Trying to improve bike path safety

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An email exchange from summer of 2009. Surnames and email addresses deleted…

-----Original Message-----
From: Dave
Sent: Friday, June 12, 2009 5:29 PM
Subject: Website Inquiry

Comments: Now that the Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing is nearing completion, I am concerned at what I see in the striping and fencing. It appears that those of us who come southwest on Moffett Blvd, wishing to turn onto northbound Stevens Creek trail, will have to make a 135 degree right turn into a single-wide gate to the trail. The potential for accidents is clear, particularly in the presence of children, wet weather, etc.

There is a perfectly good entrance a hundred feet further north, a 90 degree right turn onto a paved segment that joins up with the main trail. But the Moffett Blvd side is blocked by chain-link fence.

It would be good if these improvements at least did not make things worse for any of us. Please tell me you are going to keep the sensible entrance open.

Dave

From: Jack
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 9:34 AM
To: dave
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Salvador, Angee; Wong, Wanda; Grimm, Louise
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

Dave,

My name is Jack and I am the city’s project engineer for the Stevens Creek Trail Overcrossing at Moffett Boulevard project.  The city appreciates your interest in our project, and I will try to respond to your concerns described below.

I have attached two photos of the northbound entrance to the trail taken prior to beginning construction.  As you can see, the fence and old remaining portion of the trail have been returned to the same configuration that existed before construction of the new overcrossing. In the past, riders going southbound on Moffett previously had to make a sharp turn onto the trail, the same as now.  Except for the time of the trail detour during construction, this trail entrance has not changed. The reason for the fence narrowing at the entrance is to help prevent users of the trail from inadvertently riding out into traffic.  There is a similar fence configuration on the southbound entrance to the trail at Moffett as well.

I agree with you that the paved vehicle entrance to the north of the trail entrance is a convenient access point for bicyclists.  However, this gate needs to be kept closed in order to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering the trail.

For the reasons stated above, the city plans to keep the entrance to the trail at Moffett Boulevard the same as it is currently constructed.  We do suggest that, for safety, riders walk their bicycles as they enter the trail.  Please feel free to call or email me if you wish to further discuss this issue.  Thank you.

Jack
Senior Civil Engineer
(650) 903-6079

From: Dave
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 5:06 PM
To: Jack
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Salvador, Angee; Wong, Wanda; Grimm, Louise
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

Thanks for the response, Jack.

Before construction began, my company was at Central and San Tomas in Santa Clara, so on my evening commute, I always came from Middlefield onto Easy street, past the school, through the parklet, onto the trail and straight across Moffett. I never had to make the right turn from Moffett onto the northbound trail. After the overpass project had begun, my company moved to the vicinity of north 1st and 237, so my commute now goes past Moffett park – I cross 101 at Ellis and come down the frontage road – and the right turn affects me every day.

I accept your word that the right turn was difficult and dangerous immediately before the project began, though I don’t remember it always being that bad. My recollection is that both lanes of the trail were once accessible, and only fairly recently – say a year before the overpass began – was the right side boarded off.  The pavement in the photos is evidence that t’was not ever thus.

Even in the days of my straight-through commute, the resulting narrow clearance made it difficult and dangerous to meet other trail users, especially since both directions are always focussed on the traffic light. It makes for some cursing when the northbound cyclist, going as fast as possible to stay within the light, meets a southbound rider or runner also trying to catch the light, and maybe at the same time someone comes down Moffett wanting to turn north/right, unable because of the tight turn to watch the cross traffic, endangering everyone. Rather than buying into the claim that it’s the same as before, I’d urge you to reconsider that aspect of the crossing as well, especially since the overpass will now collect most of the weekend casual users, and therefore the grade-level access will more often be used by experienced riders.

When you say the chainlink gate keeps unauthorized vehicles from entering the trail, I assume you’re talking about motor vehicles, not bicycles. It would be surely possible to gate that entrance in such a way that you couldn’t get a car through without unlocking a padlock and opening the gate, while leaving a gap in the fence wide enough for a bicycle. We have similar arrangements on most trails: gates that block bikes and/or horses during wet weather, but allow hikers to pass.

Dave

From: Jack
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2009 4:10 PM
To: Dave
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Salvador, Angee; Wong, Wanda; Grimm, Louise
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

Dave,

I didn’t want to leave you hanging. We have a couple of people looking into the issues you raise. We will respond to you next week.

Jack

From: Dave
Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2009 5:26 PM
To: Jack
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

Thanks, Jack. I appreciate the consideration.

Dave

From: Dave
Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2009 4:46 PM
To: Jack
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

I was away on a business trip last week, Jack, and first commuted by bike today. I heartily approve the way you have resolved this issue. Thanks.

Dave

From: Jack
Sent: Monday, July 13, 2009 10:00 AM
To: Dave
Cc: Kagiyama, Robert; Macaraeg, Rodrigo
Subject: RE: Moffett blvd bicycle overcrossing

Glad we were able to resolve this issue for you.

Jack

From: Dave
Sent: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 7:04 AM
To: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Salvador, Angee; Wong, Wanda; Grimm, Louise
Cc: Jack
Subject: Mountain View bicycle friendliness

A recent exchange with Jack resulted in improvements to the entrance from Moffett Blvd onto the northbound Stevens Creek bicycle trail, and much appreciated. Though not perfect, it’s good enough that I don’t expect to get hurt there.

But then the merge area between the street-level trail entrance and the overcrossing was turned into a dangerous three-way blind junction, where only yesterday I narrowly averted a collision with another cyclist. And if this was intended to protect the younger, inexperienced cyclists, I might mention that the rider I avoided at the last second was ten years old or thereabouts.

This merge was perfectly fine when I mistakenly thought the overcrossing project was completed. But then a forest of orange posts blocked off the safe route and steered all traffic into what is a blind junction from at least two directions. The sharp turn collects sand, which itself causes bicycle crashes. It just seems really perverse to actively create a hazard when none existed before.

It is probably not to be expected that the various people responsible for these facilities and projects are knowledgeable cyclists themselves. This leads me to the real point of the email: does Mountain View have a bicycle advisory group? If so, do they not provide input on this kind of issue, or is their input not accepted for some reason?

Turning to other bicycle-related topics, there are vehicle detectors that need to be adjusted, but there is no way to report them to the city of Mountain View. There should be.

The statements above are just bottom-line summaries, and it is fair to ask for explanation and justification for all of them. I am more than willing to explain or even better, demonstrate on a brief ride, the hows and whys of all these issues.

Although I live in Palo Alto, my daily commute goes through Mountain View, so I care. And unlike Palo Alto (imagine making Alma Street bicycle friendly), Mountain View could improve dramatically with little or no expenditure of money.

Dave

From: Jack
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 3:21 PM
To: Dave
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Kim, Helen; Jenkins, Joan
Subject: RE: Mountain View bicycle friendliness

Dave,

Thank you for your interest in bicycle issues in the city of Mountain View. We are very interested in getting the views of bicyclists like yourself.

On the recently constructed portion of Stevens Creek Trail, it is the city’s goal to try and eliminate high-speed merges. This is the reason that the old trail from Moffett Boulevard is directed to a tee intersection with the new through portion of the trail leading to the overcrossing. With this design, trail-users riding from Moffett Boulevard must slow down and/or stop and look both ways before proceeding on to the trail, similar to traffic on city streets. The orange delineators were installed to help slow riders to merge safely.

The plan to close the short section of the trail with the delinators was reviewed and approved by city park personnel and new trail overcrossing plans were reviewed by the city’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). If you are interested, the BPAC is usually scheduled to meet the last Wednesday evening of each month at city hall. Specific information regarding BPAC meetings and other relevant information for cyclists is available on the city web page. I hope this helps with your concerns.

Thank you.

Jack
Senior Civil Engineer
(650) 903-6079

From: Dave
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 5:27 PM
To: Jack
Cc: Vroman, Mike; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Fakhry, Sayed;
Kagiyama, Robert; Kim, Helen; Jenkins, Joan
Subject: RE: Mountain View bicycle friendliness

You could prevent high-speed merges by just removing about half of the orange posts. No blind intersections, and riders would have to slow down to go through the barricades. Far, far safer. (In a way, it’s too bad you don’t have a way to collect accident statistics on bikeways. No way to learn from bad experience.)

I guess the point about maladjusted vehicle detectors is just my tough luck.

Once upon a time, Mountain View installed a light at the intersection on Charleston where today you go into REI. I had the wonderful experience of meeting a MV traffic engineer who came to adjust the detectors and actually worked with me on my bike to verify that they were indeed adjusted properly. Once in a lifetime!

Dave

From: Dave
Sent: Friday, August 14, 2009 5:30 PM
To: Jack
Cc: Jenkins, Joan; Kim, Helen; Kagiyama, Robert;
Fakhry, Sayed; Macaraeg, Rodrigo; Vroman, Mike
Subject: RE: Mountain View bicycle friendliness

Great news, Jack – I solved my problem (and it was clear that it was just my problem).

Instead of dealing with the maladjusted detector from Leong onto Moffett Blvd and the hassles of the grade-level access to the Stevens Creek trail, I came along Whisman (where I met a wrong-way cyclist: no problem), through the Whisman School park (mother and toddler: no problem), and flew over the flyover. The no-high-speed-merge hazard isn’t blind from the flyover descent, no problem.

An extra quarter mile, but far safer. How much safer? Hard to quantify, but this route is one that won’t give me cold sweats when I wake up in the middle of the night.

Much better, and thanks for giving me the incentive to try something different.

Dave

Commentary

I thought it was especially interesting that, while we both claim to be concerned about safety, Jack’s version is from an abstract point of view, with zero regard for how real people will behave in real situations (imagine anyone stopping at a trail junction?). My version is based on experience with road rash, broken bones and expensive bike repairs.

We knew, of course, that you can’t fight city hall, but you have to keep trying. At a minimum, this exchange might prove useful someday if someone sues the city of Mountain View for negligence.

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