Mountain View Voice

Opinion - September 14, 2012

City needs to ramp up its cycling effort

When it comes to supporting the biking community, Mountain View gets high marks for pushing through big projects like the Stevens Creek and Permanente Creek bike bridges that give cyclists a safe way to reach jobs in the East Bayshore as well as Shoreline Park.

But as cyclists have pointed out recently, when compared to Palo Alto and some other nearby cities, Mountain View comes up short in many respects, due to its lack of support for improving its network of bike lanes and bike boulevards.

On the positive side, the city can boast that the latest census data shows 4.1 percent of city residents commute by bike, more than doubling the last count in 2000. But that number could be even higher if the city provided safer and faster options for cyclists to get around town.

Janet LaFleur, a cyclist and a blogger, told the Voice last week that, "Mountain View used to be in the forefront but lately it's kind of lagged."

Certainly the city could open more bike lanes and provide other amenities for cyclists who commute or simply are out to enjoy some exercise. Already, an initiative led by Jarrett Mullen called the Rengstorff Great Streets Initiative has laid out a blueprint for a good start. Mullen wants improved bike lanes and traffic calming on some of the city's most dangerous and most biked streets, including Rengstorff Avenue and California Street, a pair of roads that since 2007 have seen 58 collisions involving bicycles, thankfully none of them fatal.

Many of Mullen' common sense suggestions would not be costly but simply refocus the city transportation policy to give more priority to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. If successful in getting more bikes on the road, it could lower pressure on major streets and freeways that are now choked with traffic. Here are some ideas from Mullen's website:

• Widen bike lanes on major arterial streets like Shoreline Boulevard and California Street by removing traffic lanes.

• Create protected bike lanes by moving cars out from the curb, removing the threat of motorists opening their car door in front of a cyclist.

• Use brightly colored "sharrows" where cars and bikes share the road.

Some of these options would not be costly, but others could be expensive. This could make giving bikes priority a difficult sell, but in the long run, we believe many residents would be supportive, especially if it makes their own street a safer, calmer place.

One of the best ways for Mountain View to get more cyclists on the road is to develop safe bike lanes on the city's most dangerous street for bicyclists, El Camino Real. The City Council opposed a regional plan to add bus rapid transit lanes and bike lanes, even though the Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee supports installing bike lanes on the busy 6-lane north-south arterial. There have been 47 bike-related injuries on El Camino Real since 2007.

All this is not to say that the city is standing still, although its 54 miles of bike trails has not grown much in the past few years. Lack of funding is a hanging up two projects — a bike lane on Calderon from Villa Street to El Camino Real for $340,000 and a much more expensive project for a bike lane on San Antonio Road between California Street and El Camino that would require major street and median modifications. While these are worthy projects, perhaps the city's money could be better spent on the streets and intersections where bike collisions have most often occurred.

As the home of Google, Mountain View should be in the forefront of providing more and safer bike lanes in all areas of the city. Many leaders around the country are finding out that being able to safely get around a city on a bicycle is a major factor when rating the quality of life of a city. Mountain View has a lot to offer cyclists now, but much more should be done to allow the city's bicyclists to feel safe and make bicycling the attractive alternative it ought to be.

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