It became evident during a City Council meeting Tuesday that the life-and-death issue of bike and pedestrian safety is getting significant attention in Mountain View.
Thanks to advocacy from local cyclists and generous funding from Google, the city appears set to embark on a huge number of projects, from small to large, to make bicycling safer and more attractive all over the city.
Possibilities revealed in a study session Tuesday include flashing signals to alert drivers to the presence of cyclists, trail extensions, wider sidewalks, new bike routes around schools and lengthy buffered bike lanes for Moffett Boulevard, Rengstorff Avenue, North Whisman Road and Miramonte Avenue, as well as Castro Street in front of Graham Middle school, among others.
"Very few things you will do will have to do with life-and-death issues," resident Patrick Moore told the Council. "These are life-and-death issues. These determine whether someone is struck and killed or not, whether a grandfather gets to see his grandchildren or not."
A city consultant revealed that over 170 potential projects have been identified, including numerous "spot" improvements that could close gaps on otherwise safe bike routes. The draft of the Google-funded Bicycle Transportation Plan will return to the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee this spring and could be approved by the City Council in early 2016.
Community concern for bike and pedestrian safety was apparent later in the evening as well. Moore dedicated a minute of his allotted speaking time to a moment of silence for Robert Schwehr, the 68-year old Los Altos man who was struck and killed Feb 16. Schwehr was walking in the crosswalk on Charleston Road at Independence Avenue, and his daughter said was probably headed to REI to find a fishing pole for his granddaughter.
"Can we make this person the last person to die in Mountain View this year?" Moore said.
Former council candidate Greg Unangst said he identified with Schwehr, who still had "a lot to live for."
It was "broad daylight, perfect weather and the driver was unimpaired," Unangst said. "How did this happen? What I would suggest is that we launch a 'vision zero' program in the city," making a goal to have zero pedestrian fatalities in the city.
"The city should analyze, 'Why did that person driving make a mistake?' Let's not let this tragic incident slide into history and we forget about it," he said.
According to 2011-13 census data, 6.5 percent of Mountain View's population commutes by bicycle, compared to 1.9 percent throughout the county, 3.7 percent in San Francisco and 9.10 percent in Palo Alto.
The city reported that, generally speaking, 60 percent of the population is interested in bicycling but only under safer conditions. Only 33 percent say they will never ride a bicycle while only 8 percent is confident about cycling on city streets. The numbers came from a study done by the city of Portland.
Google promised many millions of dollars in funding for a regional bike network -- "if you accept our building plans" for a large new campus, Google's Jeral Poskey told the council Tuesday.
"What we've learned is you can have a wonderful network with many miles (of bike paths) and all it takes is a few dangerous intersections to turn people off from cycling," Poskey said of the company's famously bike-friendly headquarters in Mountain View. Google has work underway to build a large "green loop" -- a path for cyclists and pedestrians around North Bayshore, identified in the city's new precise plan for the area. Google has also funded numerous other bike projects, from bike racks downtown to an extension of the Permanente Creek Trail
Google's new campus in North Bayshore that could come with a huge number of bike-related benefits throughout the city. The largest is a completely new bike-pedestrian bridge across 101, near Rengstorff Avenue and Charleston Road. "We've identified Rengstorff is just as dangerous as Shoreline for bicycling across Highway 101," Poskey said.
He mentioned another benefit: "We want to increase safety and education among our schoolchildren (with) safe routes to school," and offered to give free bike helmets to all school children.
Poskey mentioned the $2 million from Google that could go towards a bike boulevard on Latham and Church streets, a narrow two-lane street that runs parallel to El Camino Real where bicycles contend with cut-through car traffic and parked cars. Car traffic diverters have been proposed for the street to make it what was termed a "low stress" route for cyclists, but some expressed skepticism that it could ever be as "low stress" a route as Palo Alto's bike boulevards, because of the number of parked cars and busy neighborhoods along the route.
"We do have signs that say we have a Bike Boulevard," on Montecito Avenue, said council member Pat Showalter, an area she said the city defines as a low stress environment. "I personally would not have considered that low stress," she said.
Council member Lenny Siegel, a regular cyclist, had a long list of problems he's observed while riding around town over the years, a significant number of which he says could be fixed by spending very little money, such as prohibiting cars from parking at narrow street sections where cyclists are forced to ride around parked cars and into traffic. He said there's a need for a standard way to make left turns at stoplights safer for bicyclists and the need to fix non-functioning stoplight sensors installed in the ground for bikes, forcing cyclists to get off their bikes and hit crosswalk buttons.
Siegel called for widening the Stevens Creek Trail where possible, so cyclists can have their own passing lanes. "Yesterday I avoided a child on a tricycle who was on the wrong side (of the trail)," he said. With the number of bike commuters racing down the trail, "it's an accident waiting to happen."
More information on the bike transportation plan can be found on a website the city has dedicated to the effort: bikemountainview.com