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Redwood City To Replace Parking With Bike Lanes On El Camino Real

Protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and more street trees are envisioned for El Camino Real. Image: City of Redwood City

In an astounding turnaround from their recent timidity in pursuing bold street safety projects, all six attending Redwood City City Council members voiced unflinching support on December 4 for replacing all the on-street parallel car parking on El Camino Real – about 270 spaces – with protected bike lanes. Council member Shelly Masur recused herself from the meeting due to personal real estate interests near El Camino Real, although the recusal was not required under the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Installing bike lines is one of many improvements the city’s El Camino Real Corridor Plan envisions, along with widening sidewalks, planting street trees, installing street lighting and pocket parks, developing more housing, and doing away with the city’s unsuccessful live/work zoning designation. Consulting firm Dyett & Bhatia wrote the plan with input from the public and city advisory groups at 17 public meetings since January 2016.

Public support for installing protected bike lanes on El Camino Real has been overwhelmingly positive at those meetings, and both the project’s seven-member volunteer Citizens Advisory Group and the city’s Planning Commission voiced unanimous support for the bike lanes.

“They’re absolutely integral to safe street design,” said resident Eva Markiewicz at the December 4 meeting. “Creating protected bike lanes is really the only way we are going to achieve Vision Zero. We need to make it safer for bikers of all ability levels.”

“El Camino is currently unsafe and unattractive for bicycling, but people are riding on it anyway because it goes where people want to be,” said Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) Deputy Director Colin Heyne. “Let’s support that vision where people can walk bike and drive safety instead of wasting valuable street space on storing vehicles.”

Image: City of Redwood City

“I’d like to feel safe bicycling on El Camino Real,” said resident Bob Page. “Redwood City is really in a position where it can show regional leadership by installing protected bike lanes.”

“I’m pleading with you for protected bike lanes,” said resident Isabella Chu.

All 11 members of the public who spoke at the meeting were in favor of the bike lanes. No one spoke against the proposal. And the City Council gushed over the prospect of hosting the Peninsula’s first European-style separated bike lanes on El Camino Real.

“Not only do they protect bicyclists, they protect drivers,” said City Council member John Seybert. “I think they will move traffic faster and more efficiently.”

“We’ve been talking about the Grand Boulevard [Initiative] for years and years,” said City Council member Alicia Aguirre. “We are leaders in the region and I’d like to see us to do this ASAP.”

“I am a strong supporter of the protected bike lanes,” said Mayor Ian Bain, who described his observations of bicycle infrastructure in travels to Europe and China. “It’s amazing when you really give people the opportunity to ride bicycles, they don’t want to drive.”

The El Camino Real Corridor Plan also makes recommendations for improving the street for pedestrians, bus passengers, and motorists, and addresses affordable housing and childcare facilities. It envisions wider sidewalks, safer crossings, better bus shelters, and improved traffic signal timing. The plan recommends more and denser housing along El Camino Real, where residents can take advantage of nearby transit and retail without driving.

City council members called for affordable housing units to be included on-site in future developments rather than the payment of in-lieu fees by developers in exchange for being allowed to build taller and denser buildings. Council members also stressed that the vehicle parking capacity lost on El Camino Real be replaced off-street where possible.

Neighboring Atherton and Menlo Park have also studied and considered installing protected bike lanes on their segments of El Camino Real, but rejected those proposals in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Traffic safety advocates are cautiously optimistic for Redwood City, although the new Corridor Plan only sets a vision for El Camino Real.

Next Redwood City transportation staff will move ahead with contracting a new design for the short segment from Maple Street to Charter Street, work that was already funded by a grant the city received from Caltrans in June 2016. Staff will seek grant funding for construction of that segment, and for the re-design of the remaining two miles of El Camino Real through the city.

What do YOU think? Contact Redwood City Senior Planner Lindy Chan (650-780-7237, to submit comments.

  • Biking in a skirt

    I commuted four miles each way via bicycle on ECR in Redwood City from 2015-2016, using the center of the right hand lane for safety, as taught by bicycle safety educators everywhere. Motorists made full lane changes to pass me, I was plenty far enough away from parked cars opening doors, and life was good.

    My only complaint was occasional harassment from uneducated motorists who thought I should be on the sidewalk instead. But since bicycling on the sidewalk is many times more dangerous than using the center of the lane, I declined to sacrifice my safety to appease their uninformed bigotry. At least it was evidence they could see me.

    Separated bikeways like this are basically sidewalks, and suffer from the same classic safety hazards as sidewalks: irrelevance to turning motorists, obstructed visibility to and from turning motorists, careless pedestrians, nearby curbs, and debris.

    Furthermore, harassment of bicyclists using best safety practices increases when segregated infrastructure is an obvious alternative to the road. Although separated bikeways do not legally count as bike lanes and thus are not mandatory to use in CA, motorists get angry when people on bikes refuse to utilize expensive infrastructure for reasons motorists don’t understand. If faced with the dilemma of using dangerous infrastructure on ECR or enduring much worse harassment, I would stop using ECR altogether.

    Separated bikeways are, in fact, an excellent solution for high-speed roads and long stretches without intersections, such as immediately adjacent to waterways, parks, freeways, or railroad right-of-ways. ECR, by contrast, is a low-speed road with intersections (including driveways) every hundred feet or so – the worst place to use separated bikeways. Every intersection is a location where being adjacent to the main flow of traffic increases the chances of collisions, compared to operating single-file with other traffic.

    Even a regular bike lane (and the law that pertains to it) allows bicyclists to escape the bike lane and merge in line with traffic when approaching an intersection or driveway, to avoid being caught in the “coffin corner” implicated in most bike-car crashes. (Of course, on ECR, merging in line with traffic before each intersection
    and driveway effectively means operating continuously in line with traffic, as I did – which illustrates one reason that’s safest.) Regular bike lanes also allow motorists to yield to bicyclists in the bike lane and merge into it before turning right, as is required by law, which works even if the bicyclist doesn’t know to merge into the travel lane. Separated bikeways prevent both of these checks against crashes.

    A better solution for ECR, which would increase safe bicycling rather than dangerous bicycling, would be lane-centered sharrows and Bikes May Use Full Lane signs. These would encourage best practices as well as reduce harassment, making ECR safer and more friendly for all.

    As for widened sidewalks and reduced parking – that part sounds good. But you don’t have to literally throw bicyclists under the bus with misguided infrastructure to do that part.