In its most recent survey, the League of American Bicyclists gave accolades to almost every Midpeninsula city, singling them out as being among the most bike-friendly in the nation. But that picture doesn't look so good when you zoom out and examine the area as a whole.
Many cyclists trying to ride up or down the Peninsula can find it quite difficult to chart a safe route that doesn't involve fighting autos for road space.
For example, Middlefield Road has a roadside bike lane through Redwood City and Menlo Park, but that ends abruptly near the Palo Alto border. Meanwhile, Palo Alto has bike boulevards and paths along Bryant Street and just south of Alma Road, but those routes require turns and wayfinding signs as they approach Mountain View. Like scattered islands, each city's bike route network is often inconsistent with the next town over.
"It's really quite tricky to get north to south on a consistent route," said Emma Shlaes, San Mateo County policy manager for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. "There are some good existing bike routes, but they inevitably end and you have to get on something else."
The good news is that Midpeninsula cities are now pledging to work together to brainstorm a better bike route. Over recent days, city councils in Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City agreed to partner up to study a new dedicated bike route to connect their towns.
The idea first came up late last year during an annual joint forum for South Bay and Peninsula city managers held at Stanford University. A subgroup of city executives on the Midpeninsula held a breakout talk that included a presentation from students from the university's public policy school. The students proposed what might be called a bike express lane along three potential routes: Middlefield Road, El Camino Real and along the Caltrain corridor.
In recent days, elected leaders at each of the four cities signed up for the project, which is being called the Managers Mobility Partnership Effort.
While the idea has already generated excitement, it remains unclear whether any of these routes can actually accommodate new bike lanes. The Caltrain right-of-way could be a tight squeeze for a bikeway, especially as the line is upgraded in coming years with electrified tracks and bullet trains. El Camino could be just as challenging as recently demonstrated by the huge public outcry against adding dedicated bus lanes to the corridor.
At this point, the three suggested routes are just a starting point, none of which has been vetted yet, said Mountain View City Manager Dan Rich.
"This was the first step -- we wanted to get this in front of our electorate before we go off and come up with work plans," he said. "This is not going to be a simple task, and even if we're all in agreement on what the route would be, doing it will still be challenging."
The cooperation among local cities on a regional bike route is new, but it harkens back to an idea that has been simmering for some time. Shlaes of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition says the concept seems to draw inspiration from the Grand Boulevard Initiative, an effort launched in 2006 to bring bicyclist and pedestrian improvements to El Camino, stretching from Daly City to San Jose. Progress on that initiative has been slow, in part because the project attempts to cover 19 separate cities spread across two counties.
For that reason, Rich said, the new mobility partnership is intentionally starting small, with just four cities plus officials from Stanford. Last week, public speakers and council members quizzed him on why other traffic-plagued Silicon Valley cities, such as Sunnyvale, weren't included in the working group. For that matter, the city of Atherton, located right in the middle of any bikeway route, was also not included.
"Any time you're trying to do something like this, the more people you have in the group, the more challenging it is," Rich explained. "It's already going to be challenging enough with just these four cities involved."
As part of the partnership, each Midpeninsula city will hold public outreach meetings in the coming months to help choose the best route. After a favorite route is picked, the cities will need to figure out how to split the cost for a professional study. Santa Clara County's recently passed Measure B transportation bond could provide a good pot of funding for building the bike route, at least for its southern section.
The bike route vision received an initial round of praise from Google officials, who have been active in expanding bike routes throughout Mountain View. Jeral Poskey, the company's transportation manager, urged city leaders not to lose their nerve as tough choices spring up for building the bike route.
"Please stick the course for this safe bikeway connection to our neighboring cities," he said. "But do remember that the hardest part is yet to come."