Part 3: My years as a San Tomas Expressway commuter

Some sections of San Tomas Expressway look like this.

Some sections of San Tomas Expressway look like this.

After abandoning Pomeroy as the main route to and from work, around 2000, I decided to try San Tomas Expressway. It’s ironic that I waited so long, considering my history with the road.

Back in the mid-1980s, when I lived in Menlo Park, I got swept up in the cycling-community frenzy to see the expressways opened to biking. Santa Clara County had a blanket prohibition of bikes on expressways, except for Foothill Expressway (not sure about Oregon Expressway).

That always seemed odd, allowing cycling on one expressway and not others. In addition, it went against state law, which allows bikes to use all roads except freeways. It took a lot of advocacy and political pressure on the county and cities, but it finally happened.

At a Santa Clara City Council meeting attended by dozens of cyclist, I got up and said a few words. The way I said it was lame, but I was glad to give my support back when I had a voice as a San Francisco Chronicle columnist.

The late Mayor Eddie Souza, one of the more liberal-minded mayors in the county, seemed to be in favor, going against the wishes of the Santa Clara city traffic engineer.

In late 1991, Santa Clara County supervisors began taking measures to allow bicycles on the expressways. San Tomas was opened for cycling in 1992, maybe later, and it wasn’t long before all the county expressways were open for cycling. Today you can still see signs where “bicycles prohibited” is covered over.

I quickly discovered the advantages. During commute hours the traffic signals stayed green longer. I got to work faster than before.

As time went on, I saw more cyclists using the expressway, but when I started I rarely saw other cyclists.

After a year it was routine riding the expressway. I usually turned left on Monroe and took a side street to Kiely, which I was on long enough to cross under the Caltrain tracks. That route served me well for quite a few years, until I started working near Trimble and Montague Expressway.

During my time on San Tomas I never had a single incident with a car beyond the usual driver turning right and cutting me off. The only flats I had were from puncture vine, which grew in profusion in the pumpkin/Christmas tree lot near Monroe and San Tomas. I complained and the county responded with spraying, to such an extent that today it’s gone.

Traffic volumes have spiked on the expressways since I started riding. Traffic engineers have responded with proposals for more road widening. San Tomas will have an extended bike path, but I’d much rather see my taxes spent on trains and light rail than I would on road widening.

Up next: my four years commuting to North San Jose.

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