple of blocks on comfortable neighborhood streets to the southern border of Mountain View, which I rode. Mission Accomplished.
My modified version of the Peninsula Bikeway has become a go-to ride for me. If I ride the whole thing out and back, it is over 30 miles, a worthwhile addition to my training schedule, and it is a very pleasant ride. It also provides for a variety of attractive variations, a topic to which I expect to return in future posts.
* The San Francisco Bay Peninsula is at about a 30 degree angle northwest to southeast, but for simplicity's sake, I will refer to the ocean side of the Peninsula as the west side, the bay side as the east side, heading toward San Francisco as going north, and heading towards San Jose as going south.