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Bike bridge years away
December 22, 2009, 02:57 AM By Bill Silverfarb

An elderly man who was struck and killed while riding his bicycle over Highway 101 early Friday morning on Hillsdale Boulevard highlights San Mateo’s efforts over the past few years to make the overcrossing safer and just how dangerous it is for both pedestrians and bicyclists to travel from east to west over the highway.

To make the overpass safer, the city wants to build a $7.1 million bicycle/pedestrian bridge aligned near the Highway 101/Hillsdale Boulevard overcrossing out of Measure A sales tax funds. The project, however, is a number of years out, said Gary Heap, a senior engineer with San Mateo.

"There is not one decent overcrossing in the area,” said Carlos Babcock, of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. "It is a shame someone has to die to show how difficult it is to cross.”

Public Works Commissioner Kelly Moran said she is never comfortable bicycling the Hillsdale Boulevard overcrossing.

"I find it intimidating,” she said. "I would prefer to take another route. I would prefer to cross over a bike bridge.”

The identification of the man who died Friday, a 68-year-old Palo Alto man, has still not been released by the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office pending notification of his next of kin.

The city had considered painting bike lane stripes on the overcrossing, installing push-button pedestrian signals at the four interchanges and constructing a mid-structure path to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists before a new pedway is constructed. The city’s Public Works Commission started considering these suggestions from the public going back to April 2006.

The city wanted to narrow the travel lanes across the bridge to accommodate a striped bike lane up to 5-feet wide on the outer limits of the overcrossing but the proposal was not acceptable to Caltrans, Heap said.

"The proposal was below state standards,” Heap said.

Push-button pedestrian signals were proposed to stop ramp traffic and allow pedestrians to cross without potential vehicle conflicts. The proposal was scrapped, however, because Caltrans did not approve of the "significant queuing impact” the signals would have on vehicles entering Highway 101.

The mid-structure path idea was thrown out for a variety of reasons including: Bike paths in medians of highways are not recommended; users would have to enter and exit the path in the middle of Hillsdale Boulevard’s busiest intersection and; there is not adequate width in the existing bridge section to accommodate a center structure path.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition contends highway overcrossings were previously poorly planned by Caltrans and that safety for pedestrians and bicyclists must be considered when constructing new highway overcrossings.

"The early design overpasses were horrendous,” Babcock said. "The sidewalks are too high and motorists speed of traffic is too great. Bicyclists face a lot of anxiety passing over these types of structures.”

The Public Works Commission reviewed the draft alignment study for a new pedway and recommended to City Council back in 2007 to include the alignment proposal in the General Plan Circulation Element.

The city is currently deciding which private contractor to consider in helping it develop a citywide bikeways master plan. To develop the plan, the Public Works Department is in need of assistance from a professional firm with experience in developing municipal bicycle master plan documents. San Mateo received five requests for proposals Friday and will pick a vendor soon, Heap said. Once the comprehensive citywide bikeways master plan is developed the city will complete the design for the Highway 101/Hillsdale Boulevard bridge and submit for Measure A funding, Heap said.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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