I attended a public meeting in Sunnyvale tonight about the Borregas Avenue Bike and Pedestrian Bridges project. The project involves building two bicycle and pedestrian bridges to connect Borregas Avenue: one over Highway 101, and one over State Route 237. This would provide for a much safer North-South corridor through Sunnyvale for bicycles and pedestrians, and would connect the neighborhoods on the respective sides of each highway with each other.
Overall it was a relatively interesting meeting (at least as interesting as it sounds) and I came away with quite a bit more information about the project, and good understanding of a few of our fellow citizens. Here are some interesting facts about the circumstances surrounding the project:
- The project was started in 1998, and approved by city council in 1999.
- If approved, construction would begin in late 2006, and the bridge would open in spring 2008.
- VTA, the Valley Transportation Administration, through its congestion management program, is providing 89% of the funding for the project.
- The remaining 11% of the funding is being provided by “development mitigation programs”.
- Sunnyvale has a very strong North-South travel pattern, especially in the morning and evening commute hours, and currently it is very dangerous to travel in a North-South direction without an automobile.
There are two alternate North-South routes:
- Mathilda Avenue — The most heavily travelled road in the city. Currently very dangerous for bicycles and pedestrians, especially the Highway 101 interchange area.
- Fair Oaks Avenue — Currently has very narrow lanes, below Caltrans’ standards, meaning that bicycles must use a lane.
- Currently, as many as 90% of middle-school students in the Sunnyvale school districts are driven to school by their parents. The schools themselves were designed for a much higher percentage of the students to walk or ride a bicycle to school. This puts a large strain on the roadways near the schools.
- There are many recreational areas in the North (such as the Bay Trail and the Sunnyvale Baylands Park) which are currently inaccessible from the South by bicycle.
Some facts about the proposed bridge structures themselves:
- The bridges will be a horseshoe-shaped structure, extending to the East from the bridge landings on the East side of Borregas Avenue.
- The bridges will be designated “bicycle bridges”, meaning that bicyclists do not have to dismount and walk their bicycles.
- The ramps leading to the bridge will extend about 450 feet from their landings to the point that they meet the bridge itself. This will comply with ADA requirements regarding the slope of the ramps and the number of level-platform landings on the ramps.
- The primary structure of the bridge will be 18 feet above the roadway surface at its minimum, and about 21 feet above the roadway at its maximum height.
- The bridge itself will be about 10 feet wide, to accomodate bicycles travelling in both directions simultaneously.
- The frontage roads along Highway 101 and Route 237 will be re-aligned to make room for the ramp structures.
- In addition to the re-alignment of the frontage roads, about 54 parking spaces, in total, will be removed from the frontage roads.
- Currently it is planned that enhanced crosswalks will be added to each of the 3-way intersections of Borregas Avenue to make road crossings easier for pedestrians and bicycles attempting to access the bridge. Stop signs or stop lights are being considered as well.
- A projectile fence will be fixed to the structure to discourage projectiles from being thrown from the bridge into traffic on the respective highways.
- The bridge will be lit to the minimum extent necessary to ensure safe use, to minimize spillover of light into the adjacent neighborhoods.
There were (fairly obviously) two distinct groups of people present at the meeting: those who are for the project—mostly bicyclists; and those who are against the project—mostly the residents very nearby the bridge itself. I’ll discuss a few of the points of those against the project:
- Residents living on Alturas Avenue, parallel to Ahwanee Road, are upset that parking spaces will be removed, and feel that there is already a shortage of available parking spaces. Counter: None. Studies will need to be done (at appropriate times or day and week) to discern the impact of a reduction in parking space.
- Residents living on Alturas Avenue claim that the Borregas Avenue intersection will be an unsafe place to increase pedestrian and bicycle traffic, due to high-speed (speeding) traffic along Ahwanee. Counter: Law enforcement, and additional consideration to installing a stop light or stop sign can solve this problem.
- Nearby residents claim that a bridge structure connecting the neighborhoods will allow mixing of gangs in the areas, and could increase gang activity. Counter: The Sunnyvale police department claims that most crime in the area is committed with the use of a vehicle. In addition, studies have shown that bicycle and pedestrian bridges are not linked with any significant increase or decrease in crime rate of the surrounding areas.
A few of the points for the project were:
- The bridges would provide a safe route across Highway 101 and Route 237 for bicyclists, creating a continuous and safe North-South route.
- The bridges would connect students and schools who live opposite Highway 101 for bicycle and pedestrian travel to and from the schools.
I’m looking forward to a safe bike route!
Update: Clarified location of nearby residents as per comments.
I am assuming you are the young man who was taking notes on his laptop during the meeting. Just a clarification. We don’t live on Ahwanee…those are apartments. We are the street behind, Alturas, which consists of 22 single family homes. We already have a parking issue on our street due to the surrounding apartments and with the talk of eliminating so many parking spaces off Ahwanee, common sense will suggest that our street will take the brunt of it. Those of us who have lived in the community also KNOW the community and are also concerned about the safety of the pedestrians and cyclists based on how fast people drive on Ahwanee and the traffic that occurs at key times of the day. I truly hope all of that is addressed and resolved before the building of the bridge as we have already had a tragedy at that exact spot when a former classmate of mine was driven into the sound wall by her jealous estranged husband in a murder-suicide.
While there are neighbors who absolutely don’t want the bridge, as long as we get certain protections on our street from overflow parking, privacy and the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of all those using it, it has potential for being a safe bike route.
Yep, that was me!
I’ve clarified the points mentioning you guys, I hope it’s more clear now. I understand that a lot of speeding happens on that road, but as I said, that can be fixed. Stop signs, stop lights, speed bumps, reduced speed limits, better patrolling, etc., are all solutions to that problem. Ahwanee is, in any case, much safer than, for instance, Mathilda.
If you’d like to understand the relative safety of Ahwanee, I would encourage you to attempt to ride a bicycle on Mathilda from downtown Sunnyvale to Moffett Park during weekday peak times. It’s an enlightening experience.