Commentary by

Remaking the San Francisco Penninsula Corridor with a Bicycle Expressway

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Commentary by Osman Dadi

Accommodating high-speed rail trains in the San Francisco peninsula has been a contentious topic because of potential noise and visual impacts on the surrounding communities. Recently, the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced its support for a "blended approach" that would utilize the existing Caltrain corridor. But what if a solution could be found that ensures grade separation between trains and automobiles while also opening up dramatically enhanced commuting options for bicyclists? 
This proposition allows another incredible opportunity for the Peninsula that would benefit all communities: integrating a grade-separated bicycle expressway into that new infrastructure. The benefits of a separated cycle expressway are many: just as cars on interstate highways are able to travel faster, without stopping for traffic lights, and thus also in a safer means, an expressway for cyclists would allow bicyclists to do the same. The new route would pass over main roads, eliminating vehicular conflicts and allowing fast travel times. Exits spaced out at quarter or half mile intervals would connect into the existing on street bicycle corridors, creating a network between them. The route would allow bicyclists to bypass some of the busiest arterial roads, reducing conflicts with automobiles and hereby helping automobile traffic move faster, while making the experience safer for cyclists and drivers alike. Just as I-280 and US-101 act as the primary automobile highways along the Peninsula, and Caltrain the primary rail corridor, a bicycle expressway would fill a similar role for bicycles. It would provide a new, direct, and fast grade separated route for workers utilizing bicycling and transit as their primary means of commuting, as well as a dedicated route for recreational bicyclists.

The San Francisco peninsula is known for many things, among them a workforce driven by innovative ideas (especially in Silicon Valley), great weather nearly all year round, a culture that largely embraces healthy and environmentally friendly lifestyles, and strong support for biking. The bicycle network of the Bay Area, while quite extensive, is simultaneously also quite disconnected. Particularly in the central Peninsula, there are few dedicated off street bicycle corridors, and routes on streets are frequently disconnected to each other. Thus, there is presently no direct means for a bicyclist to traverse many portions of the Peninsula without mixing into automobile traffic, itself a dangerous proposition given the high speed nature of main routes like El Camino Real or the Expressways around San Jose.

Simultaneously, the existing peninsula Caltrain corridor is slated for a much needed change. The present line has not been significantly upgraded for several decades, but has been planned for large scale electrification for many years. When the California High Speed Rail plan was announced between San Francisco and Los Angeles, an opportunity arose to couple that electrification project with a broader reconstruction that also accommodates high speed rail service by expanding, electrifying, and grade separating the corridor. The configuration of the new route, though still undecided, will likely be elevated on an embankment, elevated on a structure, or (if communities along the route are willing to help fund it) trenched.

The benefits of grade separation and electrification alone are enormous: eliminating grade crossings allow faster train speeds, eliminate noise pollution from train horns, and electrification removes diesel fumes and noise. Additionally, automobile conflicts with trains are eliminated, also making it safer and faster for drivers to cross the railway.
Ideally, a new bicycle route would be directly integrated into the new Caltrain system, making it extremely easy and efficient to bring your bicycle onto a train, thus extending the reach of that transit system. As a hypothetical example, two cars on the north side of each train (the direction of travel is irrelevant) could be designated bicycle cars, and feature extra room for bicycle storage. Where on current trains bringing bicycles on board requires you to carry them up train stairs and through the carriage doors, this process would be dramatically simplified with level boarding. The northern part of each platform would be designated bicycle loading zones, similar to how we have zones for boarding people with wheelchairs; these would in turn connect directly into the expressway. Thus, a train rider could complete a journey to destinations that are beyond convenient walking and bus distances by connecting to the cycle expressway at the station and biking the remaining distance safely.

A critic might ask: how much more would such an addition cost? Do we really need to add a bicycle expressway?  Adding a new easement would cost more, yes, but the benefits would be equally numerous. Considering that a rebuilt corridor is already slated to cost several billion dollars (regardless of whether HSR is adopted), adding a bicycle route would add only a small fraction to the grand total, yet would provide a dramatically new and fast means to traverse the Peninsula. A new route would dramatically extend the reach of the Caltrain network, providing another means for transit riders to access locations out of walking distance from stations. Since the region is going to rebuild the Peninsula rail corridor anyway, it should be built completely and properly, with the greatest needs of the metropolis factored in. If a bike sharing network is ever introduced in the Bay Area, it would likely make extensive use of the new cycle expressway.

The peninsula has unfortunately become the most contentious area for accommodating the planned California High Speed Rail line. The debate has largely failed to recognize the incredible potential of reconstruction to change mobility options in that entire region. Failure to integrate biking into this critical piece of infrastructure would mean that the entire Peninsula will miss an opportunity to add new travel means - or anything similar--to the region for decades, possibly even for the next century. Adding a route would benefit the Peninsula tremendously, helping add to the vibrant discourse of ideas that frequently stem from this portion of the country.

6 Comments

Why focus just on the SF peninsula? Shouldn't the bike infrastructure be integrated throughout the California HSR system?

It's a good idea, but the constant grade changes shown in the diagram won't work, and I think we need to focus on making existing roads bicycle-friendly. Existing roads need to provide cycletracks. It will take people-organizing, clear-thinking, some strong leaders, some strong arguments (e.g. freedom of human-powered movement as a human right), etc., but it can be done.

El Camino Real, of course, will be slammed shut to most/all non-motorized transport with the introduction of BRT, but it doesn't have to be that way -- we don't have to continue to prioritize motorized transport to the exclusion of non-motorized transport.

We should, in fact, be thinking the other way, finally, but this is Silicon Valley, home of the best and brightest, which is why we'll demonstrate exactly the opposite.

Peter, the plans for ECR from the Peninsula into the South Bay are to convert it into a "Grand Boulevard." San Mateo County and several cities in Santa Clara County are working toward this goal. See http://www.grandboulevard.net/

Don't buy into this crap! This is an Agenda 21 take over sitting in plain view. Say NO to the new world order. They want to close down the rual areas and move everyone in to the cities. The mega corporations are taking over the rual areas for the UN corporations. Say good bye to your freedom if you fall for this!

People of the West Coast...you have been BRAINWASHED! The purpose of this whole bicycle thing is to get you out of your cars as much as possible so that you will eventually just use bikes and light rail or other public transportation. You have limited choices on public transportation, so you are then more manageable. The government is working fiercely to close more and more roads into the rural areas as they want to force us to live in government housing in urban areas. They want to 'rewild' over 50% of this country and to take away YOUR RIGHTS TO OWN PROPERTY! This, along with our free market economy, work together to give us the opportunity to create wealth! We're one of the only nations in the world that provides this freedom. If you buy into this, you will be a traitor to the Constitution and to the freedoms protected by our founding fathers and will have destroyed it for future generations. Please, quit being stupid. Look behind the curtain and you'll see UNITED NATIONS AGENDA 21 all over this! For more information, visit www.StopAgenda21inMS.com

The warnings about Agenda 21 are accurate. And for you folks on the left, this isn't some sort of "Tea Party Conspiracy". It's real and it's underway. Your private property rights, freedom of mobility, and various other liberties are at stake here. For those on the left, you may want to check out democratsagainstunagenda21.com Educate yourselves!

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