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Advanced Bikeways for Enhancing Cross-Regional Mobility in the Mid-Peninsula

Manager's Mobility Partnership and Joint Venture Silicon Valley
Stanford University Public Policy Senior Practicum
December 11, 2016
Casey Danielson
Matthew Decker
Sarah Hirshorn
Gabriella Johnson
Mark Verso

Due to major economic and population growth in the Mid-Peninsula, communities are struggling with increased traffic congestion despite increases in some public transit use. Joint Venture Silicon Valley (JVSV) has facilitated the Manager's Mobility Partnership (MMP) working group — a coalition of Redwood City, Menlo Park, Stanford, Mountain View, and Palo Alto — whose interests include creating an interconnected regional bike network. JVSV and the MMP engaged the Senior Practicum to develop proposals for advanced cross-regional bikeways. This report proposes two alternatives for a North-South (N-S) central corridor bikeway that promotes cross-community integration and increased bike mode share.

In order to propose worthwhile bikeway designs for regional integration, it was imperative to first understand the demographics, commuter data, and priority destination hubs of each community. Our research showed that significant numbers of people are commuting both across community borders and within potential biking distance. We also identified the N-S central corridor of the Mid-Peninsula as a prime location for an advanced bike path. The N-S central corridor is defined by the Redwood City-Mountain View axis and within one mile on either side of the Caltrain track. This axis is optimal, as it runs through the communities’ downtown areas, is accessible to people who live both to the East and West, and connects to major employment centers. Additionally, there are no existing bike routes explicitly designed for connecting these communities, thus creating an optimal opportunity for cross-regional integration.

The route selection and design was informed by our understanding of cycling demographic. We learned that cyclists can be divided into four categories: Strong and Fearless, Enthused and Confident, No Way No How and Interested but Concerned. The greatest proportion of cyclists are considered to be Interested but Concerned, so increasing bike mode-share would come mostly from this category. We found that safety concerns are the major barrier that prevent the Interested but Concerned category from choosing biking as a mode of transportation, so creating cyclist safety became a main priority in our bikeway designs.

The next phase of our research entailed understanding different bike lane design alternatives in order to explore infrastructure possibilities, as well as the needs of the communities. We identified five bike lane classifications, Class I through IV and the bike boulevard. Class I bicycle facilities are off-road paths and trails. Class II facilities designate an on-road bicycle lane demarcated by painted lines. Class III has no specified lanes, only general signage designating a bike route. Class IV bike facilities are protected bike lanes that are separated from the vehicle travel lane by a physical barrier. Finally, bicycle boulevards are streets that prioritize bicycle transportation through a number of traffic-calming strategies to ensure the ease and safety of cyclists.

We then looked into bicycle infrastructure and policy in places such as Scandinavia, an area of the world with high bike mode-share, and U.S. cities like Portland. We also reviewed the research literature, and many studies determined that separated bikeways, such as Classes I and IV, increase bike mode-share more than other classifications. In addition, we researched the most current designs and guidelines available in resources such as NACTO (the National Association of City Transportation Officials) Urban Bikeway Design Guide and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide. We reviewed the recommended guidelines from the Rails with Trails Conservancy that provides resources for construction bike paths along active rail lines like Caltrain.

We determined that in order for a route to stimulate a significant increase in bike mode-share, it should include the following five properties:

  • Perception of Safety: How safe riders think they will be on the road. It is achieved through protected bike lanes, protection in intersections, and generous space.
  • Directness: Our goal is to give commuters the luxury to ride their bicycles to their places of work on the most direct route, which is defined for the remainder of the paper as a function of distance, simplicity and time.
  • Advances in Overall Bike Network: Advances in the overall bike network would include an increase in (1) the overall mileage of bikeways and (2) the connectivity of these bikeways across the Mid-Peninsula.
  • Proximity to Trip Attractors and Generators: The proximity to trip attractors and generators captures how close the route runs to places where people typically originate and terminate trips.
  • Ability to Accommodate E-Bikes: Due to their growing prevalence it is important for us to evaluate whether future bike infrastructure developments can accommodate e-bikes.

The subsequent phase of our research included determining current N-S route options. To establish a benchmark for any new proposed bikeways, we studied an existing 12.26 mile linked set of streets from Redwood City to Mountain View that is being considered for designation as a inter-city route. The route includes a combination of Class II, III, a bike boulevard, and streets with no bike infrastructure, and primarily utilizes secondary roads to avoid high stress intersections. However, the route has some limitations, including the complexity, lack of signage, number of intersections, and perceived lack of safety. With this, we gained a greater understanding of the existing cross-regional infrastructure, which propelled us to endeavor to design our own.

Our first proposed bikeway location is El Camino Real. It is a major thoroughfare spanning the MMP communities with access to shops, services, transit, schools, and employment. The route is very direct and fast. Additionally, bicyclists are already on El Camino, although the site has high collision and fatality rates. Advanced bike infrastructure can be implemented to significantly improve actual and perceived safety, and increase bike usage.

Using NACTO and FHWA design principles, we present two bikeway design alternatives for enhancing bike travel on El Camino Real:

The first alternative is side-running one-way bike lanes on each side of the roadway, protected from motor vehicle traffic by raised curbs. Essentially, these lanes would replace the current parking lane along El Camino Real. Intersections, driveways, and bus services present potential challenges while navigating this bike design. Additional features can be included to mitigate the challenges. For instance, implementing specific turn arrows or bike lights and creating lateral shift intersections are two options for intersections. A potential solution for driveways is including raised or enlarged barriers to create wider, slower turns for motor vehicles. Lastly, an island platform transit stop or central-running bus services can be implemented in order for the side-running lane to work in conjunction with bus services.

The second alternative for El Camino Real is a two-way central bikeway protected from motor vehicle traffic by raised curbs. The bikes lanes would be created in place of the existing median.The advantage of this alternative is that parking lanes do not have to be eliminated. Entering and exiting this bikeway could present a challenge; however solutions are available to ensure safety for the cyclists. One solution is to include signage indicating that cyclists must walk their bikes between the sidewalks and the bikeway via the crosswalk. A more difficult challenge of the central bikeway is managing left-turns for cyclists and drivers in order to avoid collisions. Installing stoplights with distinct signals for cyclists and drivers turning left could provide clarity. Signage could be installed informing travelers that cyclists have the right-of-way to turn left before motor vehicles. Another intersection treatment is to paint the bike lanes green in the intersections and to implement bicycle turn queue boxes in order to increase visibility of cyclists.

The second proposed location for a bikeway is primarily along the Caltrain corridor. Active train tracks with bikeways running alongside are known as “rails-with-trails.” The Rails to Trails Conservancy has identified 161 Rails-With-Trails in 41 states. A route alongside the Caltrain provides many benefits due to its location and its separation from automobiles. The proposed Caltrain bike route is mostly a Class I bikeway, with some Class IV portions, limiting contact with motorized traffic.

There are three main safety design modifications that we recommend, operating under the assumption that high speed rail will be implemented on the Caltrain corridor by 2029. We propose a setback distance, the distance between the paved edge of an RWT and the centerline of the closest active railroad track, of 20 feet. e propose a solid barrier rather than a simple fence in order to protect pedestrians and bicyclists alike from high speed rail sound, vibrations and wind. The last component would be to create grade separation for major cross-streets so they go under the Caltrain and Caltrain bike path. For minor cross streets a stop sign or light would control the intersection.

There are also challenges for a Caltrain bike path from the limited available right of way in certain places. In some spots we reduce the setback distance from 20 feet to 17 feet. Another solution is to have the path switch from one side of the railway tracks to the other using a bike underpass/tunnel a total of five times. In some segments, such as to get around a Caltrain station, we switch to a two-way Class IV bike lane on an immediately adjoining road. Caltrain currently opposes giving up any right of way for bike paths. Where rails with trails have been achieved, the railroad have often been reluctant, and Caltrain did grant an easement several years ago for the Embarcadero Bike Path.

We estimate the construction cost of the El Camino Real bikeway to be $18,040,000. The individual inputs to the route along El Camino include 11.6 miles of a Class IV bikeway, concrete barriers that separate the cycle tracks from motorized vehicles, 85 regular intersections with marking improvements, and 25 protected intersections.

It is useful to break down our construction cost estimate for the Caltrain route into three components. The first includes everything but the soundwall and under-crossings for major streets, and totals an estimated $37 million. The second component is the soundwall, at an estimated $17 million, and the third is the eight undercrossings where major cross streets will go under the Caltrain/bike path grade, at a total of $216 million (~27 million each). The total for all three is $270 million. However, the second and third cost components may need to be incurred whether or not a Caltrain bike path is constructed; the soundwall to protect current uses directly adjoining Caltrain from high speed rail impacts and the under-crossings for major streets to deal with traffic interruptions from increased train frequency. Taking away these two major components, the cost of the Caltrain bike route drops to around $37 million.

The final section of our report ranks each alternative in terms of potential impact on bike mode share and cost. Our assessment of how each alternative will impact bike mode-share is qualitative as opposed to quantitative, and relative as opposed to absolute. We use the extent to which each alternative successfully addresses the five desirable properties of bikeways to assign a relative ranking on the bike mode-share impact. The El Camino Real route outranks the base case route on four of the desirable properties and ties on one (e-bikes). The Caltrain route outranks the base case route on four of the desirable properties and ranks lower on one (e-bikes). Both of these routes have the potential to increase bike mode share more than the existing route as represented in the base case. We assign a higher impact on mode share rating to the El Camino Real route than the Caltrain route. While Caltrain slightly surpasses ECR in terms of perception of safety, it does not add as much in connecting major attractors and generators and is less suitable for e-bikes, a potential significant source of future growth.

In our overall ranking of the route alternatives, we consider cost together with impact on mode share. Even at the lowest estimate for the incremental cost of the Caltrain route, its costs is still twice as much as the El Camino Real route. In addition to the El Camino Route being cheaper, we have rated it has having a higher potential impact on bike mode share. So clearly El Camino should be assigned a higher overall rating than Caltrain. We believe that the potential for increased bike share mode also justifies a higher rating for the El Camino route relative to the base case, even considering the former’s $18 million cost, and for the Caltrain route relative to the base case, if we consider only the $37 million cost. If the incremental cost of the Caltrain route were $270 million, it would require more analysis for justify ranking it over the base case.

We suggest that the MMP examine the effects of these bikeways on their impact on equity in the surroundings communities. We also suggest that other eastern and western routes be examined since people interested in cycling as a method of commuting are looking for convenience, meaning they are not willing to go significantly out of their way to use a bike lane. Finally, the political feasibility of the routes and designs needs to be analyzed.