Council will decide if it wants bike lanes on El Camino

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council will decide tonight (April 1) whether Caltrans should get rid of parking along El Camino Real in favor of bike lanes.

Caltrans is pushing the city to allow bike lanes so cars know where to expect them, but not everyone is convinced it’s a good idea.

Businesses would lose parking, and around 40 people who live in RVs along the street would be displaced, according to a report by Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi.

The Barron Park Market, Cardinal Bike Wash, Radhika Beauty Salon, Roy’s Cleaners and Stanford Coin Wash don’t have on-site parking to make up for the loss, Kamhi said.

It might not be safer

The city hired transportation engineers Steve Davis and Meghan Mitman who said the bike lanes might not actually make the street safer because cars will still be driving by at high speeds.

Turn lanes, intersections and bus stops would be particularly dangerous, Davis and Mitman said.

Caltrans could take unilateral action to remove the parking but is trying to work with the city, Kamhi said.

“It is unclear if Caltrans will repave El Camino Real without adding a bicycle facility, regardless of city support,” Kamhi wrote in a report to council in advance of tonight’s meeting.

El Camino is repaved every 30 or so years, and Caltrans is paying for the entire project.
The road badly needs repair — potholes have popped tires, damaged suspensions and sent motorcyclists skidding across the pavement, according to insurance claims filed with various government agencies.

Caltrans is planning to repave El Camino from the southern Mountain View border north to the end of Palo Alto. The bike lane would end before Menlo Park.

Other cities OK’d bike lanes

Mountain View City Council approved the bike lanes in September 2021, and Los Altos City Council followed in March 2022.

The vote in Los Altos came a week after a boy fell off of his bike into a crosswalk on El Camino in Mountain View. The boy was hit and killed by a dump truck.

“It is a sad example of what will happen if we don’t make El Camino safer for cyclists,” Los Altos Councilwoman Neysa Fligor said.

Palo Alto decided not to take a vote at the time because the city is still working on a citywide bicycle plan, and El Camino is just one piece.

But in the time since, the state has approved new guidelines for road safety. One in particular, called “Design Information Bulletin 94,” is driving this project.
One bicyclist was killed and 32 bicyclists were injured in Palo Alto on El Camino from 2016 to 2020. A bike lane would help drivers anticipate and notice them, according to Sergio Ruiz, chief of the local Caltrans office.

A bike lane would also encourage people to stop riding on the sidewalk and against traffic, Ruiz said.

Caltrans had a joint meeting with the city’s Planning and Transportation Commission and Human Relations Commission on March 13 — the first and only opportunity for commissioners to weigh in.

Commissioner: Plan is rushed

“This is a change of huge magnitude with a lot of moving parts,” Commissioner Doria Summa said. “To say that this has been rushed is a real understatement.”

Commissioner Keith Reckdahl said that Park Boulevard is a faster and more pleasant route.
“If this really is just about safety, we should really be doing our best to get people off El Camino and over to Park. I’m worried about these thin plastic poles giving people a false sense of security,” Reckdahl said, referring to the proposed separation between bikes and cars.

“We have businesses that are going to lose out terribly,” Commissioner Mary Kate Stimmler. “There are going to be folks who are like, ‘No, I can park in front of the other dry cleaner now. I’m just going to go there instead.’”

The general consensus among commissioners was that bike lanes are a good idea, but a lot more needs to be done to make them work on El Camino.

“I hope there won’t be more accidents,” Commissioner Allen Akin said.

Lobbying from out of town

Bicyclists who live outside of Palo Alto are lobbying council to approve the bike lanes, including members of the San Mateo County Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

“I’m in San Carlos and bike everyday on El Camino. It’s a death trap,” San Carlos resident Neil Shah said.

“Although there are some alternative routes, many riders still prefer to ride along El Camino for access to businesses, schools and their jobs, particularly along the Mountain View-Palo Alto-Menlo Park commercial corridor,” said Darius Teter, who commutes on bike from Mountain View to Stanford.

Kamhi presented council with a couple different options besides approving the bike lanes tonight.

Council could vote to support the bike lanes, but only if Caltrans agrees to make them safer first.

Council could approve the bike lanes but ask Caltrans to protect them more in the future.

Council could ask Caltrans to look at reducing El Camino by a lane.

And finally council, could defer a decision until late 2025, when a citywide bike plan is complete, Kamhi said.

“None of these alternatives are informed by unilateral actions that Caltrans may take if the Council does not vote to support the removal of parking,” Kamhi said.