Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Skyline Boulevard closure just about over

March 15, 2019

Skyline Boulevard repair is almost complete about a mile southeast of Page Mill Road.

Skyline Boulevard, closed since February 4 due to a road washout 5 miles northwest of Highway 9, will open on Monday, April 18, or thereabouts.

I checked it out today. The road had just been paved. It needs time to settle and the crews need to clean up.

It sure looks like the newly repaired road is narrower. Steel beams reinforce the downslope that washed out and undermined the road.

I’m not sure if the traffic signals were there before the repair. It makes me wonder if this is a temporary fix with a one-way traffic light. It might explain why the road is so narrow.

Skyline Boulevard closure. Note the traffic signals.

If you want to visit the site, you can. Skyline is only closed where the repair crews are working. There’s access to a MROSD trail that borders a Christmas tree farm on the south side. Look for a locked gate before the road closure.

The gravely dirt road has ups and downs for a quarter mile.

Santa Clara Bicycle Master Plan spinning its wheels

March 5, 2019

A main street in Zurich. This is how our main streets should look in Santa Clara (Google Maps).

Santa Clara’s traffic engineering department issued its latest bicycle master plan and it’s more of the same.

We need to shake up the system, if we’re going to fix our transportation problems. Instead of a bicycle plan, we need a Public Transportation Plan, and the bicycle plan would be a subset of the transportation plan. I couldn’t find a transportation plan, but there is a General Plan.

I wrote this response to the city:

“The Bicycle Master Plan [2018] is professional in all respects. In general, I agree with all its recommendations, if we are to follow down the current path, the status quo if you will. What will that get us in five years? 3 percent ridership? Maybe even 5 percent, according to the bicycle plan.

That’s not good enough to warrant spending an estimated $15-30 million in project costs. We’re wasting our money on a lost cause, as things stand now. (That’s cheap considering that the Mary Avenue I-280 overpass cost $14 million.)

We have another choice. Spend our scarce dollars on programs that will incentivize the public to ride bikes. Take $10 million and use it to subsidize bicycle commuting. Money talks. There’s no greater incentive to getting someone to change a habit than a meaningful financial incentive. With today’s GPS systems, mileage can be measured and monitored. The system can be cheated, of course, but most people are honest.

If asked, residents will tell you that riding a bike is onerous during commute hours. It’s not pleasurable in most instances for most people. They’re not going to start riding a bike to work or to the store because it’s the “right thing to do,” or “it’s good for the environment,” especially when it will get them to work 15 minutes slower, sweaty, and inconvenienced in so many ways I can’t list them all here.

That 2 percent figure cited in the report for bicycle commuting is exclusively those individuals who love cycling. They’re crazy in love with bike riding. The rest of the public is not in love with cycling, never will be, no matter how many bike lanes we have. Electric bikes will help though.

However, they might ride a bike, if it can put a dent in their commuting expenses. While it’s true we gain benefits by leaving our cars at home, it’s not tangible. If they see a check in the mail for their riding to work, that will be a little more persuasive. Current dedicated bike commuters would be encouraged to give up their earnings to help fund new bike commuters, or “pay it forward.” These benefits would tend to help lower income individuals who commute to work by bicycle because they can’t afford a car.

Now, this ride-for-dollars incentive is only half the battle. The other half is to build cycle/pedestrian paths. Bike lanes don’t cut it. Take the rest of our money and build a bike network like San Tomas Aquino Creek Path, only wider. Ideally, we need two north-south and two east-west corridors dedicated exclusively to bicycle/pedestrian traffic. It can be done. We just need to think differently.

Commuting is a hassle, whether by car, train, bus, or bicycle, but it’s a necessary evil. Nobody wants to give up his car, but the way things are going, it looks like that’s our future as traffic worsens. Bicycles can play a significant role, but only if we do something radically different. Staying with the status quo won’t cut it.

Remember the old expression. ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.’ Let’s stop the insanity.”

The city’s bike plan could just as well be the city golf course plan. Solving our transportation problems can’t be resolved by increasing bicycle usage a few percentage points.

Light rail would be huge. We used to have light rail throughout Santa Clara Valley.

Light rail ties visible on The Alameda at Camino Drive during road realignment for Santa Clara University in 1984.

Who’s going to pay for it? We are. All we do is shift our priorities and put most of our transportation dollars into light rail. The Green New Deal will help us prioritize. What’s crazy about shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy? Easy oil won’t be around forever.

Finally, it’s true our transportation issues are regional and require cooperation among cities, counties, state, federal agencies. Let’s not forget that Santa Clara has its own fantastic utility. It’s part of a larger power grid. We helped pay for a massive stadium. I think we can do more with transportation.

Peninsular Railway in 1915. From “Tracks, Tires & Wheels,” by Charles S. McCaleb.

Hicks Road slides out

February 26, 2019

Hicks Road slide has a temporary fix. A half-mile south of Shannon Road.

Anyone who has ridden up this road knows why I call it “Horrible Hicks,” besides the simple alliteration.

The road suffered a slump in recent rains, bad enough that the county had to put up a mobile LED warning sign.

The road is open.

By the way, if anyone is missing a hubcap, there’s a whole bunch of them next to this slide on what appears to be another slide. Maybe the caps were on someone’s property higher up and they slid down the hill.

The slide is about a half-mile south of Shannon Road.

Newts and cyclists have something in common

February 18, 2019

Newts enjoying life in Almaden Quicksilver park.

What do newts and cyclists have in common? They get run over by cars.

Anne Parsons can tell you about newts and the death toll on Alma Bridge Road overlooking Lexington Reservoir. She’s at 2,695 and counting.

The San Jose Mercury News ran a story this morning. Her website records every death in sad detail.

On my bike rides through the Santa Cruz Mountains I’ve seen thousands of dead newts during the wet winter months. They’re also dying in great numbers on Hicks Road.

What can we do about it? In Tilden Regional Park, they close South Park Drive every winter.

That would be a drastic measure on Alma Bridge since local residents use the road.

I had intentions of recording and posting every cyclist death in the U.S. this year, but after a week I gave up. It’s too depressing.

The one hopeful thought that comes to mind is a wildlife corridor. They’re being employed around the world in greater numbers. One of these days there will be one under Hwy 17.

East Palo Alto creek path reopens

February 11, 2019

The Bay Trail at San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto has reopened.

A key path linking Palo Alto to Dumbarton Bridge opened last December, which is good news for cyclists who like to visit the East Bay parks.

The San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority invested $76 million widening the creek, repaving the path that connects to Geng Road and adding a new Friendship bridge. The path that was replaced is only a half-mile long.

While you may think it a waste of money, it’s one of those public works projects that will pay for itself after the first flood. The normally placid creek occasionally spills over its banks and wreaks havoc. The wall and widening will help contain the floodwater.

Once over the bridge, the old path wasn’t repaved into East Palo Alto. Landscaping will probably be done later this year.

Friendship Bridge leading into East Palo Alto has been repositioned and lengthened.

Road map uncovers the way things were

February 7, 2019

Skyline Boulevard in snow, late December 1990. 25° F when photo taken. Brian Cox, right, and Roman Dial. (Jobst Brandt photo)

If only I could have been around for bike riding when the NAC map — previous posting — was published in 1939 (it mentions the Golden Gate International Exposition). No traffic, except on heavily traveled roads like Hwy 17.

A closer inspection of the map reveals some interesting features:

Hwy 35, Skyline Boulevard was Hwy 5. The number changed in 1964 when California renumbered all its roads.

Portola Redwoods State Park did not exist. The parkland was owned by the Masonic Lodge, which sold it to the state in 1945 to create the park.

Bear Gulch Road between Woodside and Hwy 84 is not shown.

Pomponio Road is shown extending to Pescadero Creek Road. It could be ridden today, but it’s private property and well protected against intruders.

Moody Road is shown, but not named. The road that extends to the west from Moody goes through Foothills Park and connects to Los Trancos Road. There was a quarry there back in the 1940s or so. I rode it once or twice back in 1979.

I’m not sure about the roads going through Los Altos Hills. There isn’t a road that goes through to the east of Arastradero Road off Page Mill Road. Maybe one of those is Elena Road.

No reservoir is shown at Stevens Creek. It was built in 1935.

Skyline Boulevard is shown as under construction south of Hwy 9, although it was widened by 1932 so maybe this map dates that far back. Here’s a good history of Skyline Boulevard. Money ran out and there was no agreement on where to extend Skyline south of Black Road.

Tracks of the South Pacific Coast Railroad (later Southern Pacific) are shown extending south from Los Gatos.

Montebello Road and Stevens Canyon Road are depicted, although Stevens Canyon Road is not shown going to Page Mill.

Soda Springs Road is shown going to Mt. Umunhum, but the mountain is not named. Loma Prieta Road is not shown, although it existed in the 1930s.

Highland Way continues down Redwood Canyon Road, which does not exist today. That looks like Ormsby Cutoff connecting to Grizzly Flat Road, or some variation.

Castle Rock State Park is not shown. It wasn’t declared a state park until 1968.

Highway 236 is not named. It’s part of Hwy 9. I don’t know when the name changed, but the route was paved around 1928, along with Hwy 9. There was a strong desire for a better road for access to Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

NSGW Park is shown off Tunitas Creek Road. That was Native Sons of the Golden West park and campground. The fraternal organization’s property was private, as far as I know, and no longer in operation today. We used to ride our bikes on Native Sons Cutoff to reach Star Hill Road. The area has changed a lot over the past several decades, so the roads I knew are not the same today.

Congress Springs is named on Hwy 9. There was a nice hotel and mineral spring starting in 1866. An electrified light rail ran up the canyon from Saratoga to the hotel. The hotel burned down in 1903 and the Peninsular Railway was abandoned. I tried to find the mineral spring, without success.

Speaking of Hwy 9, this road was built to Saratoga Gap summit in 1865, called the Saratoga and Pescadero Turnpike. It was completed down into San Lorenzo River valley in 1871. Parts of the original road are still usable for hikers on “Toll Road” trail paralleling Hwy 9 on the east (Castle Rock) side. Santa Clara County bought the road in 1880 and called it Congress Springs Road.

You don’t know what you’re missing until you know what you’re missing. Alpine Road, December 30, 1990. See it and weep.

Old Cañada Road is shown on the map, extending to hwy 92.

Upper Montebello Road with snow in 1994.

Have you had a self-driving car encounter?

January 13, 2019

Waymo car driving east on Fremont Avenue in Los Altos.

I typically ride through Los Altos and the nearby hills on the weekend, and invariably I’ll see a self-driving Waymo car on the road. Should I be worried?

I’m worried, given what I know now. However, five years ago when I wrote “Skidders,” a rather short novel about autonomous cars being hijacked, I was all-in for autonomous cars.

I’ve had only one interaction with a Waymo vehicle. It was on a Sunday on Purissima Road in Los Altos Hills at a stop sign for Viscaino Road. The Waymo was on my right. We came to the intersection at the same time. Technically, I was supposed to yield (car on your right rule).

I slowed to a near stop, but noticed the Waymo car wasn’t moving. As I started pedaling, I detected the slightest of jerks, as though the car was starting to move and immediately stopped.

In a driver-controlled car, eye contact will settle who is going to go first, or a wave of the hand. But with an autonomous car that kind of communication is lost.

I figure the driver behind the wheel on this occasion was waiting to see what the car would do on its own.

As I rode away I wondered if I should have stopped and put my foot down. What would the Waymo car do?

Farther along, the Waymo car turned right onto Arastradero Road where there was a flag man controlling traffic. I wondered what would happen if the flag man took down his stop sign for a moment, for whatever reason? What would the autonomous car do?

I have heard that the Waymo cars are extremely cautious, to the point that they irritate some motorists.

I looked around and found one interesting article about autonomous cars and bikes. It was written in December 2016 by Brian Wiedenmeier. He was invited to ride along in a self-driving Uber car.

What he saw bothered him. The car made right-hand turns that would have threatened a cyclist’s safety. Read his article for the details.

The early days of self-driving cars using the streets, without humans inside, are upon us. They’re being used, driverless, by Waymo in Arizona on a very limited basis.

We know what happened with the Uber car that killed a pedestrian in Phoenix. Unfortunately, there will be more similar fatalities. A video on YouTube offers opinions by experts as to why it happened.

Of course, the driver wasn’t paying attention, which didn’t help matters.

All that said, I’m still optimistic that autonomous cars will make our roads safer, but it’s going to take a while. There will be problems, but they can be overcome.

I’d much rather see autonomous cars on the road than distracted or drunk drivers at the wheel.

My biggest concern is that all cars will have to be in autonomous mode for there to be really safe driving, like the airline industry.

If you’ve had encounters with autonomous cars while cycling, let me know here. Do you think the future is bright for autonomous cars and bicycles mixing it up?

New Bay Trail extension looking good

January 7, 2019

It looks like the improved stretch of Bay Trail has dried out and can withstand rain without getting muddy.

Today, after an inch of rain, I checked out the improved Bay Trail that begins near Baylands Park in Sunnyvale.

I complained about the muddy conditions after last month’s rains, but it looks like the trail has dried out enough that it’s solid even after rain.

I saw only one minor puddle, and the road is firm.

I’m thinking that the rest of the trail to Mountain View, which runs behind the Sunnyvale water treatment plant, could easily be fixed.

They just need to scrape off the gravel and roll it flat. This road is already hard-packed, unlike some of the levee roads in the South Bay that become a quagmire after rain or heavy fog.

Bike sharing in China a massive headache

December 30, 2018

Lime ebikes parked on a quiet residential street in Sunnyvale.

China goes all-in on fads, and bike sharing is no exception.

This year bike sharing has finally calmed down as millions, and I mean millions, of bikes are being removed from cluttered streets in major cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen. A regular YouTube vlogger commented on the phenomenon.

The boom-and-bust business cycle of exuberant free enterprise carried to its extreme is not unfamiliar to modern China. The government leaves businesses alone, which is one reason why they have so many scandals, like poisoned powdered milk.

China’s cities in the early 1980s were filled with bikes, but their numbers dwindled rapidly as the car took over. Today they have plenty of bikes, but riders stay off of the busy highways and vie for space on crowded side streets.

When things got out of hand on rental bikes, the government stepped in big-time. Now China has fields of rusting rental bikes, witnessed by compelling photos on The Atlantic website.

From what I’ve read, the electric bike and scooter business in China has not been so bad because the government put restrictions in place right away.

We’ve seen the electric scooter business take off in the Bay Area, as well as ebikes, although it’s nowhere near as bad as in China.

I ride by a cluster of ebikes parked in a residential area in Sunnyvale on Heron Avenue and it seems puzzling. There’s not much around here except single-family homes.

I’ve never rented an ebike or scooter, but I suppose they do have utility for a small number of commuters in certain circumstances.

Speaking of ride-share vehicles, I came across the autonomous Waymo car today while cycling and had an interesting encounter. More on that later.

(Update: Lime ebikes were removed from Heron Avenue in early January 2019.)

Stevens Creek Trail repair complete

December 16, 2018

Stevens Creek Trail near El Camino Real has been fixed.

It took a year, but the portion of Stevens Creek Trail damaged in the 2016 rainy season has been repaired.

Heavy erosion in Stevens Creek next to the Extended Stay America hotel close to El Camino Real wiped out the paved trail. A narrow bypass trail was built.

It snaked through some redwoods, which was a nuisance, especially since bikes were supposed to be walked. Of course, nobody walked.

That’s the first time I’ve seen the trail closed by erosion.

Back in the early 1980s, Charlie Gibson, Mountain View Parks and Recreation, showed me plans for how the trail would one day extend all the way to Stevens Creek Reservoir.

At the time, there was considerable debate over finding a route beyond El Camino Real/Hwy 85.

Local residents along the proposed route raised objections, of course, so the trail ends at the Highway 85 recreation path overpass. It’s an excellent overpass, one of the best I’ve ridden.

I’m skeptical that the trail will ever make it to the reservoir. There’s too many houses in between and following the creek is impractical. There’s not enough space for a trail past Fremont Avenue.

It’s a miracle the trail extends as far as it does. It took a lot of engineering to figure a way through all the freeways and streets. I’m amazed it came to pass every time I ride the trail.