Does Portola Valley need real bike lanes?

Council looks at adding the lanes to Alpine and Portola roads.

Click on picture to enlarge.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

A lone bicyclist is seen pedaling along a rural suburban road. He approaches a stop sign after a long gradual climb, pauses slightly at the empty intersection, then continues along, finally disappearing around a curve. If a group of community volunteers who advise the Town Council on vehicle traffic overlooked the impact of this cyclist to the town's traffic congestion, no one would care. Not even if it happened every day.

What if it happened every five or 10 minutes at a busy intersection? What if many of those cyclists, jealous of their momentum, ignored the stop sign? What if a collection of cyclists, say 30 or 50 or 100, in an exercise of sophistication and beauty or monopolistic heedlessness, depending on who's watching, rolled through town every day in close formation and at high speed, flowing past the stop sign without pause, and not infrequently taking a whole lane and keeping it despite a train of several cars behind them?

These scenarios are a part of the milieu on Alpine and Portola roads in Portola Valley. On June 8, the Town Council discussed the possibility of revising the volunteer Traffic Committee's mandate to address bicycling issues, including safety and sharing the road.

In an indication of how serious the council is, Mayor Ted Driscoll has suggested widening Alpine and Portola roads enough to allow genuine bike lanes. (The roads have white lines at the edges but the resulting lanes are not consistently wide enough to be formally designated.)

The council asked Public Works Director Howard Young to return with a cost estimate for an analysis of what it would take to build bike lanes on the two roads. The analysis would likely cost $10,000, Mr. Young said.

Low carbon footprint

During the discussion, Mayor Driscoll floated the idea of renaming the advisory group to the Bicycle and Traffic Committee.

"Amen," chimed in Planning Commission Chair Nate McKitterick from the audience. Mr. McKitterick, an attorney, resident and dedicated bike commuter, had remarked earlier on the council's longtime commitments to reducing greenhouse gases.

An example: the council voted in 2006 to join the U.S. Mayors Agreement on Climate Change, committing the town to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

"The only way we're going to do that is if people buy (Toyota) Priuses or (Nissan) Leafs or get on bikes," Mr. McKitterick said, then outlined some tough questions that a committee might have to address.

In what way should the town advocate for a cycling milieu that it is safe for all riders, he asked. What is the best design for bicycle-safe intersections? What can be done to change driver behavior about sharing the road?

Mr. Driscoll wondered if the presence of bike lanes would mean less concentration by law enforcement on stop-sign citations and more on bike safety in general.

"I would think so," Lt. Larry Schumaker of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office said from the audience. "I think there won't be as many issues. It will be easier to (issue citations). I think it's going to make it safer for all. Hopefully there won't be reasons for enforcement if we do it right."

Councilwoman Ann Wengert initially dissented on combining both traffic and bicycles in the same committee. The bicycling community has more than enough spirit to have a stand-alone committee, she noted, but ultimately went along with the majority.

While the cycling community was represented at the meeting, no one spoke up for the concerns of motorists. Asked in an interview about that constituency, Ms. Wengert said she has "seen more interest on this issue than I have on many and for a long time."

The town needs a forum for bicycle issues, she added, particularly in light of having no town committee to respond when, on Nov. 4, cyclist Lauren Ward, 47, of Los Altos Hills died after colliding with a tractor trailer at Alpine Road and Interstate 280, an unincorporated area but nearby.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Jun 30, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Let's see! Why do we need bike lanes? Is it so that the biking peleton wannabes can ride 7- 8 abreast to block traffic lanes instead of 4- 5 abreast? What we really need is bicyclists who have learned that they too must obey traffic laws. Stop really does mean stop!!! One cyclist proceeding through an intersection after stopping does not confer non stopping privileges to the 50 - 100 other cyclists in the group. Riding down the wrong side of the road is a no no. You can't instantly transmorgify from a bicyclist to a pedestrian when the whim strikes you and not run the risk of injury when you suddenly decide to swerve from riding along the roadside to using a crosswalk. And yes, common courtesy(not just the law)would suggest that you stay single file to the far right side of the road when you're grinding up a grade at 5 - 10 mph where vehicle traffic is often doing 35 - 45.

We do not need to and should not be spending precious tax dollars to create an environment for bicycle racing on our roads that are intended primarily as a means of the transportation of people, goods, and services. Most all of PV roads as presently configured can quite nicely serve the needs of both bicyclists and automobiles if both parties pay equal respect for the existing laws.

Like this comment
Posted by Ruth Wilcox
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jun 30, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Should Portola Valley add bike lanes on our roads that are consistently used by cyclists? A resounding yes, lanes are long overdue. The lanes will provide a safer environment for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. This is an excellent use of town funds and it is in keeping with the town's mission of safety, outdoor beauty, recreation, and reduced carbon footprint.

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jun 30, 2011 at 10:13 pm

I hope that Portola Valley residents realize that putting in bike lanes will do more than just restrict bicyclists to riding in them. There will be legal implications for drivers and they will have to change their behavior, too. At the moment drivers can use the shoulder to pass on the right of a car waiting to make a left turn. It is illegal to use a bike lane to do so. Also, at right turns drivers will be required to merge into the bike lane, yielding to any bicyclists who may be there, before turning right. Drivers entering the road from a driveway or intersection will have to pay more attention to stopping with their whole car behind the intersection, rather than stopping with the front end of their car projecting into the road as most drivers do.

Like this comment
Posted by dana
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 1, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Donald, you point out the central value of bike lanes, safety for the majority of cyclists who do obey the rules and who currently are at risk because of what drivers are allowed to do in "fog lanes". I have had cars tailgate me many times in the "fog lanes" as we approached right hand turns, they acting as If I did not belong there. The demonized peletons which include well less than .01% of recreational cyclists will not alter their behavior because of bike lanes.

Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 1, 2011 at 2:20 pm

We live in a rural setting and that feeling is part of what makes PV a nice place to live. I believe widening the roads and making more official bike lines would take away from that feeling.

Do we really want to spend our funds to make The Loop more of a biking destination than it is already? I think it might just enourage more people to get in their cars to drive to our area so they can then ride their bikes on our roads....

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2011 at 9:07 pm

For years Portola Valley has lived in denial on the issue of bicyclists; they have hoped that by ignoring them the "problem" would go away. Obviously that has not worked, and over the course of the last 3 decades the number of bicyclists in PV has continued to increase. The town can continue to live in denial and treat bicyclists as unwelcome invaders or it can squarely face reality and try to make life better for those who use public roads in this beautiful town. Some of the comments above seem to be from people who think that human nature is going to change all on its own after years of ingrained habits - not a likely scenario. Bike lanes may be part of the solution, but they are not all. Changing people's behavior is very difficult, but it can be done if there is true leadership from the top and a commitment all the way up and down the chain of command. Portola Valley has never shown that kind of leadership and commitment before. Are they up to the task now?

Like this comment
Posted by Jimmae
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 6, 2011 at 8:22 am

As with most bicycle related improvements, please consider a multi pronged approach.
Diluting the ranks of pedalers that frequent our paved roads is one such option I'd like to add.
By studying, as part of the process, opening up some dirt paths-service roads that lace our neighborhood roads to bicyclists .
1:The trail that parallels Alpine from Los Trancos(west to dirt Alpine)
2:The trail that parallels Lost Trancos intermittently to Ramona(allowing bicyclists to avoid the recently re-paved+now super speedy auto traffic's Los Trancos rd)
3:Opening the Firethorn wy connector trail from Alpine to Los Trancos(a formerly paved surface, perfectly appropriate for a bicycle)
4:Old Spanish Trail(a wide service vehicle accessible route between Alpine rd+Juaquin rd)

Portola Valley township has a myriad of dirt paths within it's borders, surely some can be opened to bicyclists, specifically the ones that service vehicles can currently access(wide fire roads style).
The only currently accessible dirt for bicyclists within PV is the Spring Ridge tr within Windy Hill OSP and dirt Alpine rd .

Like this comment
Posted by Alex
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2011 at 9:32 am


Using the shoulder to pass on the right is illegal per CVC section 21755. Vehicles passing on the right must remain on the roadway.

Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm

So far no one has addressed the responsibility and possible legal exposure for PV of having "fog lanes" instead of bike lanes on a road intensely used by both motor vehicle drivers and cyclists where, I bet, most members of both communities (1) do not realize the distinction and (2) presume that these are bike lanes.

The existing lanes that line the "Loop" clearly APPEAR to be bike lanes and the lanes approaching the fog lanes from either direction ARE bike lanes. The little End of Bike Lane sign at the Ladaera - PV boundary and the absence of bike lane markings through PV do nothing to dispel the presumption that all the lanes in the Loop are bikes lanes. So what is the real duty and liability for PV for allowing most people to believe they are dealing with bike lanes, when they are not?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Gluten-free bakery Misfits Bakehouse is reborn in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 3,055 views

Premarital and Couples: The "Right" Way to Eat an Artichoke
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,972 views

What did you learn last week?
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 1,378 views

Menlo Park Can Learn A Lot from Palo Alto (Part 1)
By Dana Hendrickson | 3 comments | 1,026 views

The holiday season
By Cheryl Bac | 1 comment | 377 views


Race Results Are In

Thank you for joining us at the 35th annual Moonlight Run & Walk! All proceeds benefit the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday fund, supporting local nonprofits serving children and families.

Click for Race Results