To Mehrotra, this was the latest sign that Stevens Creek Trail — now a heavily used commuter corridor with dicey, narrow stretches — is no longer a safe option for getting around the city.
"That trail is almost unusable now, because of the amount of traffic that's on that stretch," he said.
Bike and pedestrian safety, particularly along Stevens Creek Trail, has been a primary focus for the city in recent years, in part because of the huge increase in commuters opting to use the trail each day. Daily counts show that the number of people using the trail increased by 96 percent from 2012 to the most recent count in 2015, with more than 2,000 bicyclists and pedestrians using the trail during the morning commute hours, according to city data.
In 2015, city parks and recreation staff sought to reduce accidents and improve safety by imposing a 15 mph speed limit, posting signs along Stevens Creek Trail reminding bicyclists and pedestrians about the new speed limit as well as tips about trail etiquette. Several residents at the time quibbled with the idea of a speed limit that doesn't change regardless of circumstances — particularly when the limit feels arbitrarily slow along straight stretches with high visibility — but City Council members unanimously signed off on it.
Enforcement of the speed limit is another story. It largely remains advisory in nature, with police, park rangers and volunteer "trail ambassadors" patrolling Stevens Creek Trail to remind reckless users to slow down and be mindful of sharing the path. The city has received help from 30 trail ambassadors, who have pitched in a combined total of 365 volunteer hours since July, according to city spokeswoman Shonda Ranson.
On the law enforcement side, the Mountain View Police Department regularly has patrol units on the trail, both on foot and on bikes, but they shy away from citing people for violations, said police spokeswoman Katie Nelson.
"We generally do not ticket bicyclists who are over the speed limits on the trails, though we do stop them and speak with them about their need to ensure that they are traveling at safe speeds not only for themselves, but for the pedestrians around them," Nelson said in an email.
Residents in Mountain View and neighboring cities frequently cite specific trouble spots on the trail, including the Highway 101 underpass, where bike commuters are more likely to flout speed limits and other trail rules. Mountain View resident Greg Unangst told the Voice that it's a recognized problem, but there's not a whole lot the city can do to modify Stevens Creek Trail at the Highway 101 underpass, which is a constrained segment of the trail.
"That's probably the narrowest, darkest place on the trail," he said. "The commute times are particularly difficult because there are people getting from point A to point B, and when you mix in people out there for their morning walk, it doesn't mix well."
Unangst said he believes the trail ambassadors and trail etiquette signs scattered along Stevens Creek Trail are helping, and that more people are taking measures to share the trail and safely pass one another, but that it might be time to ramp up the limited enforcement of the 15 mph speed limit.
During the original discussion on speed limits, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission considered having a variable speed limit depending on conditions. The Mill Valley-Sausalito multi-use path, for example, reduces the speed limit to 10 mph in locations with "higher user volumes and greater congestion," according to a 2015 staff report. The report ultimately recommended against the idea, calling it difficult to enforce and that any divergence from the over-arching 15 mph limit would need to be strictly advisory.
Another option on the table was a 5 mph speed limit when passing, which is imposed by the city of Palo Alto and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Again, staff said it would be difficult to enforce.
City park staff is looking at better ways to track trail data in order to address problems related to speed and congestion along Stevens Creek Trail, including embedded sensors that can get an accurate tally of how many cyclists and pedestrians use the trail each day. Law enforcement also relies on residents to report accidents, and complaints drove the original decision by city personnel to actively take stock of bicyclist speeds. Police records over the last year show that the department received zero collision reports on the trail, Nelson said.
"If folks don't report things to us, we won't have as clear a picture of what is happening there to make appropriate adjustments," she said.
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